Steps 3 and 4 in my life-balance framework go hand-in-hand, so I’m going to cover both of them in this post. When last we met, you divided your Automatic and Willpower activities into The Four Ps and then gave each category a rating based on your current activity level. Grab your work from that Step 2 exercise, and let’s jump in!
Step 3, Goals
First, determine a set period of time during which you will work on building new habits. I suggest anywhere from four weeks to three months. For your first time doing this, I wouldn’t go any shorter or longer—but ultimately, it’s up to you!
Now, look at your ratings for each of The Four Ps. Where would you like to be at the end of this set time period? Do you want to do more in one of the Ps and less in another? There might even be a P where you don’t necessarily want to move up or down in intensity, but you’d like to reprioritize the activities you’re doing within that category.
Let’s say you’re using numbers for your scales. You’ve determined that you are doing a lot of activities in Productivity and Play but few in Progress and Peace. So, you might want to move from an 8 to a 6 in Productivity, and from a 7 to a 5 in Play. In Progress, you’d like to move from a 3 to a 5, and in Peace from a 2 to a 4.
Remember: This exercise is subjective—there are no perfect levels to achieve. These ratings are there to help you envision how to adjust the balance of activities that fill your days. But they are only a guide, not grades.
So, how are you going to turn the dials up or down? Under each P, list several actions that you can start performing either more or less frequently, which will help you move in the desired direction.
Here are a few examples:
Productivity (aim to spend less time and energy here)
– Split up laundry duty with other family members.
– Scale back frequency of yard work.
– Consolidate errands into once or twice weekly trips instead of small daily trips.
Play (aim to spend less time or higher-quality time here)
– Limit social media scrolling to 2x/day (15 min. max each).
– Take two nights off a week from TV/Netflix.
– Phone, Zoom, or visit with friends instead of just texting.
Progress (aim to increase activity level here)
– Do yoga 2x/week; experiment to find suitable time of day.
– Read before bed 3x/week.
– Start taking pottery lessons.
Peace (aim to increase time spent here)
– Make a gratitude list 3x/week after breakfast.
– Take a walk outside 2x/week with phone in pocket for emergencies only.
– Sign up for free trial w/meditation app and aim for 10 min. sessions 2-3x/week.
Try to make your goals specific and achievable. If you set your goals too high, you might get frustrated. Small, incremental changes will add up.
Step 4, Motivation
Now it’s time to create some motivation. I designed a reward system for performing new actions. It is ridiculously simple—so simple, you might question whether it’s worth doing.
Refer back to the list of goals that you just developed. Take the activities that you want to start doing regularly and assign each a one-word label, such as: Exercise, Yoga, Nature, Learn, Write, Craft, Meditate. This list should not include any activities that you’re already doing regularly; the purpose here is to motivate you to do the things you’re not doing.
Decide how you want to track your rewards. My online course was going to have a cool app to help participants do this, but for now you’re on your own. Get creative or keep it simple. Here are some ideas…
You could keep a running note in your phone, and under each day, add the word for each activity you perform that day.
Or, you can go big and colorful, like I did (and still do). I bought Post-its in lots of different colors, and gave each activity its own color. I got a big white board (but you could use a piece of poster board or even an old mirror or framed picture) and wrote the days of the week across the top. Each day, I add the appropriate color squares, and then at the end of the week I take a photo of the board, move the squares back over to the holding area, and start all over again.
You could do a version of this on a piece of paper using colored markers or in a document on your laptop. I like having something highly visible. I find it inspiring to watch as my habits develop—it helps me spot patterns and see where I can use some more color.
There are no rigid rules as to when you’re allowed to give yourself credit for having done an activity—that is up to you. Perhaps you read a book for 10 minutes instead of scrolling through social media. Give yourself a reward!
Maybe you’re thinking, these labels or squares don’t sound like much of a reward. Give it a try anyway; I think you’ll find it surprisingly motivating, as I did.
Reflect on how this unfolds: Are some colors showing up more than others? Are any patterns emerging? Do certain times of days work better for adding in new activities?
Not everything will turn into a regular habit, and that’s ok. For example, over the six months that I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen reading, writing, yoga, and meditating form into pretty solid habits. Exercise, crafting, and learning remain more like options on an à la carte list. Still, seeing them listed there helps me remember to do them more often than I would without a reward system.
Over the last couple years, I’ve read a number of excellent books about habits and motivation, so I created a recommendation list as a supplement to this step. You don’t have to read any of these books, but if you do, I’m sure you’ll find them helpful, especially Atomic Habits by James Clear.
I’ll be back in about four weeks with the final step. In the meantime, good luck, and I wish you many colorful days!