Where a lot of self-improvement initiatives seem to falter --
Failure to consolidate the gains.
After any period of self-development -- whether that's in health, productivity, attitude, or a particular skill -- there will be a time when you've got a loose collection of new habits that aren't fully happening all the time.
Inevitably, eventually you get caught up in being busy, or get ill, or whatever, and many of the new gains fall over like a house of cards.
It's worth keeping this in mind when trying to make positive changes. From time to time, you need to consolidate the gains.
Ideally, your new practices are written down. I do a mix of writing them on paper, tacking sticky notes to a whiteboard and gigantic piece of cardboard right above my desk, and keeping them in digital files like Google Docs.
If you haven't written down any of your particular rules and reasons for keeping them up, you want to do that as soon as they look shaky at all. That way, you have a reference to go back to if you start to fall off.
When you do start to fall off (and this happens to almost everyone), it's time to slow down a little on building new improvements and consolidate what you've got. That means reviewing what you've written, your reasoning, and looking to restart what you've left off.
If you've fallen off due to external circumstance, it can make a lot of sense to put a hard cutoff date for restarting. If you're traveling and off your desired diet, you can make something like, "As soon as the plane lands, I'm back on it." It works pretty well.
Having habits almost fall off and then get re-booted seems to be a big part of the process of gaining new habits, and a part of it that most people aren't prepared for.
But similar to how spaced repetition helps with mentally retaining information, having new habits start to fade and then consolidating them does wonders for building them up stronger.
Plan for it, love it, and go for it. Many improvement campaigns start to falter. By being prepared for it, writing down your procedures and reasons for doing something, and reviewing it when it starts to get shaky and doubling back down, you wind up keep the best of your habits built into your life, and making tremendous progress.
And tracking, since I started doing it, has raised up retention rate of my new habits by 75%. I retain 3 out of 4 habits I try to start new now. I wonder if there is a limit of good habits or if I haven't gotten use to them yet. Sometimes, it takes forever to sleep (tracking/flossing/meditating) and I feel myself starting to falter.
A big part of personal development for me right now is just finding ways of tracking more things consistently without incurring too much administrative overhead. Whenever I do that, it's like getting free fruit. What gets measured gets managed, so find cognitively free or cheap ways of measuring and you will manage more.
Recent example: tracking daily pushups on a notepad at work. No admin hassle, and it massively improves my propensity to do random pushups thoughout the day.
I love building. I love expansion. I love making new things, doing new things.
But that's only one side of the coin. Expansion is fantastic, but you need to consolidate your gains.
Most of the time, you can consolidate a little bit each day. Clean things up, put things away.
But when's the last time you devoted an entire day to consolidation?
I try to do it at least 3 times a month. It's fantastic.
I don't get to write very often about productivity these days. I'm too busy doing things. There's some sad irony there.
Yet, there's two points that have been so critical, so valuable, so life-affirming... that I so often see people doing the exact opposite of what's correct in... that I thought I'd spend my morning writing this up.
Images via Wikipedia article on "firebreak."
1. Firebreaks: Because When Your Mind Can't Be Trusted, It Really Can't Be Trusted