Over the past week, I’ve been playing around with habits.
Actually, habits have fascinated me for some time – particularly since I started studying them in the book by Charles Duhigg: The Power of Habit. I’ve written a number of previous posts on habits (using some of the stuff I learned from that book for reference), and since then I’ve also discovered another great writer & blog on the subject: James Clear.
Additionally, as I mentioned in last week’s post about Motivation, the Internet Business Mastery podcast has been a great source of inspiration for me lately as it doesn’t just delve into the mechanics of doing business online, but also the mindset and psychology necessary to succeed – which is what I’m much more interested in. Last week’s gem of information from IBM was:
Plans lead to Routines. Routines lead to Habits. Habits lead to Success.
And another great quote about habits that comes to mind is (paraphrasing):
No one can determine their future with any surety. But you can determine your habits, and your habits determine your future.
My Habit Experimentation
So why do habits matter? Why are habits so important? Let’s take a look at a very practical example from my own life.
In 2007, I was living in Korea as an English hagwon teacher. Most days were spent waking up before noon, watching TV, surfing the ‘Net, grabbing a fast food lunch, working, and then coming home to stay awake until 2-3am on the Internet again. It wasn’t really a terrible life, but I did suffer from a serious lack of purpose. And my habits were horrible (in truth, I had none).
I had no set bedtime, and no morning wake up time. I rolled out of bed whenever I felt like it (depressing days kept me under the covers longer). For lunch, I had no plan either so most of the time I sat there and debated with myself for up to 40 minutes about whether or not I would go get fast food, or go buy something healthy to cook – and then the question was “what would I cook?” Needless to say, all the thinking and inner-debate was a huge waste of time.
By 2008, I was a very different person. I’d been doing TaeKwonDo for a year at 10:30am. There were still times when I woke up late, or was depressed enough to not go to the practice. But for the most part, the discipline and accountability of getting up for TaeKwonDo (which I paid for) was enough to get me to be more diligent about getting to bed on time. Plus, the mornings that I went to TaeKwonDo were much more productive than those I didn’t go.
But I still had a problem deciding what to do for lunch. Fast food was easiest, but unhealthy. Going to the store to buy vegetables required (1) attempting to use Korean (I was shy), and (2) actually coming home to cook (easily double the time fast food would take). There were days when I still debated with myself for up-to-as-long-as-it-would-have-taken-me-to-cook to decide whether or not I was going to cook.
In 2009, up to just before my wedding, I’d finally developed some pretty good habits. I was still doing TaeKwonDo in the mornings, but I was also going to the gym at that time to try to trim down for my tuxedo. My daily routine looked like this:
- Wake up at 10:00am and get breakfast – egg or cereal.
- Go to TaeKwonDo at 10:30am.
- Drink a chocolate milk after TaeKwonDo at 12:00pm and bike to the gym (5km away).
- Work out until 1:30pm, shower, and grab a sandwich for lunch.
- Bike to the hagwon at 2:30pm (5km away).
- Arrive at work by 3:00pm and stay until 10:30pm (dinner at work), then bike home (5km away).
- Be in bed at least by 2am every night.
Fast forward to today and we can see some of my best habits still in practice as well as some other good habits I’ve formed:
- Wake up at 5:00am and eat breakfast everyday.
- Post something to the blog (or work on something) every day before 8:00am.
- Bike to and from work (now 8km away).
- Get to bed around 10:00pm every night (with the kids).
Actually, it’s the discipline of daily working on this blog that has helped me to see what a huge benefit habits actually are.
Why Habits are Awesome
Habits are awesome because they free your mind to do other things. Rather than worrying about what to do now, you’re actually doing. Rather than thinking about what to eat now, you’re actually cooking.
Habits are awesome because they are an automatic response to some kind of trigger. In Charles Duhigg’s book, he mentions that all habits follow this routine:
- First, the Trigger: something sparks a habit into action.
- Next, the Routine: actually doing your habit.
- Finally, the Reward: this is some kind of stimulus (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual) that makes you feel good and reinforces that kind of behavior in the future.
How to Create New Habits
Remember at the beginning of the post I said “I’ve been playing around with habits for the past week”? What I’ve really been doing is:
- Looking for or creating Triggers – to spur on some kind of behavior.
- Consciously deciding on a some action to take – my chosen Routine.
- Immediately (upon completing my Routine) Rewarding myself with something that feels good or stimulates my mind.
This is the best way to create new habits. In the past week, I’ve begun (and maintained):
- A steady strength training exercise program.
- A stretching program.
- The habit of eating a healthy lunch + exercising + calling my wife (each of which used to be absolutely neglected previously).
- Posting to TWO blogs daily (this one and my design portfolio).
- A regular reading time.
- A regular sketching time.
- A regular Korean journaling time.
- A schedule for listening to podcasts and audiobooks.
This seems like an awful lot, and it is. But the KEYS to maintaining all of this are:
- Allow your chosen Trigger to tell you when to start your chosen Routine.
- Be content with small progress. Don’t go overboard with your goals and expect huge results immediately. Be content merely with the Routine for now. Allow Progress to happen over time.
For me, many of my Triggers are alarms that go off on my smartphone. The alarm signals a change of behavior because I must break away from what I’ve been doing to shut off the alarm. This gives me an open opportunity to switch to another behavior almost immediately.
In the next post, I look more closely at exactly HOW to:
- Create Triggers
- Plan specific actions
- Reward yourself adequately in order to reinforce your new behaviors.
But for now, what are some habits that you have, would like to have, or would like NOT to have?