Identify the problem with habits

Perhaps this sounds familiar: for the umpteenth time, you promise yourself that you will take up that new habit you’ve been meaning to do. And then, when the moment to do it comes, for some reason you don’t do it. What’s the problem?

When we want to adopt a new habit or face a challenge, we are usually proactive about it, which is a good thing. We think about what we need to do to make the thing happen. For instance, if you’re trying to meditate every day, you may schedule time in your day for it and tell yourself that you will sit quietly first thing in the morning.

But when you wake up the next day, something gets in the way, and you don’t end up meditating. It doesn’t matter, you say, I’ll do it tomorrow. The following day, you’re in a rush or you don’t feel well. Several days pass by, but you don’t go through with your well-intended plan.

This is a good moment to ask yourself: What’s the problem?

If you’re slightly introspective and honest with yourself, you will notice whether there is an underlying issue that is preventing you from doing the thing in question.

Let’s say you’ve been meaning to meditate, but it just isn’t happening. Perhaps the problem is that you don’t know how to meditate, so you feel lost and uncertain about the whole thing. If that’s the problem, then you could find a video on YouTube the previous evening that you’d like to meditate with in the morning.

Another possibility is that you may not really believe that it’s a worthwhile use of your time to do nothing for ten minutes. If that’s the case, you need to revisit your motivation: why are you trying to meditate in the first place? Or you can seek out a type of meditation (or visualization, or breathing technique) that you consider a good use of your time.

It could also be the case that the time you’ve set aside for meditation doesn’t work well for you. It sounds great to get up and meditate right away, but perhaps you’re still really tired at that time or, as is often the case for me, you’re too hungry. If timing is the problem, then you can look for a better moment in your day.

The important thing is to identify the problem. It’s a shame to give up an activity because you think it doesn’t work for you when, in fact, a practical, manageable issue is preventing you from doing it.

Next time you’re having trouble with a stubborn activity you’d like to take on, try this: identify the problem.

Have you tried this? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Identifying the problem at work

I am currently giving a bootcamp course on organization and time management at the Donders Institute where I work. About twenty researchers get together every Friday afternoon, and we discuss the tools and strategies we’re using to organize our days and tasks.

I usually give some suggestions or tools for people to try. One of the simplest but, it turns out, most helpful ideas so far has been to identify the problem. When you’re having trouble with something, try to honestly see what’s getting in the way.

I was surprised to hear how many people found this trick helpful. One person said she used it to successfully write a difficult part of her paper. She noticed that she was procrastinating writing, and usually she would have just avoided it for as long as possible. This time, she asked herself what was stopping her, and she realized she didn’t have all the necessary technical information to write the part about her methods. To address this, she contacted people who had that information and, once they gave her the necessary details, she continued with her writing.

Another person was struggling to read papers regularly. He even scheduled time on Fridays to read but always ended up doing something else instead. Through our discussions, he realized that he needed someone else to count on him to read that paper. He made an agreement with his supervisor that at their weekly meeting she would ask him about the paper he’d read that week. Knowing that his supervisor expected him to read the paper was the push he needed to read papers regularly.

Yet a third person was struggling with his data analysis. He often didn’t know how to proceed and how to do his analysis correctly. He realized that he wasn’t seeking out help when he needed it and was trying to be independent even when it was hurting his performance. He found a course he could take to give him the necessary expertise, and he also got in touch with a research group that has experts on that type of analysis. He hopes that these resources will help him to progress more quickly and correctly with his data analysis.

Identifying the problem is a small step, but it makes it possible to take exactly the right action for a specific issue.

Can you apply this to your work? Have you tried it? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.