Don’t Put Up a Zero
How to Stick with a New Habit
Habits are a part of every aspect of our lives. The brain is constantly looking for ways to make tasks more automatic so that we can focus on activities that require more attention. Most people recognize their good habits and bad habits. It’s when we try and change our habits that we run into challenges.
There are many different expert opinions on how to build good habits and break bad ones. In fact, the inspiration for this article comes after reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. If you want a more in-depth breakdown of how habits work and what we can do to build and/or change them I’d highly recommend reading his book.
I plan on building on what I found to be one of the heaviest hitting pieces of advice James Clear offers. It is what separates an amateur from a professional — Don’t Put Up a Zero.
What it Means Not to Put Up a Zero
Building new habits or breaking bad ones requires action.
We all know the cycle. You see a hobby you like and decide to give it a try. Maybe you’re able to stick with it for a couple of days or even a full week. Then you have that one day. You know that day where life gets in the way and it makes an already difficult task of building a good habit that much harder.
Those are the critical moments where it is imperative not to put a zero up on the scoreboard. Putting up one point is better than a goose egg. If you are trying to write in a journal every day, writing one sentence is better than nothing. Strumming the guitar for ten minutes a day is better than picking it up once every two weeks.
Repeating the behavior is more important than the quality of work when you are first starting to build a habit. Don’t worry too much about planning in the beginning. Planning is important but is often overdone and gives you an excuse to procrastinate performing the action.
Let me give you a real-life example for more context. I’ve struggled with keeping an exercise routine during this pandemic. It’s been easy for me to tell myself that since the gyms are closed that I don’t need to work out.
After reading Atomic Habits and realizing that now more than ever exercise and healthy eating are important, I decided to try again. So far, all I’m doing is pushups, sit-ups, and a little bit of cardio, and when I say a little bit of cardo that means five minutes some days.
Sure, I’m not going to get ripped with this routine, but the simple act of doing a little bit each day has started to change my habits. I’m challenging the lazy part of my identity and reminding myself that I do like exercise and being healthy.
Standardize before you optimize.
A Word on Boredom
There is one more important caveat to remember when constructing a new habit. When you are establishing a new routine to compliment a new habit, it is going to get boring. This is a huge derailer of habits in their infancy.
Boredom is something that we all seem to avoid at all costs. Life is supposed to be fun and exciting all the time, right? That’s what Instagram and Snapchat would lead you to believe.
I know it’s hard to accept, but when you are creating a new process, like anything, it will be fun and exciting at first, but eventually, it will get dry. The human brain constantly wants instant gratification. Hobbies require long term commitment and consistency.
Thinking long term is tough, but it’s necessary if you want to master a skill or habit. The pay off will always be bigger and better if you are patient and can fall in love with the process.
Thankfully, there are ways to make it easier on yourself. I personally look for ways to intertwine a more boring habit that I know is good for me, with something fun.
For example, I want to exercise more, but I also want to play video games. I created a fun little system for myself where every time I finish a match, I’ll do ten push-ups and sit-ups. That way I am still able to get my exercise while, doing something I enjoy.
Be creative and find ways to make it more fun for yourself. It can be all the difference.
Not putting up a zero can make a huge difference in your life. Take action and do as much as you can even if you can only do a little bit. Once you get a streak going it becomes easier and easier to stick with a new habit.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss a day. Just get back to it ASAP.
Finally, learn to love the process and stick with it even when it gets boring. The best things in life often come to those who wait. The same can be said when you are trying to master any kind of skill.