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A favorite subject for entrepreneurial articles and podcasts is that of habits. Hundreds (if not thousands) of books are touting the importance of creating good habits. Your own habits depend on your end goal, but a lot of them seem to place particular importance on mastering your morning routine. Maybe that looks like meditating or hitting the gym by 6 a.m., gulping grass-fed butter-infused coffee or a superfood smoothie, and jotting down something in your daily gratitude journal before heading to work.
Good habits are a method of keeping ourselves on course. In James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, he shares an analogy about a flight from LA to NYC. If the pilot points the nose just a few degrees south, eventually, the plane will end up in DC rather than its intended destination. It’s a great example of how tiny changes can make a big difference.
We know good habits are important, and, particularly as entrepreneurs, we must stay on our A-game. People are watching, right? We’re setting an example, and the pressure is on. So, why, o’ why, do good habits sometimes feel like they’re so hard to maintain?
Why consistency can feel hard
Reading Clear’s book, I thought, “Oh, that’s why staying on the path matters. Cool!” But as I sat with that concept for a few minutes, I started to feel some anxiety creeping in. As a leader, I can’t take a single step in the wrong direction because if I do, I miss my target. And people are counting on me.
What if I make a bad decision? What if I’m not always the last one to leave the office? What if I totally spaced that meeting… twice? What if I hired someone who turned out to make everyone’s life more stressful? What if I didn’t pick the right snacks for the break room?
Aaaahhhhhhhhhh. I’m gonna need that oxygen mask.
We sure do put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Stay on the path. Don’t mess up. And when that performance pressure becomes too much, our brains or bodies (or both) just crash. That’s a message, not a failure.
When it happens, it’s important to take a moment to ask if the path you’re pursuing is actually leading you to the destination you think it is. After all, you’re a person, not a plane. If your body feels tired or your mind feels overwhelmed, it’s totally okay to touch down. Recalibrate periodically. Reevaluate the path.
Showing up is personal
Habits can be anything you want them to be, but to qualify as habits, they need to stay consistent. We have to show up when we say we will to reap the rewards. Yes, I know it sounds a lot like “discipline.” Trust me, the rebel in me thought, “Hell, no. I’m not a military operation!” But I’ve started to realize that good habits aren’t asking for perfection. They’re just asking you to show up when and how you can.
The truth is, some days, we don’t feel 100%. Maybe there’s only 25% in our tank. Say you had a late night binging some Netflix series that you couldn’t bring yourself to stop. Or you went to a friend’s birthday dinner, and the late-night conversation was too good to miss. Or you have a loved one in the hospital, and you’re mind is elsewhere. That’s life. Those are normal, sometimes even healthy, interruptions. Showing up to maintain your good habits means you do what you can consistently. That doesn’t mean always. It means regularly.
Practicing and prioritizing consistency
When it comes to habits, we tend to overestimate the importance of a single action while we underestimate the importance of small, repetitive movements. If you had a piggy bank as a kid, then you know what I’m talking about. Every day, you drop a penny into the slot. One day, you put a dime in there. That’s awesome!
But that doesn’t mean you need to put a dime in every day now for it to keep adding up. (It also doesn’t mean you should change your route to avoid seeing the piggy bank and, thus, feeling guilty.) Okay, guilty as charged…this is a gym metaphor. The point is that you just need to consistently be putting something in that piggy bank or calorie tracker. That’s what showing up is all about.
How to show up…for yourself
In an episode of her podcast How To Take Action, Sarah Arnold Hall says, “Doing something every day is actually easier than doing it once in a while.” Speaking from experience, I can confirm. Going to the gym five days a week feels way easier than going only two days a week. Gratitude journaling daily is easier and better for my mental health than doing it only when I feel like it.
But just like flying a plane, there are times when I’ve experienced unexpected turbulence along the way. Flying conditions may not always be perfect. In those moments, I have to give myself grace. Touch down for a break. Refuel. Prioritize my vessel.
When we establish a habit, taking a break doesn’t make it go away. Habits occupy a permanent place in our brains. Interruptions will happen, but our habits will still be there when we’re ready to pick them back up again.
When we feel like it’s time to get back on the runway, all we need to do is look out the window, and voilà! When you show up, blue skies will return. Meaningful accomplishment takes time because it’s accumulative. It’s a process of learning from our mistakes, adjusting the path when something isn’t working, and figuring out what really matters. Over time, you’ll start to recognize the fruits of your habitual labors, and only then will you see just how far you’ve come.