Quit Trying to Build a Daily Habit
Everyone knows the version of success paved by daily habits. It’s the mantra of the century: build a routine, do it every day.
I’ve tried many times. The summer before my Sophomore year, I emailed professors, lab supervisors, and doctors every single day. Twice, thrice, … many times a day. I did it daily — for months.
The first summer job is an unforgiving predicament. No one wants to hire you because you have no experience. You can’t get experience, because — well, no one wants to hire you. So you’re basically left praying someone will take pity on you.
The terrible efficiency of doing things step-by-step.
In the months leading up to that summer, I sent out nearly a thousand emails. Only a fraction of those people ever got back to me. If they did, it was to let me know that they had already chosen their candidate. And to wish me “best of luck” in my search. They knew I needed it.
In the end, I managed two interviews, both of which extended offers. But my success rate was abysmal.
Build a routine, do it every day.
Since then, I’ve stopped trying to force myself into a daily regiment. It was nice being validated in knowing I was “one step closer” to my goals. But I’ve realized, daily habits are an aimless strategy.
It’s like trying to build a house one brick by one literal brick. Eventually, you can end up with a mansion. But it might take you three lifetimes. And you’ll be left with a house made entirely of bricks. Not that impressive.
There’s a smarter way to build your castle.
Really efficient plans are built with realistic steps.
It starts with some drafts of what your home might look like. Then, you’ll prep the land and lay down some framing. Maybe work on the plumbing, electrics, and insulations before thinking about walls, doors, and windows.
Somewhere between all that, you’ll spend some time imagining your life in that space — dinner parties with friends, rooms dedicated to books, extended family scurrying all over the place, whatever you fancy. And finally, you’ll touch it up with painting, furnishings, and decor.
At some point, you’re going to lay down bricks. But it won’t be one a day, or even a set amount per day. There will be weeks when all you do is lay down bricks. And in that time, you’ll see your house literally grow before your eyes.
Realistic plans come with real tough roadblocks — roll with it.
But then, there will also be days where you feel like you accomplish nothing at all. You’ll sit around wondering why you don’t have the discipline to keep piling on the bricks. You might beat yourself up for not having enough grit, or whatever. Don’t be fooled.
That is the time to reflect on what you’ve done. Think about your next step and how you want to move forward. Or take a break — those are good too. These are all pit stops on the highway.
If you think they slow you down, just wait till you run out of gas, or fall asleep at the wheel. Then, you’ll really be behind schedule.
Besides, just like laying down bricks, they help build your house too. Maybe not in the literal sense. But think about what happens in life.
Some days, you’re on a roll. You get to scratch item after item off of your to-do list. Working towards your goal feels easy. Then like the flick of a switch, you loose your mojo.
It happened to me all the time in university, especially during exam season. One moment, I was tearing through lecture reviews. I’ll think, maybe I can even get ahead of my study schedule. Then, it’s like I’m punished for wishful thinking and the next reading takes me four days to get through.
That sort of thing makes you wonder, what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just snap out of it? Your instincts tell you it’s just a rough patch and that all you need is a bit of perseverance. It always that, ain’t it? Sometimes, that may be just the answer.
The key is growing with your goals.
But usually, it’s not. Your daily habit isn’t a cure-all.
When the universe throws a curve ball at you, you need more than just your daily habit. You need to be adaptable. Change gears, switch tracks. Roll with the punches, go with the flow.
Imagine if baseball players swung every time the pitcher threw the ball. They’d strike out pretty often. Have your hitter’s version of a curve ball ready.
So that when the weather forecasts disappoints you and the skies turn grey, you have a backup plan. Don’t keep laying down bricks like someone shackled by commitment. Only an idiot bound by their daily habit would stay and get pelted by a storm.
Use that time to learn about efficient plumbing. Daydream about your future home. Draft a plan for tomorrow. Take a break. Get ready to hit the ground running when the sun comes out.
Your masterpiece requires a mastermind, not a robot.
Packing up is not failure. It’s not a sign that you’ve “given up”. It doesn’t mean you don’t have self discipline. Perseverance is more than just smashing your head against a wall because you set out on making it to the other side.
Sometimes, you need to slow down and study the map. Talk to the locals. In the end, that wall might be the only way through. But maybe you’ll have taken that time to be resourceful enough to get find a hammer, or some help.
We need to stop clinging to the idea that an undying commitment to daily habits is something worth admiring. It’s not — it’s inefficient, and it’s slowly killing us.
The way to build your castle, the way to accomplish your goals, still involves consistency and habit. It just shouldn’t bind you to a single action. There shouldn’t be a premise that says micro improvements sprouting from the same, repetitive action is the way grow.
Instead, you should consider our environment. Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to the people. Listen to how you feel. Use those observations to guide your action — whatever it may be for that day. And for goodness sakes, reaching your goal should come with guilt-free breaks.