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5 Ways to Preserve Good Habits During a Transition

change habits Jul 06, 2022

First published in Huffpost.

Whenever I talk to someone who is making a big career change such as going back to work after staying home with kids, or leaving the corporate world to become an entrepreneur, one of the key stressors is the loss of routine. Habit disruption adds to the stress of an already stressful time.

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Whenever I talk to someone who is making a big career change such as going back to work after staying home with kids, or leaving the corporate world to become an entrepreneur, one of the key stressors -- equal to mastering a new skill set or learning to embrace a new identity -- is the loss of routine. Perhaps you had a habit of working out every morning after you dropped the kids off at school, but now you are rushing off to the office instead. Perhaps you had a habit of doing your errands during your lunch break at work, but now that you are an entrepreneur you have no time for lunch. Habit disruption adds to the stress of an already stressful time.

I was keen to see what Gretchen Rubin had to say about this in her book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. I've been a fan of Gretchen Rubin's books since I read The Happiness Project and had the chance to interview her about injecting more happiness into everyday life. When I heard she was speaking at my alma mater about her new book, I wanted to ask her how to preserve good habits in the midst of a changing routine.

Rubin is a big fan of habits, believing that they are "the invisible architecture of everyday life." According to Rubin, habits free us from having to make decisions on a daily basis about routine things such as when to wake up, when to go to bed, what to eat, when to exercise, and how to structure the day. By pre-deciding how you are going to deal with everyday events, you can reserve the energy that typically goes into decision-making for more important things. Any major change in circumstance offers the one-two punch of interrupting our habits at a time when falling back on our habits would benefit us most.

I asked Rubin how to deal with our habits during a period of change. Should we try to maintain good habits or change all of our habits to suit our new life? Should we phase in new habits over time or change everything at once? She offered some great advice:

1. Harness the Power of the Clean Slate. As Rubin writes in her book, "Any beginning is a time of special power for habit creation, and at certain times we experience a clean slate, in which circumstances change in a way that makes a fresh start possible." Large-scale change is the adult equivalent of the do-over and it's an ideal time to put new routines in place.

2. Start Right Away. Rubin recommends not allowing a grace period before establishing new habits. If you are starting a new job and plan on getting up at 6am to exercise before going to work, don't give yourself a couple of weeks off to acclimatize to the new job. Adopt your new exercise schedule on your first day of work. "Start the way you want to continue," she advises, so that you harness the power of the clean slate and don't allow bad habits to take hold.