Your Well-Being in 2019: Creating Good Habits
In my first post of this series, I discussed the importance of making a commitment to your well-being in this new year and what simple steps you can take to manage stress in a positive way, including taking breaks, progressive muscle relaxation, self massage, and mindfulness. Making a commitment to these positive changes and strategies is the first step toward enhancing your well-being, but will take some work to maintain these changes through the next year. In order to do so, you’ll want to create daily habits. Ultimately, these habits will create the space you need to focus on important (billable) work.
How to Create Lasting Habits
1) Small Changes
Recently, I finished the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. The premise of the book is that self-improvement requires many small (“atomic”) changes to achieve big goals. Rather than focus on large abstract and lofty goals, if you can be 1% better every day you will begin to create the habits that will lead to the type of person/environment you wish to create. Start small and then build. Do you want to take more breaks from your work this year? Don’t just tell yourself you’ll take an hour break every day during the workday. Start by taking an hour break a few times a week and then build on that.
In order to become who we want to be or achieve the goals we strive for, we can’t merely rely on willpower, but rather we need to have a solid system in place. As Clear states, that system relies on habits. To create those habits, Clear discusses “priming your environment” to make it conducive to building or breaking habits. For example, if you want to break a habit of checking emails all day long and instead form a habit to check emails at only designated intervals during the day, the first step is to quit your email program on your computer and turn off email notifications on all devices. This creates “friction” by requiring extra effort to access and check your emails, thus making it more likely that you will stop checking email every few minutes. Conversely, decreasing friction, and making the habit obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying, you reward good behaviors and make it more likely to create a habit. Let’s go back to taking breaks. Say you want to get out of your office and take an hourlong walk every day after you eat your lunch. You might try placing your sneakers near where you keep your lunch. Eat your lunch away from your computer so that you won’t be tempted to continue to work afterwards. Reward yourself after or on your walk with a treat – music, podcast, coffee, chocolate, hot tamales (ok, maybe that’s just me), etc. This example also uses Clear’s “habit stacking”, which encourages habit formation by sandwiching a new habit between already formed habits. If you already have a habit of eating lunch at a certain time every day, it will make going for a walk easier if you try the tricks I provided. Or, maybe you have a standing staff meeting every morning at 11am. Stack your walking habit on top of that.
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3) Decision Points
If you are struggling to build your habits, focus on the many different decision points during the day rather than the ultimate goal of, say, taking a walk. To explain, Clear uses the example of the person who comes home from work and immediately changes into her workout clothes to go to the gym. It is the act of putting on her gym clothes that leads her to go to the gym, it is not the actual going to the gym. She’s already made the decision to go to the gym once she puts on her gym clothes. If she comes home and makes the decision to sit down on the couch as opposed to immediately putting on her gym clothes, she is more likely to stay home and order a pizza. Focusing on those decision points will make creating your habit much easier. You can apply this to help create your walking habit. If you immediately put your sneakers on after lunch, you’ll be more likely go to for your walk. Or, better yet, put your sneakers on before you have lunch!
To recap, make small changes every day to create or break habits, focus on the many decision points rather than the big picture habit goals, and work to design an environment conducive to your habits. Not only can you use habits to improve your own wellbeing, but you can also use habits to improve office organization, create a paperless practice, implement technology, reduce distractions, manage your calendar, and much more.
Now that you have strategies for implementing and maintaining improvements in your wellbeing, look out for my third post in this series that will address improvements in your practice, specifically how to manage your time better to complete your work, make your clients happy, and make money.
Heidi S. Alexander, Esq. is the Deputy Director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, where she helps manage organization operations and leads the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (LOMAP). LOMAP provides free and confidential practice management assistance, guidance in implementing new law office technologies, and methods to attain healthy and sustainable practices. She is the author of Evernote as a Law Practice Tool, serves on the ABA’s TECHSHOW Planning Board, and founded the ABA’s Women of Legal Technology initiative. In 2017, Heidi was appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Advisory Committee on Professionalism. She is a native Minnesotan, former collegiate ice hockey goaltender for the Amherst College Women’s Ice Hockey Team, and mother of three young children. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @heidialexander, or LinkedIn.