How do you create a habit? How do you keep up a practice? Whether it’s yoga or meditation or playing an instrument, sticking with a practice is often impossibly difficult. When faced with your own wishy-washy approach, coupled with the nasty lies your inner judge likes to spout off, you might just throw in the towel before you’ve even gotten started. In this post I address some of the mental patterns that make creating a new habit so hard, and give you one fun yet concrete tool to use to dismantle that crippling mindset and get out of your own way.

Previously I wrote about why it’s so hard for so many of us to cross things off our to do list. The TL;DR version is that we often write things down on our lists that are projects (like redesigning a website) not tasks (like scheduling an appointment for new headshots for the aforementioned website). Even when you’ve made a bunch of progress (scheduled the appointment), you haven’t actually completed the whole project (redesigned the website) and thus, you can’t cross it off the list. This sets you up to feel inadequate, unproductive, and like you can never finish what you start. (Sound familiar? Read the whole thing over here.)

How is a practice different from a project different from a task? A project is big, complex, and impossible to finish in one sitting. A task is its polar opposite: small, discrete, and finished in one go. A practice, on the other hand, is a little of both. Playing an instrument, for instance. It's something that happens in one sitting, but it's never quite done. And if you're used to hearing a whole lot of talk from your own inner critic about how terrible and lazy you are, trying to build a meaningful, sustained practice over time might feel like an uphill battle. In short, even though you work hard, you might still end up feeling shitty about yourself.

What I'm not saying here is that you're only as good as the work you produce. While I’m all for doing the deep digging work of figuring out how to extract myself from that kind of capitalist thinking, sometimes I just want to get things done. When you practice anything, you start to feel pride and a sense of accomplishment. You feel like less of a useless sloth and more like a functional human (or maybe that's just me?) More importantly, you have momentum to keep going on whatever you're working on or practicing. Like the laws of physics, you move and thus you are more easily able to keep moving. As poet Kay Ryan says "Action creates a taste for itself."

In 2008 I had just graduated from college (six and half years and one hurricane later), and for the next couple of years, I struggled tO make art. I had just come from the cozy nest of art school where there were weekly assignments and critiques, teachers who were invested in my work, and a community of fellow students who were also making art. Suddenly I was without structure, without deadlines, and frankly, without motivation. I fell into a slump.

This was my cycle: I wasn’t making art, so I felt bad about myself. I felt bad about myself, so I didn’t feel inspired to make art. I didn’t make art, so I felt bad. And so on, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. "Who do you think you are?," my inner critic taunted, "Why do you even call yourself an artist anyway? You never make any art." The voices in my head relentlessly told me I was a failure, a fraud, and a fuck-up, and though I felt sad and beaten down, some part of me didn't totally believe my self-defeating story. I needed some factual information to fight back with. This is where the Gold Star Chart came in.

Remember the Gold Star Chart? Like when you were a little kid? You, excellent six year old that you were, completed some small task and got a gold star.  Did you share your toys? Gold star! You brushed your teeth? Gold star! Learned your vocabulary words? Good job! Gold star.

I thought if I started tracking how I was spending my time, it might make me feel better about myself, (plus I happen to love tracking information and charts and graphs--ask my former roommates about my epic grocery money pie charts!) So I made my own grown-up Gold Star Chart. I even bought those old school foil star stickers at Walgreen’s. The categories needed an update, though; Instead of cleaning my room or using the potty, I started tracking how often I engaged in creative pursuits and dealt with things that we might assign to the realm of “adulting.” My first Gold Star Chart had five categories across the top: Art, Yoga, Gardening, Friends, and Money.

When I went to a yoga class or rolled out my mat for 10 Sun Salutations at home, I got a yoga star. I pulled weeds for an hour on my way home from work: gardening star. I cooked dinner with my bestie: friend star. I worked a double waiting tables and made bank: money star. And yes, when I got out my camera or sat at my sewing machine or laid on the floor to with charcoal and paper, I got an art star.

As the weeks went on, I realized I had a powerful tool in my hands. When my inner judge started to talk its predictable shit, I looked at the chart. All those gold stars so clearly contradicted the narrative the inner judge wanted me to believe. How could I be an impostor, not a real artist, not a real yogi, when I had been making art and practicing yoga almost every day for weeks? How could the inner judge argue with the facts?

Slowly I started to come out of the funk I’d been in and find ways to keep up with all of the things I wanted to practice. The things that weren’t projects with an end date, but things that I wanted to keep up with in an ongoing, infinite way. I was doing it, and I had the stars to prove it. And I felt SO MUCH BETTER inside.

I want this for you too, because I know that you are way more awesome than the little twerp that lives inside your brain would have you believe. Here’s your homework (should you choose to accept it.)

1. Dream about what practices would go at the top of your gold star chart. Narrow your list to 4-6 categories of daily/weekly activities that you want to keep track of. Possible things to track are morning rituals, exercise, being creative/writing, friends/social time, cooking, etc. no more than six.

2. Make a gold star chart by writing them vertically at the top of a page. Then write the dates down the left side in a column. Draw a grid to track each activity for each day. Make it as cute or big or small or glittery as you want. Get stickers. {Some of my coaching clients like to make their chart inside their journal or calendar where it’s always with them, while others prefer to have a visual reminder on the wall to help keep them encouraged.}

3. And then, start tracking! Be easy on yourself here about what "counts." This is not the time to create more exacting standards for yourself. Five minutes of meditation is definitely worth a star. Ten sun salutations? Gold star! (Of course, if you happen to do 90 minutes of sweaty flow yoga, yay! But don't make it a requirement.) We're going for small actions together over time. Remember the verse from the Bhagavad Gita that says, "On the path of yoga there is no failure and nothing goes to waste. Even the smallest effort towards spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest sorrow."

Let me know how this is works for you! And please be in touch if you have questions or need other support. Leave me a comment or send me an email! And if you like what I write, sign up for weekly updates below.

Much love,


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