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GUEST COLUMN: New habits are hard to make

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.

“Why don’t you write a weekly column?” he asked. “Of course!” I said, “Just tell me when you need them.” Sure, I thought, I can easily add writing 800 words a week to my list of things to do.

Now it’s weeks later and … zero words.

WHAT was I thinking?

Add it to the “should have already done it” list. It’s a pretty extensive list. I mean, how long have I known that I should get up early every morning and work out or do yoga or meditate or work on that new business plan or make a fresh smoothie or teach myself to crochet or paint my rocks for “Rome Rocks!” or get tonight’s dinner in the crock pot or revisit the mandolin or solve the world’s problems before I start my day? I mean, look at how well I’m doing at all of those! (Note: One habit I have developed quite well is sarcasm.)

All sarcasm aside, is it just me, or is the list of things that we “should” be doing consistently longer that what we actually physically can? I turned 50 in January; my daughter is about to graduate high school and head off to Georgia Tech in the fall, and I recently ended a long-term relationship. Call it a midlife crisis, but I have a limitless sky of time and potential ahead of me here in Rome, and have lots and lots of ideas on how to fill it productively.

Now, if I can just create the habits.

A quick Google search on “creating new habits” reveals that we should be able to do it in three, five, seven, eight or 18 easy steps. Being the smart and efficient woman that I am, I go for the three-stepper. At the end of the link, a guy named James Clear is telling me that, “Every habit you have — good or bad — follows the same three-step pattern.” The steps include:

Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)

Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take)

Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior)

Mr. Clear points out that he is not the only person to promote this concept. It is the same theory that Charles Duhigg puts forth in his best-selling book, “The Power of Habit.” The only difference is that Duhigg refers to the “reminder” as a “cue” but Mr. Clear likes alliteration, and so do I.

So, I set my alarm this morning as my reminder that I wanted to get up early to start writing. Despite a restless night and fitful sleep, I resisted the snooze option and got to it. Wait a second, come to think of it, maybe this should be a four-step list: Reminder, Resist, Routine, Reward. How many times have I set the reminder, but then given in to temptation (i.e. the snooze option)? Yeah, resist definitely needs to be added.

So, after I resisted the urge to go back to sleep, I snapped to it. After all, I’m really excited about this new routine I’m going to develop! I enjoy writing and have a nice long list of things I want to write about. I opened my laptop and started writing, but then a text message came in. And then the dog wanted up on the bed. And then I remembered I needed to respond to a note about the senior picnic meeting this afternoon. Wait, what was I doing?

Isn’t that the way life goes these days? We have so many distractions it is hard to stay on one thing for very long. This really should be a five-step list: Reminder, Resist, Routine, Re-focus, Reward.

So, where was I? Oh yeah, practicing the routine, and I’ve made it to 632 words!

I can do this. I might even write a second column this morning, now that I am on a roll. Gosh, maybe I could write a column a day. No, no, no, Monica, just focus on finishing this one.

There will decidedly be reward in having completed my first piece. I have been generating that list of ideas for a while. Now if I can just repeat the process each week. You know, this really should be a six-step list: Reminder, Resist, Routine, Re-focus, Reward, Repeat.

Thanks for reading along through my painstaking process of developing this new habit. Hopefully my six-step program will be helpful to you, as well. And, hopefully you will continue to read over the coming weeks. I am excited to begin this dialogue with you, dear reader. And if you’re not so excited, well, I can always take up crochet.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome. She has taken up the gauntlet of writing a weekly column thrown down by Managing Editor Mike Colombo. She will be appearing each Thursday starting next week — unless she takes up crochet.