Habit forming by leveraging the new


Last year I made one big new year’s resolution; to embed the practice of being intentional in my life. This year I’m continuing with the same big goal, and I’ve found that starting a new job in a new city is an opportunity to develop this by deliberately forming new habits.

As with any big idea that has affected my thinking, this one grew from a few different places. I think the idea of ‘intentionality’ originally came to the foreground for me talking to Doug Belshaw, whose writing over the years on productivity has been an influence on me. It also came from my work in research at Nesta. IN my Ed Tech experiments I was continually asking ‘why’, interrogating the reasons for taking certain actions and the justifications for decisions.

It also came from my more day to day experience since moving to London almost two years ago. When you are suddenly so busy with so many opportunities (both in work and personally), it’s easy to be consumed by it and move with the torrent, being buffeted from one place to another like an out of control boat in a storm. There is a certain pleasure in this, and I think many young Londoners (and probably not so young ones too) end up doing this. The problem is that such an approach makes it very difficult to have much say in where you end up. I’ve always wanted to spend some time living in London, and I was excited when I finally got there. However I was keenly aware after a couple of months that I could easily blink and lose ten years here. Perhaps it’s something about arriving when I was fast approaching thirty, but I wanted to be more intentional about my life.

This week I’ve started a new job, and I’ve been travelling up to Cambridge each day. As the role develops I’ll be doing some working from home and travel to events and visits, but it struck me this new routine was an excellent opportunity to be intentional about some smaller goals I’ve had in mind. As the saying goes,; ‘you are what you repeatedly do’. This was a chance to form some new habits.

Each morning I need to get to a train station, take the train to Cambridge and then travel to the office. I considered how each part of this journey could be useful. The travel either end of the train could be a pain, but sorting out my bike and resolving to cycle means I get exercise every single day (currently about 10 miles a day) as well as saving myself time. That’s a pretty good habit.

I’ve been hearing a lot about the benefits of meditation, and I’ve dabbled in learning it here and there over the past three years. When I have I’ve noticed a benefit, but if I’m honest I’ve never been consistent or properly fitted it into my day. A train might not be the optimum environment for this activity, but an hour on a train each morning where I have no choice but to sit is a chance to build this intention into a habit. I’ve resolved to do 15 minutes using the Calm app right at the start of each journey.

This train journey could easily be a colossal waste of time, as could any commute, so I’ve been thinking hard about how I can make the best use of it in an intentional way. That doesn’t have to mean working; I think it will be beneficial to make some non-work habits like taking time for reading, and the meditation. The important thing is noticing then opportunities for being intentional and fitting in the things that can form the habits.

Starting in a new job is a great chance to ask yourself which aspects of the way you work are beneficial and which are really in need of tweaking. I think everyone these days finds themselves drifting into having their working day framed by email sometimes, and therefore defined by other people’s priorities. I certainly found that towards the end of my last job. Now, in a new role, with no emails flying in yet, there’s a chance to re-define that. I’m intentionally not checking my emails first thing, but spending a part of my commute and the start of my morning planning priorities and working on the things that matter most. Rather than framing my day by responding and reacting, I’m framing it by doing the most important work for my job.

Any change like this is an opportunity to re-frame. It’s a chance to ask yourself not just what you need to do to survive in this new situation, but how you really want to be within it. All too quickly we drop into habits, and the new situation and how we respond to it becomes then normal. If you are intentional about this, and explicit in how you frame your experience, you can embed the habits that most benefit you, rather than the first ones you happened to fall into.

Photo Credit: R~P~M via Compfight cc





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