You are the things you do. You are the sediments and dusts of the thousand tiny actions you take moment after moment.
But these actions aren’t random. Like the layers of rock in the Grand Canyon your actions follow a pattern. A flow of self reinforcing conscious or unconscious mandates called habits.
We are creatures of habit and for a very good reason. While our brains have an amazing capacity for ingenuity they have a limited capacity for working memory. So the more things we can put on autopilot, the more space we have to think about our brilliant ideas and our ever present worries.
If you want to create an exciting dynamic life, you’re going to need a set of automated internal systems to help you get there.
Here is the habit formation technique I use with myself and my clients.
1. Pick a specific doable action.
Often when people start trying to create habits, they are too vague. They’ll say, “I want to eat better.” But what does “better” mean? How do you know if you’re doing it? They’ll say, “I want to walk more”. One more step is technically more, but is that what you really meant?
Every time you perform a well worn habit your brain releases a little dopamine. You get this little jolt of pleasure each time because your brain like familiarity.
Which means if you want to form a new habit, you have to wire in that little jolt. If you have a vague goal for your habit, it doesn’t work because you never cross the “I did it line.” So instead pick a small specific doable action.
If you want to eat better, simply create the habit of having vegetables with dinner every night.
If you want to walk more, take a small 5 minute walk after lunch. That’s it. Small, simple, and doable. You’ll know when you’ve done it, and you’ll know when you haven’t.
2. Do that action at the same time.
Doing a habit at different times is hard because you have use your limited willpower and memory to execute it. This is a misallocation of resources.
Instead start by doing your habit at a certain time. This could be an absolute time like 8 a.m. or a fixed relative time like before you go to bed. It doesn’t matter which you choose; just set a time and do the habit.
3. Get a Habit Buddy
Social cues are so strong because we are social creatures. If you can, get a friend to build this habit with you. Make an agreement to support each other and stick to it.
If you can’t find a habit buddy ask a friend or group to hold accountable. If you don’t have this kind of group or person in your life, announce it publicly.
Just don’t try to do the habit in solitude. It’s possible but you’ll lose the advantage of your hardwired herd mentality.
4. Try some other tricks.
There’s lots of cool tricks you can use to form habits. You can create a visual cue for your habit using paper clips or by coloring a picture.
You can set lot’s of reminders or use to do apps like Todoist or Lift.
You can make bets around your habits involving giving up money or making an embarrassing video.
There are lot’s of cool habit tricks. You should try some of them to see if they work.
5. Don’t make it too complicated.
Just pick a doable action, do it at it same time everyday, and get your friends to help.