I have had trouble in the past setting up good habits for myself to get stuff done. Often I find myself distracted or not able to even start a project that I know I have to get finished. This mostly has to do with working from home and making money. I have figured out a couple things about creating good habits for yourself by looking at other areas of my life in which I have succeeded in doing so, and copying the process.
Commit for 30 days to something and you will make something a habit
The trick to forming habits is that a habit is something that you have to do without thinking about it. It has to be drilled into your subconscious mind in order to get around your conscious mind coming up with excuses and rationalizations. The less you consciously think about an activity you are going to do, the more likely you will do it.
So how do you get an activity in your subconcious? It’s merely a matter of doing the activity for a while, specifically 30 days seems to be the magic number. Take this with a grain of salt, but the general consensus on the internet is that it takes 30 days for a habit to form.
Here’s Google’s spam wizard Matt Cutts talking about this very topic.
The beauty of this idea is that when we say to ourselves that we need to start doing some activity that would be beneficial to our lives, it seems like a monumental task to do it for the long run. 30 days on the other hand is a much easier to manage task, so the mental barrier to starting is less.
Jerry Seinfeld’s advice for creating habits-Don’t Break the Chain
As easy as doing something for 30 days sounds compared to the rest of your life, be assured that resistance will still creep up at some point to bring you down. A way around this is a technique from comedian Jerry Seinfeld called Don’t Break the Chain.
Seinfeld’s method is pretty straight forward and effective. Get a calendar and a red marker. Whenever you have completed your specific task for the day, put a big red x on the day. The idea is to create a never ending chain of x marks on your calendar.
Use other habits you have formed as the basis for forming new ones
When I was thinking about how I could form habits for myself, I did a bunch of reading on the subject. However, I glossed over other habits I have formed that were pretty good. The reason I did this was because these were habits I formed without much work or mental struggle. When I looked at how I formed them though, the process was the same.
Going to the gym
One habit I formed was going to the gym and lifting weights 3 times a week. How I formed the habit of going was that I merely went to the gym at night when I had to go. The thought process usually went like this: “it’s bench day, let’s go”.
In my head I relegated 3 days a week at 8:30 pm to go to the gym. Nothing stood in my way with the exception of a vacation here or there each year. This became such a strong theme that people actually questioned me on it. I have had girlfriends not understand why I had to go to the gym instead of hanging out with them. I didn’t care, I just went.
I have been going to the gym every week for about 7 years now without fail. I don’t even think about it anymore, I just go. That’s the key.
Going to karate
I started going to karate in 1999 during my freshman year of high school. I can’t tell you why I started, but I think it had to do with loving the video game Street Fighter. I said I want to be like that guy Ryu. That was all the motivation it took. I found a school near my house and signed up for classes. I went to class twice a week at 7 pm.
When I look back on that time I realize that more than anything, forming the habit of going may have been the most impressive thing I have done. I did it without much mental anguish at all.
In high school I was playing sports year round. This meant that I had to wake up around 6:30 am every day to catch the bus to school. I then went to class til 3:00 pm. Directly after class I had either Football practice or Track practice. This usually made me extremely tired. While waiting for my mother to pick me up from school I’d usually mess around in the weight room to kill time. I would then head home around 5:30 pm and get something to eat. Around 6:30 pm I’d head to karate. Class was over around 8:00 pm. I’d head home and do my homework til around 10:30. I’d unwind for a bit, then head to bed. I did this routine for 4 years straight.
If You Know the Way Broadly, You Will See It in All Things
This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite historical figures, Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi is perhaps the most famous sword fighter of all time. He wrote one of the best books on strategy called The Book of Five Rings. One of the themes of the book is looking at battle strategy from a one on one duel perspective, and applying it to large scale warfare.
Once I looked back at some good habits I have established in the past, it wasn’t long before I back engineered how to do it with other endeavors.
Do an assessment of good habits you have formed in the past. Use the confidence of knowing that if you formed one good habit, you can certainly form another.
Persist with activities that you find annoying right now until it becomes second nature
Back when I started karate classes and going to the gym, a small part of me would wonder if this was really something I wanted to do. I’d often wonder what the point was. I actually totally forgot that I thought about that until I thought about when I first started classes.
Counter this line of thinking by persisting in the activity until you aren’t thinking about it anymore. The main takeaways from my good habits that I’ve formed in the past are that if you just stick to it, eventually it’s just something you do.
Stopping negative habits
This is a tough one because logic would dictate that to stop a bad habit all you would have to do is reverse the process and stop the habit for 30 days. However this doesn’t always work.
I’ve found it much more effective to counter a bad habit with a good habit to get lasting results.
An example of this would be to stop drinking. Drinking is a really bad habit and one of the worst drugs for you. It’s also so prevalent in our society that you can’t really get away from it. However, quitting drinking is usually a very hard thing to do. We all know that guy who is seriously hung over after a night of binge drinking who says, “I’m never drinking again” only to be drinking the next week.
A simple solution would be to form a habit of drinking less. I have recently implemented a strategy of drinking a maximum of 3 bottles of beer when I go out. After drinking 3 beers, it becomes increasingly hard to have good judgement which leads to continuing to drink.
The point is that stopping drinking is difficult while a very specific strategy of drinking less is more likely to stick.
Be very specific with your habits that you want to create
When starting new habits, it may stunt your progress if you want to do something vague like “get in shape”. The reason for this is that you won’t know where to get started or how to measure your progress as there are a number of ways to get in shape.
It’s much better to cite specifically what you want to do such as “I want to do the stronglifts 5×5 program.”
The possibilities are incredible
If I told you that in order to make a drastic change in your life for the better, all you would have to do is get through a month of doing something, would you do it?
Consider where your life would be if you decided to start writing great content every day for your blog. In a month’s time you would have 30 new articles, and assuming the habit stuck with you, 365 new articles every year. That’s a crap load of content.
Pick something you want to do and start your new habit today!