While I was sitting on the deck, sipping a spicy Caesar and chatting with some girlfriends last Friday night, an interesting conversation came up. We started talking about habits – the guilty pleasures we routinely give in to, how much they control us, how difficult it is to change them, etc.

Take smoking, for example. My girlfriend is a smoker, and has been for many years now. She’s tried to quit multiple times, but has yet to do so successfully. She knows I disprove of the habit, and I do my best to avoid nagging, but I still try to take advantage of any opportunity to help motivate her to make a change.

The problem is, it’s hard for me to relate. I’ve never been a smoker. I know we’re not just talking about mind over matter here, or making a simple change in routine. Addiction is a completely different ballgame. But when it comes to smoking, I also know many people who have managed to quit. And in my mind, she’s perfectly capable of doing it too.

Breaking Old Habits

There are endless resources out there on how we develop certain habits, why it’s so difficult to change them, and how these patterns truly dictate our lives. When it comes to making a change, or trying something new, there are a number of influences to consider in order to ensure you are setting yourself up for success.

For example, the environment you find yourself in is a big one. If you are trying to quit smoking, but you surround yourself with friends who are smokers, it’s going to be extremely difficult for you to make a change.

Rate of progress is another one. While some people have been successful in quitting cold turkey, most require gradual progress in order to believe a new routine is their new normal. You can’t expect to do it all at once. At the same time, there’s always at least one small step you can take today to start setting yourself up for a new tomorrow.

Then there’s the accountability factor. It helps to be open and vocal about a new goal with other people, so they can hold you accountable for your actions. When you share your progress regularly, reflect on the experience, and perhaps even set up a system of consequences and rewards, you’re more likely to follow through than if you’re making a change in secrecy and neglecting to assess your advancement along the way.

And you also develop a new level of mindfulness when you are making a significant transformation. You start to notice the negative self-talk that holds you back from reaching your daily goals, and how much you can rationalize the desire to forget it all and just give up. The more aware you are of these urges, the better equipped you will be to deal with them. And soon you feel inspired to take it a step further, and make even more positive changes to your routine than you initially imagined.

Building Life-Changing Habits

While I cannot relate to the act of quitting smoking, I’ve certainly had my share of bad habits to break. And within the last year especially, I’ve been much more mindful of the habits influencing my daily life. I’ve made a number of small changes, which in turn have led to what I believe are fairly significant transformations. Here are three recent habits I’ve developed, and how they have changed my life so far:

 1. Putting my own career objectives first.

One of the most challenging habits for me to break was what I like to call the “9-to-5 syndrome.” For years, I had been conforming to a working structure that I knew was not ideal for me. I was (and still am) living in an environment that catered to this type of working format. And because of this, I found it hard to picture any other way.

But I started to explore communities that existed beyond these boundaries. I connected with solopreneurs both online and off who followed a new way of working; one I felt immediately drawn to. I started making weekly and monthly goals to help make my own entrepreneurial pursuit a reality, holding myself accountable by sharing my experience on a public blog. And I realized along the way that there will always be moments of doubt (and failure is inevitable), but it’s how you handle these situations (by accepting them, growing from them and moving on) that really dictates how successful you’ll be in achieving the results you want to see.

Now, I’m the one who creates the demands of my day-to-day. It’s up to me to decide when I work, what I work on, and ultimately, what number will show up on my “paycheque.” As a result, I’m learning and growing everyday, I’m doing work I love, and I am happier.

 2. Becoming budget-conscious and spending less than I make.

I used to think budgeting was a pain in the ass. I mean, it still is, sometimes, but in a weirdly pleasant way. The difference is, I used to think budgets were created in order to control your spending, but the truth is, a budget is a tool that puts the control of your financial situation back in your hands.

In January of this year, I started tracking every single penny my husband and I spent (and everything we made, too). From a tank of gas to a Starbucks coffee, I wrote all of our expenses down and added it into an Excel spreadsheet. It wasn’t easy at first. But the more I practiced this new habit, the more normal it felt. And suddenly, I started to discover endless opportunities to become more financially savvy.

It started with hidden money pits that were adding up to do some serious damage to our savings goals – those Starbucks purchases really do add up. Soon, cutting back on our monthly budget started to feel like an exciting game. It turned into ditching the home phone, switching cable providers twice (and settling with the very basic package), changing insurance plans, setting a retail shopping ban, avoiding eating out at restaurants, and the list goes on. It became a new awareness of all of the mindless clutter in our daily lives, which soon led to extra income from selling unnecessary belongings (and greater peace of mind for donating the rest). And eventually we started looking for even more opportunities to bring in more income through little side projects, ensuring we are consistently spending less than we make.

As a result of these changes, I have developed this desire to have more with less – more savings, less debt; more freedom, less consumption; more time, less stuff. It’s given me a completely new outlook on my financial situation and the way I consume.

3. Pursuing my own definition of success.

Once I regained control of my time and my finances, I started to gain new clarity in how I lived my life. I realized I was much more interested in “spending” on people and moments, rather than on “stuff.” I found salary is only one part of the working equation; and that freedom is equally, if not more, important to me. I started to truly understand what makes me happy, and began investing my time and resources into doing more of that.

I’m still figuring a lot of this stuff out, but one thing I know for sure when it comes to developing new habits is that you are the one in control. Not your partner, not your boss, not your neighbour across the street. You have to be the one to make the change – no one else is going to do it for you. And while it’s important to set your eyes on a the desired outcome – a specific goal you are looking to achieve – give yourself the space and time to stumble into a whole other world of possibilities. I really believe it will be worth it. And I hope you’ll share your experience with me along the way.

Are you working towards a new goal? Trying to break an old habit? I’d love to hear from you. Let me know what’s going on in the comments below or shoot me an email: carly@webofwords.ca.