Habit Hack #5: Break It Up

Breaking up is hard to do, in the famously catchy words of Neil Sedaka. With that haircut, I’m sure he would know.

But here’s the good news: when it comes to habits, the opposite is true! Breaking up your good habits into smaller chunks will make your life so much easier.

In this habit hack, we’re sharing the best time management strategies to make new habits stick.

Try working toward the goals you set for yourself in smaller chunks throughout the day instead of one large one. For example, if your new goal is to play 45 minutes each day, try three 15-minute chunks. I’ll bet you find yourself more engaged, efficient, and effective.

Anyone incorporating new habits is doing some major neural trailblazing by developing insulation (myelin) around their new neural pathways. The more they use a certain pathway, the more insulated it becomes and the easier the new habit is to maintain. (For more on this, check out the book The Talent Code.)

But even though we need to practice many repetitions to cement new habits, research shows that practicing longer is not the best way to go. Instead, short bursts of practice usually work better for the brain. They allow you to stay engaged and focused much better. So take a break or three! 

Practice while you’re sharp so you can make real progress. When you start to fade, put your fiddle down and come back to it when you have the brainpower to make real improvements.

Habit Hack #4: Talk About It!

We need to talk. 

Oh, lighten up. It’s time for our fourth post in the habit hack series–that’s all we had to say. And today we’re talking about talking, because if you want to stick with a new habit, one of the best things to do is tell others about it!

What habit goals have you set for yourself lately? Shout ’em from the rooftop! No, really, that’s the fourth habit challenge: let someone know about your new habit. It could be the Fiddle School community, a close friend, your mailman…

Actually, maybe not the mailman. Depends on how close you guys are. But you get the idea.

Getting motivated to change your routine is one thing, but staying motivated is a whole ‘nother question. When you let other people know your intentions, you’re more likely to stay accountable once the newness wears off.

What’s more, letting people know about your new good habits is a great way to set yourself up for celebration down the road! A month from now, when your friend checks back in with you about “that thing you were doing,” you can proudly tell them that you’ve stuck with it. That’s a great feeling.

Remember that good habits snowball. When you let others know about the changes you’re making in your own life, you share your positivity and momentum. Spread the love and tell a friend what you’re working towards! You may just give them the push they need to chase one of their own aspirations.

What new good habits are you making part of your routine? Tell us in the comments!

Habit Hack #3: Set Bite-Sized Goals

What do you and this adorable little fellow have in common? You might be biting off more than you can chew! 

If you struggle with setting realistic goals, this habit hack is for you. Did you miss the first two habit hacks? You can find them here and here

For this habit challenge, set a goal for yourself you know you can achieve this week– not in a month, and not through unrealistic means, but this week. Make sure it’s something you can attain by working towards it regularly at a sustainable rate. Some examples:

  • “I will memorize two more parts of my new tune.”
  • “I will practice scales every time I warm up.”
  • “I will listen to new music that inspires me every time before I practice.”

Tell us your bite-sized goals in the comments!

Often, when people set goals, they think of their loftiest aspirations:

  • “I’ll learn a new language.”
  • “I’ll shred at the gym for an hour every morning at 5.”
  • “I’ll place well in a fiddle contest.”

But those goals seem a little different when you look at the big picture:

  • “I’ll learn a new language before my cousin’s wedding in Mexico next month.”
  • “I’ll shred at the gym for an hour every morning at 5, even though I go to bed at midnight and I haven’t been to the gym in years.”
  • “I’ll place well in a fiddle contest, even though I just started playing this year.”

Now they sound a little… harder, shall we say? Actually, I think the word would be unrealistic. There’s a difference between the two: when something’s hard, you know you can get there with dedicated work. When something’s unrealistic, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, no matter how much crazed effort you put into it.

So here’s the trick: you can make your goals hard, but don’t make them unrealistic. 

When you consistently take on small challenges, you can do hard things while still being realistic about your expectations. After doing this for a long time, the things that were once unrealistic will be within your reach. 

To sum it up: I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t aspire to awesome, sky-scraping goals. I’m just telling you that the way there is by a staircase, not an elevator.

What small step can you set as a goal this week? Tell us below!

Habit Hack #2: Understand Your Habit Cues

As humans, we’re defined by our habits, so it’s in our best interest to make those habits as positive as possible. That’s why we wrote this 7-part habit series to help you achieve more with your routines!

Today we’re talking about habit cues, the sneaky component of habits that can either keep you stuck in a rut or lay the foundation for constant progress.

For this second habit hack, choose a practice cue and stick with it. Play every morning after you brush your teeth, every day after lunch, or first thing when you walk in your door at night. Don’t want to use an activity as a cue? Make an event on your calendar, set a reminder on your phone, or do it the old-fashioned way and leave yourself a Post-It.

What cues work well for you? Tell us below!

Examining your personal habit cues is perhaps the best thing you can do when you want to build a new habit or kick an old one. Remember the anatomy of a habit? It looks like this:

  1. Cue or trigger
  2. Action
  3. Reward

We often don’t see habit triggers at work; for example, when you pick up your phone to check the time, how often do you also end up checking social media? Cues like these are sneaky, and they can lead little actions to snowball into rock-solid routines.

If your habits were an iceberg, your actions would only be the tip of that iceberg. Your habit cues, which often go unnoticed, are the nearly invisible bulk of the iceberg lurking beneath.

That invisible bulk of cues is why you can’t change a habit simply by trying to change your actions. Instead, you have to address the big picture, and that means taking a close look at underlying triggers.

This might seem overwhelming, but don’t worry! Just like the reward part of the habit loop, habit triggers can work in your favor. Over the next day, try to recognize all the triggers that lead you through your daily routine. When you recognize your habit cues, whether they’re good or bad, you have the power to consciously respond to them.

The most powerful thing you can do to hack your practice habit? Intentionally build a consistent practice cue into your daily routine. After a while, it’ll feel so natural you won’t even notice it anymore.

What are your best (and worst) habit cues? Tell us in the comments!

Habit Hack #1: Game the Habit Loop

Are you ready to reinvent your routines? Get a head start with our seven habit hacks! We’re diving in with a fun challenge: reward yourself for good habits!

Choose a reward for for yourself when you practice and put it in play. My reward: every day I practice, I’ll mark it on my calendar. It feels really rewarding for me when I see a long streak of practice. Tell us what you choose to do for your own challenge in the comments!

Why is reward the first step to better habits? First, let’s lay some groundwork by looking at the structure of habits. Habits have three basic components:

  1. The cue or trigger
  2. The action
  3. The reward

Looks familiar, right? The tricky thing is, many bad habits have immediate rewards built into them. Eating ice cream instead of salad, skipping your workout for Netflix, or putting off practicing in favor of more time scrolling through Facebook are all things that satisfy your pleasure centers in the moment, even if they don’t help you in the long term. It’s easy to see why these things can seem so appealing, especially when you’re low on willpower.

But the same structure that makes it hard to resist bad long-term habits can also work in your favor if you hack the system. Here’s the trick: when you employ a good long-term habit, associate a short-term reward with it. 

When you go to the gym, treat yourself to 30 minutes reading a good novel afterwards. When you clean your house, turn on your favorite music and throw yourself a private dance party (I can’t be the only one that does this… right?) And when you practice your instrument, the same principle applies: find something that feels rewarding in the moment to help you make positive associations with the good habit.

My students often come to lessons frustrated that they “aren’t making any progress.” Here’s the thing: if you’re practicing and doing it well, I can assure you that you’re making progress. But I know how hard it can be to see it for yourself! That’s why rewarding yourself for tiny milestones, like playing for a certain amount of time, is so important.

What reward will you build into your daily practice routine?

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