My Weird ‘3 Year’ Rule + How I Used It To Jump-start Change

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It’s 3 am on a Wednesday night in 2016 and I’m awake. Again. As per the usual.

I stare at the ceiling and try to do those breathing exercises you read about in Real Simple, but get bored and give up. I toss and turn and huff and puff and make lists in my mind of various things I need to do when I finally get out of bed.

Mend that sweater.
Send that thank-you note.
Figure out LinkedIn – do I even need it?

Eventually, I fall into a distracted, light sleep and wake up poorly rested and cranky. I drink coffee all day to counteract the exhaustion and the entire process repeats itself that night.

Wake at 3 am. Toss for an hour and a half. Fall back into a sub-par sleep. Wake up feeling awful.

For a long time – years! – I slept poorly. But it didn’t seem like a big deal. Everybody I knew seemed to be low-key exhausted. Everybody fell asleep in front of Netflix at 2 am. Everybody shared memes about coffee.

And then one day, I happened upon this article and this collection of sentences:

The cumulative long-term effects of sleep loss and sleep disorders have been associated with a wide range of deleterious health consequences including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.

After decades of research, the case can be confidently made that sleep loss and sleep disorders have profound and widespread effects on human health.

Oh, what’s that? You mean my daily choices could slowly add up to a heart attack or stroke or depression? That thing I don’t think is a big deal will become a big deal if I do it every day for years?

Confronted with these rather terrifying findings, I pretty quickly changed my ways. I used the very same methods I teach in Habit School to give up caffeine completely. And I bought this. Now I sleep like a baby 90% of the time.

Carrie Bradshaw-like, this got me thinking: where would I be in three years if I kept the exact same habits I have today? What would my life look like if I did those things – those “not a big deal” things – every day for three years?

Imagine it.

Imagine eating dinner standing over the sink every night for three years.

Or 1,000 days of Instagram stalking our exes.

Or 1,000 days of making excuses about why we haven’t finished that project we were so excited about.

We humans love to overestimate the positive effects of our (very) occasional good choices. We work out for two days and expect to have a six pack. We use one coupon and think we’ve topped off our Roth IRAs. We take a three-day break from social media and think we’re ready to join a Buddhist monastery. <- hello, I’m talking about myself.

Meanwhile, we convince ourselves that we’re doing these non-great things “just for today” or “just because it’s the busy season” or “because it’s the holidays.” It’s been scientifically proven that we chronically underestimate our own alcohol use, spending, and social media use.

This sounds awful and terrifying, doesn’t it? Like a ghost from Christmas future, pointing its bony finger at a calendar and hissing “This. This is the date you started “just swinging into Target after work” and now you’ve done it every day for three years. You are drowning in throw pillows and credit card debt.”
Think of your less-than-great habits. Imagine you did them every day for three years. What would your life look like? If you don’t like the way it would look, maybe it’s time to make a change. <3 Click To TweetBut I’m not sharing my weird three-year rule to scare you! When I saw that sleep study and was forced to confront the impact of my sleep habits, I was finally motivated to make real changes. Under eye bags and a coffee addiction weren’t enough. Realizing the long term impact of my daily habits was.

Picture November 28th, 2021. Are you the person you want to be?

I want to hear from you! How do you get yourself to take action on change? What’s motivated you to finally break your worst habits?

Photo by Renáta-Adrienn on Unsplash

4 Comments

Tis

Sarah, you’re awesome. I’m currently ghost-writing a book (wha…?!) and wrestling with creating the right voice. And you! You’ve nailed it. I love reading your posts. It always feels like we’re sharing a cuppa. Thank you!

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