Jay Shirley

Striving to be a man of gallantry and taste

Habits for the Lazy

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Maintaining good habits is hard. Stopping bad habits is hard. Why are bad habits easy? This keeps me up at night (which is a bad habit, but I’m trying to make it a productive habit instead). This struggle leads me to try all sorts of new ways to increase my awareness of habits and reactions to them.

For example, this post and its (hopeful) 30 siblings. I’m publishing a post every day in August. I’m also doing it without reminders and without automation. Why? I want to see how conscious I have to be to maintain a habit. To form a habit requires a huge amount of mental energy. I wish it didn’t have to, so I’m looking at ways to reduce that load.

Psychologists have found that the real, measured average time to form a habit is 66 days. Over 2 months! No wonder it takes up so much energy, that’s a marathon. If you’re lucky, it can take a mere 18 days. Unlucky? Buckle down for the better part of a year.

Habits are worth it, though. Habits means we can accomplish more, increasing productivity, with less overall effort. This lets us do more without exhausting our will-power, too. Think about a dreaded chore, whether it’s pulling weeds or doing dishes. If you turned that into a bonafide habit, it would require less motivation to get done. That’s a win!

Just knowing it’s worth the work doesn’t mean it’s easier to commit and maintain that commitment. After the first week it takes herculean effort to continue the habit. There is no easy way out, but there are some tips.

If you attach a new habit you want to an existing habit, it takes less overall willpower. Want to floss your teeth? Try a habit of putting dental floss on the counter when you put toothpaste on your toothbrush. Now you have a reminder, and can build the motivation the entire time brushing. This is BJ Fogg’s method with Tiny Habits.

Want to build a habit of writing 500 words every day? Schedule an hour every day, on your calendar, called “My Writing Block”. Set an alert for 5 minutes before. Spend those 5 minutes shutting every distraction down. Put your phone into airplane mode, even turn off the Internet connection if you can. For an entire hour. All of those choices are easier than writing 500 words. When you are in that disconnected environment, there is nothing else pulling at you. Writing will come easier, because everything else comes harder.

There are a lot of other techniques for habit formation. I’m trying many of them and the two above have worked the best for me. I’ll write more as I go.