Weekend Projects

Use This Weekend to Build a Habit That Sticks — Here’s the Simple Secret

published Feb 19, 2021
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Apartment Therapy Weekend Projects is a guided program designed to help you get the happy, healthy home you’ve always wanted, one weekend at a time. Sign up now for email updates so you never miss a lesson.

Who’s already lost momentum on some of their 2021 goals? If you raised your hand (I did), don’t be too discouraged. It’s natural to get hyped by new year energy. But it’s also fine if those new habits fall by the wayside in February. It’s not a failure, it’s learning.

I started out January with the maximum number of habits I could fit on one screen of my Streaks app — things like taking a nightly walk with my husband, participating in 30 Days of Yoga With Adriene, reading 10 pages of my book three times a day, and clocking in at least 6,000 steps on my Apple Watch. And, yeah, I’ve broken most of those streaks — but not all of them!

The concept of maintaining a streak is one type of reward that James Clear discusses in his book “Atomic Habits.” I’m so glad I read it toward the end of last year because it’s given me so many tools to stop bad habits and establish new ones. In addition to tracking streaks to build habits (the mental motivation of wanting to maintain a streak works so well for me), another tactic I learned from the book was to aim to fulfill one tiny element at a time of the eventual habit you want to build.

By starting super small — performing just the very first part of a habit you wish to form — you set yourself up for consistency. This is what keeps a new habit going. If that first step is too hard, you’ll know won’t be able to keep the habit up; if it’s easy, you build up your willpower muscle and can slowly add to the process that makes up the full habit you’re striving to build.

This weekend you’re going to set our laser focus on this one small step and begin taking it.

This Weekend: Choose one first step.

To choose your first step, think of the bigger picture, the whole habit you wish to start. Clear says that it’s more productive to frame a habit in terms of your identity versus the task itself. For instance, instead of saying you want to do yoga every day, tell yourself you want to be a person who does yoga every day.

Once you decide which habit you want to set your sights on, whittle it down to one first step (the smaller the better) and commit to performing this one step regularly. That’s it. The magic is in breaking the inertia — the mental block that keeps you from throwing yourself into your new habit. See where taking your first small step over and over and over again takes you.

Here are some examples:

  • You want to become a water-drinker. Drink one glass, purposefully, while your coffee is brewing. (This practice of performing the step of your new habit on “cue,” in this case brewing coffee, is another habit-forming hack.)
  • You want to become a regular walker. Take a walk to the mailbox or the end of the block every single day. Or, just put your walking shoes on.
  • You want to be someone who exercises in the morning. Set your workout clothes out the night before so you can put them on in the morning.
  • You want to become a regular journaler. Write one sentence in your journal every night.
  • You want to take better care of your plants. Walk over to the same plant every day and tell it good morning.
  • You want to become a reader. Read one page every night before turning on the TV.

What first step will you choose?

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You can catch up with weekend projects right here. Share your progress with us and others by posting updates and photos on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #atweekendproject.

Remember: This is about improvement, not perfection. Each week you can either choose to work on the assignment we’ve sent you, or tackle another project you’ve been meaning to get to. It’s also completely okay to skip a weekend if you’re busy or not feeling the assignment.