For the last months I’ve been writing about habits and their power pretty much every other week.
However, I haven’t yet had an official “coming out” moment about habits and how to implement them. This was a conscious decision, as habits have become wildly popular in the goal-setting and self-help communities. Charles Duhigg, James Clear, James Altucher, Mark Manson… you name it, they’ve all written extensively and excellently about habits. It’s a true bandwagon for cool kids now.
Nevertheless, I enthusiastically join the bandwagon. Habits are just that awesome.
Habit-building is so effective as a self-improvement strategy, simply because it focuses energy in an efficient direction. Rather than focusing our limited energy and willpower on creating a singular result (a focused day at work, making the decision to go to the gym, eating healthy) a habit process focuses on removing obstacles and programming you to begin useful actions.
So, don’t worry about draining all your willpower on getting the ultimate kick-ass workout in; when you get home, simply put your workout clothes on and focus on getting out the door. Don’t worry about remembering to stand up and stretch at your desk; simply don’t use a water bottle and force yourself to walk to the water cooler.
In essence, habits take away the brainpower required to make continuous choices. When you set a good habit, your goal is to train yourself to make it harder to not to do it than to do it. You’re hijacking the mind’s unwillingness to break out of patterns, and make it work for you rather than against you.
How do habits work for me?
Well, at the moment I have around 20 habits that I perform and monitor consistently. 8 of them comprise my morning routine (which has made my morning brain much less jittery and improved my quality of life), the rest are spread throughout the day. It includes:
– Daily Duolingo lessons
– Gratitude Journalling
– Daily squats
– Planning the next day
– And quite some more…
Most of these are up to long streaks. Since start of the year I’ve had some great results: I fnished the French Duolingo course, read 10 books since the start of the year, got back to guitar, and improved my flexibility. All of these are results one can’t get from singular efforts; they have to come from an incremental, habit-based approach.
If you want to use the magic of habits in your life… well, there’s already a ton of material out there! For the full theory and story, Charless Duhigg famous ‘The Power of Habit’ is extremely hard to beat, and many other bloggers have churned out excellent articles already. I will simply add the pro-tips that I found most helpful.
Worry about showing up. Forget about everything else
Building a habit is all about creating a certain behavioural groove which feels natural and enjoyable to you. The main thing that groove has to do is get you to start the behaviour, so focus on simply initating the habit every day -even if you stop it quickly.
Once you get the actual habit down, you can worry about building volume. For instance, at first I did only about 2 Duolingo lessons per day -sometimes even just 1 right before bed, so I wouldn’t break my streak. Nowadays I do about a dozen.
But I wouldn’t have gotten that far if I had started off trying to do a dozen lessons a day, every day.
So focus on micro-habits. Focus on just doing 1 Duolingo lesson a day. Do 1 push-up in the morning. Do 1 flexibility exercise. This’ll build the mental groove necessary for bigger loads -and many times, you’ll anyway decide to go for more once you get going!
Start small. Tiny victories build momentum.
- Surround yourself with your preferred choices.
When you have a lot of habits to keep track of, it gets harder to (unconsciously) remember all of them. This is where engineering your environment comes in.At a moment, you’ll want to remove all the bad choices you have surrounded yourself with. If you want to make a habit out of cooking, don’t have microwave food and nachos lying around.
A bit more advanced though, you can set up cues in your environment and anchor certain habits to them. For instance, I keep LEGO blocks on my desk to visually keep track of how many Pomodoro cycles I’m doing at work; it keeps things fun, but more importantly the LEGO blocks have become a constant reminder of the habits.You can play around with similar visual cues and anchors, to remember your habits.
- Find a tracking system you enjoy. You’re busy improving yourself, so might as well feel good about it. Monitoring your progress in building new habits is an instantaneous feedback loop; it makes everything go much faster. And furthermore, gamifying the process is a way of bringing even more instincts and emotions to help you.There’s a plethora of apps out there that helps you track habits. My personal favourites are Way of Life and Habitlist. They’re both versatile, no-nonsense implementations that make tracking yourself easy, fun and colourful.
Hope you enjoyed this coming-out story, and good luck with your own habits!