The 8 Lifetime Habit Skills – As Taught By Leo Babauta of Zen Habits
There are many great ways to form habits in the short term, but keeping habits going over a longer period of time demands a different set of skills.
I recently attended a webinar by Leo Babauata where he shared his 8 key skills for transforming short term habits into life long habits.
Short term habits
Short term habits are formed by creating a trigger. The trigger can be anything you already do. E.g. drinking coffee, showering, or arriving at work.
The more often you connect the habit to the trigger the stronger the urge to do the habit becomes. But there are many things you can do to strengthen a short-term habit.
- Set a reminder
- Add accountability
- Create a positive feedback loop.
The Urge is not the Habit.
Using these tools it’s easy to connect the urge to do a habit with a trigger. And over the short term it’s fairly straight forward to keep this connection strong.
The problem arises when the urge and follow through are challenged. The trigger will happen and the urge will arise, but something gets in the way.
It might be that you are sick, or you are on vacation, but for whatever reason you don’t do the habit. When this happens the habit is weakened.
In the short term this usually isn’t a problem, but when we take a habit beyond the short term we have to learn to be more flexible and clever if we want to stick to a habit.
The 30 day Experiement
Whenever you take on a new habit Leo suggests you commit to doing it for 30 days. This is long enough to connect a trigger with a habit. But short enough that it’s still an experiment.
At the end of 30 days you ask:How did it go?
Then you base your next step on your response.
- If you loved the habit and have it down – Maybe you can add another habit.
- If you liked the habit but it still seems shaky – Maybe stick with the habit for another 30 days.
- If you learned alot, but it didn’t grab your attention – maybe you should let it go.
Remember letting go of the habit is not a failure. Anytime you learn that a habit does or doesn’t work for you is a success.
So lets say you liked the habit but want to add a new one this month. That means you have to put the old habit in maintenance mode. This doesn’t mean you stop working on it. It just means that you put it on the back burner.
It’s kind of like keeping something at a simmer. You may move a pan to the back burner, but you can’t just walk away from the stove.
You have to keep an eye on it. If you don’t stir it, it will burn and if you leave the lid off it will get cold.
Habit formation is like this. At first, you apply alot of heat or energy, and then once it’s warmed up you don’t have to apply as much energy. But then the habit may start to get cold and when this happens you have to apply more energy or heat.
Just remember habits take energy so you have to be careful where you are putting your energy.
If your new habit requires all your energy, you old habits will get cold, but if you can balance your energy, it’s possible to work on a new habit while still maintaining old ones.
Habit Mastery Skills
Once a habit goes into maintenance mode you need different skills to keep it going. Leo Identified 8 skills that are essential to mastering habits over the long term.
1. Thinking Ahead –
Thinking ahead is all about predicting the obstacles to your habit and coming up with strategies to overcome them.
For example – If I’m working on a diet habit, but am meeting someone for lunch I need to ask if I can stick to my diet where we are going?
If the answer is no then you have to come up with a strategy so you can stick to your habit.
2. Socializing –
Socializing a habit is about creating a positive feedback loop.
Some habits are hard to form because doing them is hard and not doing them is easy. When we socialize our habits we can reverse that loop, because pleasing others feels good and disappointing others is hard.
You have many options to socialize a habit. You can play a habit game; make a habit bet, tell people about your habit on twitter, or ask for support from your family.
One of the best ways is to join or form an accountability group on sea change. These kinds of groups give social support and help you learn from others struggles.
Leo noted that whenever he felt one of his habits growing cold he adds a level of social accountability to turn up the heat.
3. Notice when you aren’t doing the habit –
It’s easy to beat yourself up for slipping up, but it’s better to just notice when you are not doing a habit and ask why?
Often you’ll discover the obstacles you have to habit formation. This information is valuble in keeping habits going.
4. Reducing barriers –
If you discover barriers from the previous question then ask how can you reduce those barriers.
If you notice, you often drop a habit around a certain time or for a certain reasons brainstorm about how you could modify your habit to account for those barriers.
Then whenever the barriers come up you can turn up the heat and keep the habit going.
5. See the Habit as a treat –
Leo noted that if you think of the habit as a chore you won’t do it. There are so many chores in life and no one wants another one.
But habits don’t have to be chores they can be treats. Most of us have been assigned a book in school we didn’t like, but when we read it later we thought it was great.
Habits aren’t homework we get assigned; they are things we do to make our lives better. So think of your habit as a break, as a treat, and as a way of nurturing yourself. If you do this, your habits will stick around much longer.
6. Mindfulness –
Mindfulness is one of the best ways to connect you habit to your intentions and to find ways to make your habit even better.
First, ask: How do I feel when I’m doing this habit. Then ask How do I feel afterwards? Finally notice how it feels when you don’t do your habit. Do you feel worse? Do you feel guilty?
Use this information to decide how this habit is working.
Creating new habits is an act of compassion for yourself. We take on habits because we want to make our lives better.
If you feel better after a habit then you know doing it is an act of compassion. Even if a habit feels hard at first we can remind ourselves we are doing this because we care.
Compassion is also important when we miss a habit. It’s important to forgive ourselves and then keep trying. If we form habits with compassion, they will last longer.
8. Iterating –
In the world of software development iterating means putting out many versions of a piece of software. Most companies put out a prototype, get feedback, and then improve the software with each release.
Iterating works the same way with habits. The first few weeks of a new habit, you are testing out your program. It’s important to use the tools above to get feedback on how to improve your habits.
The tips that Leo gives have gone through many of his own iterations, but that doesn’t mean they will be perfect for you. It’s important that you test and keep adapting your habits to fit your life.
If you don’t iterate your habits, they won’t last. You can’t just find a final solution and stop. Your habits are a living thing, they have to adapt to the changes in your life.
Just like caring for children, pets, or plants, you have to learn how to take care of your habits at different stages.
This can be challenging but it’s also rewarding because, as we learn to take care of habits, we learn to take care of ourselves.
We learn about our lives and what we care about. That’s why iterating is one of the most important skills of mastering any habit.