One of the best ways to create positive, long-term changes in your life is the development of new habits. The idea is that completing a specific task every day over an extended period of time makes the task automatic so that you can continue the habit in the future without much effort or thought. While there are an abundance of books, blog posts, worksheets, and planner inserts made specifically to help you start new habits, following through and getting those habits to stick is much easier said than done.
If you are anything like me, you hoard habit tracking planner stickers and spend countless hours liking habit tracker bullet journal layouts on social media, but when it comes to forming your own habits, you get completely off track within a couple weeks or even a few days. You want so badly to make positive changes in your life, but after a few empty checkboxes in a row, you become frustrated and give up. If you have started and discarded more habit trackers than you can count, I want you to know that you aren’t lazy or incapable or a failure, but you are letting perfectionism stop you from making positive changes in your life.
I’ve struggled with perfectionism my entire life, and if you have, too, you know that it can be a debilitating barrier to success. That overwhelming fear of failure can cause you to give up on difficult tasks quickly or, even worse, never try at all. Over the past few years, I have focused on being more aware of my perfectionist tendencies, and I have been slowly adjusting my mindset and my actions to work past perfectionism. As a result, I have started seeing habit formation in a completely new way that has allowed me to keep going with a new habit long past the time when I would normally give up.
Know Your WHY
The first thing that most of us learn about habits is the phrase “practice makes perfect.” So, it’s not surprising that, in our quests for perfection, we put a large focus on the repetition of tasks and the creation of habits. But if your main motivation for doing something is to attain perfection, you will never succeed because perfection doesn’t exist. You are chasing something that isn’t real, so not only will you never catch it, but you will always end up disappointed and empty-handed.
Instead of focusing on perfection, you should be focusing on your why. As in, why do you want to create this habit? Why will it improve your life? If all you are focused on is your need to be perfect, you will give up on your habit within the first few times that you miss doing it. If you are focused on your why instead, you will recognize that habit formation is not about checking off a box in your planner, it’s about making a positive change for a specific reason, and you will keep working on your habit even when you miss a few days. Remember, you will always be better off continuing imperfectly than letting perfectionism stop you altogether. So, forget “practice makes perfect,” and replace it with “progress is better than perfection.”
Create Your Habit
As perfectionists, we constantly take on way too much at once and either run ourselves into the ground to achieve it all or completely crash and burn in the process. As much as you want to jump right into a bunch of new habits at once, slow down and focus on one new habit at a time. Perfectionism causes us to take on too much too quickly, but truly effective habit creation is about slow, gradual growth over time.
If there are multiple habits that you would like to create, start by listing them all, and then put them in a logical order. For instance, you may want to start a habit of waking up earlier, but that first requires a habit of going to bed earlier. After creating a list, you can start working on your habits one by one. Try to commit to one habit for an entire month before you add in the next one, and be honest with yourself about whether you are ready to start a new habit after implementing the first one. If you add a second habit before you really have a handle on the first, you run the risk of both habits falling apart, and then you are back where you started.
And remember, no matter which habit you choose to tackle first, be sure to define your why. For example, maybe you want to drink 64oz of water daily. You would define your why by asking yourself the following questions:
- Why do I want to create this habit? So I will have less migraines and more energy.
- Why will it improve my life? So I can feel good enough to play with my kids every day.
When the reason to drink enough water becomes feeling good enough to play with your kids, it also becomes more important to you than the need to be perfect. And when you get off track, which you will at some point, it will be so much easier to stay motivated to keep going when there is a real, meaningful reason involved. Will every habit have an equally important why behind it? Probably not, but if your habit will improve your quality of life physically, mentally, or emotionally, your why should always outrank perfection, especially since perfection doesn’t exist anyway. 😉
Keep It Going
As you probably already know, starting a new habit is fairly simple, but keeping a habit going can be really difficult. Here are a few tips to keep your new habit on track:
- Set a reminder – If you can, try to find where your new habit best fits into your schedule or routine, and try to do it at that same time every day. Set a reminder on your phone to help you remember.
- Remember your why – Write down your reason for starting the habit on a sticky note or index card, and put it somewhere you will see it every day.
- Use a tracker – Habit tracking worksheets and stickers are great because they allow you to measure your progress visually. If you miss a day and feel frustrated and anxious about empty spots on your tracker, consider filling those in with a different color. (Download my free habit tracker worksheet below to get started!)
- Jump back in – Don’t try to make up for a day that you’ve missed or try to catch up to where you are “supposed” to be. This won’t actually reinforce the habit and will just lead to overwhelm and burnout. Just keep going from where you are or jump ahead to the current day, depending on what type of habit it is.
Give Yourself Grace
Finally, the biggest and most important thing I want you to know about creating habits as a perfectionist is that you must give yourself grace. You are going to get off track at some point, and if you aren’t willing to forgive yourself and keep going, you are never going to effectively form a new habit. Focus on progress instead of perfection, and you will positively change your life one day at a time.
Now, it’s time to get started on that new habit! Download my FREE printable 30 Day Habit Tracker to help you focus on your why and track your progress!
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