It’s August. More than half the year is over. Fall clothes are already on the mannequins in the store windows, and a friend of mine is even starting to think about her holiday photo.
It seems like every year goes by faster than the last. We start strong with big goals in January. We work the plans. We reset in March and try to review in May. We go on vacation in August. And then, we just decide to do the best we can for the rest of the year.
Earlier this year, in January, I wrote about leveraging systems and micro-habits as my focus for 2019, which I intended to apply to writing consistently. I committed to writing for just ten minutes every day. I planned to write in the same place, at the same time, and before email, Instagram, or Twitter. I even created an editorial calendar with deadlines and shared it with my editor for increased accountability.
I want to write. I have a commitment to write. I have the time to write. I even wrote every day for over 21 days at one point, but I still did not create that unconscious pattern of behavior.
What I have been curious about is, “Why?”
Here’s why: I defined the wrong linchpin habit.
A linchpin is a pin that goes through the axle of a wheel to keep it in place. It’s also used as a metaphor for that part of something that holds the whole together.
Our systems are created through habits. Habits stick through linchpin habits. These are the actions that can create a multiplier effect. If I did ONE thing differently, how would it help me with three to five other practices?
For me, I thought my linchpin habit was getting up at 4:45 AM every weekday. When I do this, all is well in the world, according to my husband and colleagues. I meditate, I hit the gym, and I dig into my projects before 9 AM. I am winning, and the day has just started. But I was not getting up at 4:45 AM. I was still getting up early, but it was more like 5:30 AM, 6 AM, or 6:30 AM.
Here’s what I realized: my linchpin habit is not getting up at 4:45 AM. It’s going to bed by 9 PM the night before. It’s doubling down on my evening routine so I can get to bed that early. That means that 4:45 AM starts at 6 PM the night before.
While I always knew that a good day starts the night before, I was sloppy with my evening practices. Powering down my computer was a goal, but I still checked email after 8 PM and wondered why I could not get to sleep. I packed food and clothes in my gym bag, but the bag was not ready to go the next morning. My system was not tight because I was focused on the morning routine more than the evening routine.
Dinner meetings have changed to breakfast meetings. Important calls, when possible, are taken in the morning instead of the evening. I had to reprogram my routines and ‘re-educate people’ in my system to help me be successful. A linchpin habit, when done daily, turns my evenings into successful days, and days into successful weeks, months, and years.
Here’s how to identify and leverage your linchpin habit:
- Identify a habit you’re struggling with doing consistently.
- Figure out the system of practices around that habit and identify a practice you could do before the habit you’re currently working on. For example, exercising regularly after work doesn’t just mean leaving for the gym at 5 PM,. You may need to block your calendar from 4 PM to 5 PM to give yourself time to wrap up your day.
- Tell people about your new habit commitment and let them know how they can be a positive part of your support system.
There’s still time to do all the things you wanted to do in 2019. Stop focusing on what you have not done and start figuring out the one linchpin habit that can help you create a successful, daily system of habits.