When creating new habits, let yourself be sloppy

Written on 27th February, 2013

"Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good" - Gretchen Ruben

One thing I have realized for myself, is that although I have an existing solid routine of great habits, I often expect that a new habit will also slot into the routine and immediately be just as solid. That’s a key mistake I’ve been making a lot, and I’ve recently adjusted my expectations.


It is often said that if you choose a specific time in advance for a new habit, then it can help you to be more likely to follow through. For example, if you tell a friend that you will go to the gym in the next week, compared with telling them that you will go to the gym at 7:30am on Tuesday, you are more likely to go to the gym when you are more specific:

"There are several key elements in building effective energy-management rituals but none so important as specificity of timing and the precision of behavior during the thirty-to sixty-day acquisition period." - Tony Schwartz

The flipside I’ve found, to this, is that if I choose a very specific time like 7:30am, then if that time comes by and goes, then I feel I have failed and the feeling of disappointment can stop me going at all, even though there is a lot of time left in the day. So, I try to combine this with a freedom to still go in the afternoon or evening and count that as success for my aim to create a habit, too. I let myself be sloppy with the timing of new habits, especially at the start.


Another key reason I found I sometimes failed with new habits, was when I made them into big things and then fell short. Or even worse, they were so big in my mind that I didn’t even do it at all.

As an example, if I decide to step up my gym routine and I aim to do 7 exercises, spending a whole hour in the gym, then some days I find that to be quite daunting. The problem with this is that it even stops me going to the gym for just a few minutes. What I do now instead is tell myself that if I go for 10 minutes and do just a single exercise, that counts too.

"the 20-minute walk I take is better than the 3-mile run I never start. Having people over for take-out is better than never having people to an elegant dinner party." - Gretchen Ruben

The interesting thing about this is that for the purpose of building new habits, going to the gym for 10 minutes is better than not going for 1 hour.

This blog post? it’s not as long as most I write. Both Gretchen Ruben quotes are from the same article. Yet, it’s still better than not shipping something this week.

Photo credit: Newtown grafitti