4 Things That Help Me Create Habits

by Scott - 7 Comments

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Joel Gascoigne, a co-founder of Buffer, wrote a post on habit last week that I really enjoyed. I thought I’d provide some color on my experience and process for habit formation.

Like Joel, I’m constantly trying to create habits that will push me closer to achieving my goals and becoming the person I want to be. In my pursuit, I’ve been able to identify a few things that make creating a habit just a little bit easier.

Clearly Defining Why

A behavior change requires pushing back against resistance. This is one reason why creating good habits can be hard. To stay motivated, it’s important for me to define why undergoing a period of discomfort is worth the effort and continually remind myself of the payoff.

When possible, I try to use tangible reminders of the perceived payoff:

 

I have a photo taken of my labtop on the balcony of my hotel room in St. Kitts. It’s directly in front of my bed and stares me down every single morning when I wake up. This photo reminds me of the financial freedom I’d like to create for myself in my free time. When I used to not feel like waking up at 6am to make progress on a digital asset before work, I never had to look far to remember why I was creating the habit of starting my day early.

The password trick is another tangible reminder I use.

Focus

I have tons of habits I want to create. When I’ve tried to tackle more than a couple of these simultaneously, I end up failing at all of them.

I’m most successful at creating habits when I pick one or two things to focus on. For creating a daily habit, I’ll aim to focus on it for at least 30 days. Sometimes it takes less than this, other times it takes much more.  The important thing is that 30 days of time spent on trying to change one thing provides me the sample size to determine:

  • an indication on whether the payoff of this habit warrants sustaining it
  • whether enduring this habit is realistic given my other priorities
  • how I can make it easier or chunk it down into pieces to improve my odds of achieving it

Accountability

The core of habit formation is consistency. The only way for a challenging action become “just another thing you do” is to repeatedly do it, over and over again until you naturally gravitate towards that action. Creating a system to keep yourself accountable, incrementally increases your odds of performing something uncomfortable repeatedly.

A lot of people use peers to stay accountable during habit creation. I.E. Someone could email a friend every single day they don’t smoke. Personally, I’ve found this to be pretty impractical. I understand the potential effectiveness, but I really don’t want to crowd someone’s inbox everyday I floss.

I use a great app called Way of Life to stay accountable. The apps enables me to define certain actions as positive or negative. Everyday I simply indicate whether I’ve performed that action or not. Perform a positive action = Green. Fail to perform a positive action = Red.

 

Things I like about this app over a few others out there that I’ve tried:

  • It sends me a reminder everyday to update actions at a designated time.
  • A badge notification appears on my screen until I’ve reported each actions.
  • It’s private so no one can see my flossing aspirations.
  • It has a very simple interface.

Create an Environment that Breeds Success

Most people opt for the path of least resistance. Considering this, one way to increase the odds of performing an action is to make it easier to do. I try to be cognizant this and how I can shape my environment to make any habit I’m aiming to create just a little bit easier.

A simple example of this can be taken from my use of the “Way of Life” app. I’m aware that if I see the glaring badge notification everytime I open my phone, I’m more likely to use the app (and thus be accountable). So I moved it to the bottom dock of my Iphone so that I see the app (and notification) everytime I use my phone.

 

Another simple example would be putting your gym shoes next to your bed, if you’re trying to create the habit of going to the gym in the morning like Noah Kagan touches upon in this great post about Habit.

I’m excited to read some books on this stuff starting with “The Power of Habit.”

If anyone has any tips or practices they’ve found useful, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

 

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7 comments, add to the conversation.

  1. Tracy

    Thanks for the tip on the Way of Life app. I will definitely check that out. I have been looking for something simple like that and haven’t found one that works for me just yet.

    Reply

  2. Ben Lo

    Hey Scott — love the St. Kitts photo and practical tips! Along the lines of influencing ourselves (and others), you may enjoy taking a look at the book Influencer, The Power To Change Anything by Patterson, McMillan, et al — full of practical strategies from research and real-life examples.

    Reply

  3. Carlos Miceli

    Scott, great post. Here’s some stuff on habit implementation that I suggest you check out:

    The Personal MBA, by Josh Kaufman – His sections on People and Systems are all about, in the end, creating the right context for your goals.

    Thinking in Systems, Donella Meadows – Great to really start seeing systems everywhere, and eventually understanding that habit implementation is all about systems.

    The Power of Full Engagement, b Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz – Great for structuring your day according to your energy cycles.

    My Writing Hack (or what I like to call now, “The Golden Trifecta”) – http://carlosmiceli.com/writing-hack/ – To the apps mentioned there, now I’m adding Fireplace and Rain sounds, plus classical music radio. Works beautifully!

    Love the blog. Let me know if you need some other stuff, because I’m sure I’m forgetting some links or books.

    Reply

    1. ScottBritton

      Carlos, I really appreciate you passing this stuff along. I’m going to check out of all it and dig a bit deeper into your blog : )

      Reply

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