We all want to become a better version of ourselves.
We want to be more, better, quicker, smarter.
Better looking, more productive, have interesting conversations, achieve more, freer, happier.
More often than not we tend to look at the system in the wrong way: we look at the goal rather than the process.
Don’t take me wrong, goals are important.
But having the right system will make us achieve those goals quicker.
To build a better system – thus a better version of ourselves – one needs to be a master at developing habits.
Habits are like computer prompts we ingrain in our mind: if I do this, then that will happen.
Some habits are natural – such as waking up, while others are easily acquired – such as changing gears when you drive. They become part of our ‘operative system’.
If I asked you how many times you changed gears the last time you drove your car, you probably won’t be able to tell me (unless you are superhuman, in which case kudos to you!).
Because the action – changing gears – has become a habit.
You drive so much that you do the action by default, without even thinking.
In this post I will teach you how to pick a habit – any habit – in 30 days or less.
Choosing a Habit
It’s important to know why you are trying to pick a new habit.
Again, it comes back to becoming a better version of ourselves.
To pick a new habit it becomes crucial to ask: why?
Maybe you want to play in a band or impress a boy or girl, thus wanting to learn an instrument.
If you want to go to the gym more often your goal is to become fit or have a six-pack.
That’s why it’s important to start backward. Start with the goal in mind, and work to the habit that you need to develop.
Remember to keep asking why until you have a final answer to your motivation. Sometimes you need to ask it as much as five times.
With our gym example: maybe you want to get more fit to lose some weight.
Why do you want to lose weight? Because it will make you look nicer.
Why do you want to look nicer? Because you are trying to impress someone.
Why are you trying to impress someone? Because you like him/her.
See, completely different motivation.
Going to the gym is just a means to an end.
If you try to go to the gym because you need to go to the gym you will drop out in less than a week.
Your system is not aligned with your motivation.
I developed the habit of writing every day because I wanted to start a blog and I knew I need to write great content to do so.
Why did I want to start a blog? Because I thought about many things and loved sharing them in conversations.
Why did I love sharing my thoughts? Because I felt like I was helping people get better.
Why do I need to make people feel better? Because helping people be better makes me feel better.
The right motivation to develop a new habit can go a long way. It will be a constant reminder, especially when you do NOT want to practice said habit.
Work backward from your goal and ask yourself why multiple times, it will help you decide on a new habit you want to develop.
Ask yourself this: given no constraint of time or money, what kind of person would you like to become?
It helps to break down your life into several categories:
- Health: develop a six-pack; have more energy throughout the day
- Wealth: save money for a trip; spend more on services and experiences, rather than things
- Love: find a companion; become more attractive
- Productivity: get a promotion; complete more projects
Starting the Habit
There are only three rules in the ‘Fight Club of Habits’:
- Start small
- Ramp it up
- Don’t skip twice in a row
Thanks for reading.
The first rule is the biggest mistake people do when trying to develop a new habit.
Let’s say they want to start running.
On the very first day – after buying all the necessary tools, such as running shoes, dry fit clothes, and the mandatory iPhone strap – they run for an hour.
The next day (or normally after a couple of days) they run for half an hour. C’mon, cut a guy some slack, their legs are still sore! They never ran that much before.
Then they might run 20-30 minutes a couple of times next week.
And then they stop running altogether and go tell their friends that ‘it wasn’t for them’.
I probably know more people who did this than I care to admit.
The reason they fail is they don’t start small: they prefer to run all at once rather than to phase it out.
Want to start running? Then start by running 5 minutes per day.
Are you on a tight schedule? Then commit to 10 minutes at least three times a week.
By starting small you will a) appreciate the victories of your efforts and b) become better at the habit, step-by-step.
If your goal is to write a book, don’t start by writing half the book at once. You will never finish it because you will be drained from that traumatizing experience (this happened to me, guilty as charge).
Commit to writing 500 words every day.
And then when you have mastered that tiny habit then it’s time to take it to the next level: write 600 words per day.
This is the second concept of a habit: ramp it up.
To continue developing a habit, you need to challenge yourself: do more reps, write more words, run one more km, wake up 10 min earlier.
Ramp it up slowly and steady. You can do it on a daily, weekly or on a monthly basis.
And don’t worry: there’s no shame in dialing it down if you don’t feel you are ready yet for the next level.
The same happens in games: sometimes you have to go back to the easier levels to become better. Only then will you be ready to master the harder ones.
Finally, the third rule: don’t skip twice in a row.
Whenever someone wants to pick a new habit, I always suggest following the Seinfeld Rule. Try to stick to the habit for 30 days and reevaluate after that.
Decide if you want your habit to be daily or multiple times per week.
I commit to writing every single day, no matter what. However, I decided to exercise at least 4 times a week. This gives me more flexibility to choose days when I am more inclined to exercise.
Whatever the schedule you decide, try to stick to it.
And if you miss a day, don’t worry.
Just don’t make that a habit. 😉
You can skip one day but you can’t skip the day after.
You will actively try to develop the habit even when you missed doing it.
If you want, you can even find an accountability partner to make sure that someone is checking on your progress.
Some people like to offer negative rewards when skipping the habit, like buying your buddy coffee.
Taking it to the Next Level
This post could have ended here.
But I have to expand on two important notions which help developing new habits.
The first is the concept of habit stacking or – as I like to call it – the “Original IFTTT”.
If This Then That is an automation app that lets you set triggered actions upon other actions.
If you are tagged in a Facebook photo, then save that picture to your Dropbox. Or: if you archive something in Pocket then send it to Evernote.
The concept of habit stacking follows the same rule: if this happens, then do that.
The only difference is that you are the app (this analogy sounded way better in my head).
- If I wake up, then I immediately drink water
- I eat, then I clean everything afterward
- If I go to the gym, then I have a protein bar beforehand
- I go running, then I take a shower afterward
The more habits in a row you do the bigger your stack will be.
Most people have a complete set of habits in the morning: it’s called a morning routine.
‘Habit Stacking’ is a great way to help your mind achieve more while using less.
I use habit stacking from the moment I wake up until leaving the house for work. This means that until I exit my apartment my entire mind is almost in auto-pilot.
It goes like this:
- Wake up and drink water which is right next to my bed
- Sit down and write until the alarm goes off (I set up alarms to stop doing things, in this case, writing)
- Sets of crunches, repetition is the best exercise
- Take a shower while alternating between hot and cold water
- Dry myself up and get dressed
- Cook breakfast, eggs with bacon and a glass of water, clean up as I go
- Meditate in my room
- Brush teeth and moisturize
- Shoes on and out of the door
The minute I go out the door I turn off the airplane mode on my phone and see if anything urgent popped out (hint: 99% it doesn’t).
Doing one thing after the other really helps me develop habits.
By the way, there are five in that morning routine. They are: writing, ab exercise, eating eggs for breakfast, meditating and moisturizing.
I don’t even notice them anymore because I repeat them over and over again without thinking.
I save my energy for the actual habit itself: writing requires that I think and reflect, for example.
You have decided on a habit and will stick to it for at least 30 days. Those are great news?
After that period, it’s time to review: have you developed the habit? This means that you can do it without reminding yourself that you need to it.
If yes, then great, mission accomplished.
No? Then let’s reevaluate it. Do you still want to develop this habit or would you rather do something else?
If you still want to develop the habit, then you might want to give it another 30 days and see if it becomes natural.
Otherwise feel free to drop the habit and pick a new one instead.
Yeah, dropping habits is completely fine. And by the way, so is dropping books, movies, and TV shows.
You can pick more habits as you go and replace the ones you don’t like or the ones that have become natural.
As an example, here are two habits that I have picked up along the years that I still do to this day:
- Drinking water immediately after waking up
- No email or instant messaging until the biggest task of the day is accomplished
They might sound small – and most of them are – but they make a world of a difference in being faster, more efficient, smarter and generally happier.
Don’t pick a habit you don’t like. You won’t be motivated and you will dislike it.
I never liked running. This might be because as a kid the entire soccer offseason consisted of running, which I dreaded. To this day I dislike running.
I have lots of friends that swear by it, that it frees your mind and pushes you to the limits. I can understand them but it just does not have the same effect on me.
The only thing I can think of when I am running is: “I hate running, I hate running, I hate running”.
So I don’t run.
Maybe I will change my mind one day.
I mean I didn’t like fish when I was young and now I love it.
People change and that’s fine.
What better version of yourself do you want to become?