I mentioned that, for the past few months, I’ve begun attempting to:
1. add a new habit
2. solidify the previous month’s habit.
I’ve realized that trying to add more than one habit a month is a recipe for disaster — the best we can do is to add one, and solidify another.
This month — Write an article (~750+ words / day)
For the month of September, I’m working on adding the habit of “Writing 750 words a day” and solidifying August’s habit of “hitting the gym five days a week”.
I’ll likely be publishing the majority of these posts, and emailing out a lot of them. So, expect a lot more content from me.
So, I thought I would tell you the process I’m going through to make my new habit a reality.
The process for building a new habit
I’ve researched habit change and behavioral technology for years, and in doing so, I’ve refined my ideas for building a new habit. Let me show you my process — hopefully you can take something away from it.
1) Have a baseline foundation for locations I’ll be.
While traveling, I never know what I’ll be doing each night or even where I’ll be sleeping in a few days — clearly a recipe for habit failure. Now that I’m living in Boston and trying to solidify my daily routine, creating the basic “home” and “work” locations are paramount.
I’ve rented an apartment in Beacon Hill, about a 15 minute walk from my office. My office is also a five minute walk away from my gym. So, now I can add a location element to my habits.
Last month, I tended to arrive to work around 9:30am or 10:00am, and headed to the gym at 1:00pm. This month, I’m aiming to add my “Writing 750 words a day” to my morning routine, meaning that I’ll finish writing the words before I arrive at the office. In my dream routine which I jotted below, you’ll see that my goal is to finish up writing and head immediately to the gym on my way to the office.
2) Identify the components of the habits I’m trying to build
The book The Power of Habit was extremely powerful for my understanding of the habit creation and replacement process. In the book, Charles Duhigg breaks a habit into a three-stage process.
You can see that a habit is made up of a 1) CUE, 2) ROUTINE, and 3) REWARD. The process for adding a new Habit is different than replacing or subtracting a new habit. For my purpose, I’m trying to add a new habit, so I need to work through the ‘habit creation’ process.
I reviewed my mentor and past-professor BJ Fogg’s Behavior Wizard to identify his system to creating a new habit.
BJ’s Behavior Grid says the following about ‘Building a New Habit from now on’:
If you want someone to do a new behavior for the long term, you are seeking a Green Path Behavior.
- Health: Consume flax seed oil each morning, from now on.
- Environment: Always use fluorescent light bulbs.
- Commerce: Buy a new brand of toothpaste from now on.
To achieve a Green Path Behavior, three elements must come together at once. As the Fogg Behavior Model describes, you must Trigger the behavior when the person is both Motivated and Able to perform it. This combination must happen over and over, as the habit gets created and then strengthened.
- Couple the trigger with an existing habit
- Increase the perceived ability (self-efficacy) by making the behavior easier to do
- Reduce demotivation by making the behavior more familiar
The challenge is in influencing the target audience to perform the behavior and then getting them to repeat it, from today onward. Green Path relates to forming new habits.
So, what does this mean to me? I must couple the trigger with an existing habit, make the habit easier to do, and reduce demotivation by making the habit more familiar.
1. Couple the trigger with an existing habit.
Today, on Day 2, I woke up early and intended to start working on writing as the first thing after showering and brushing. I found myself a little distracted, so I decided to head to work (a currently existing habit) and start writing at a coffee shop on the way.
This offers a nice ‘writing location’ which may make my habit more successful — I have no purpose to go to this coffee shop other than to write. On the other hand, I’ll have to spend a couple dollars each day. I’ll test this location out for a few days and see how it works.
In summary — I’m coupling the writing habit with 1) My walking to work and 2) My consumption of caffeine.
2. Increase the perceived ability (self-efficacy) by making the behavior easier to do
How can we make writing easier to do? For years, it’s been the bane of my existence — something I know I should do, yet something I never succeed at. Here is how I’m approaching it for now.
Last night, I did my first “750 word sprint.” I noticed that my writing spread out into multiple threads, each deserving of an article. So, I created a small little workbook of “articles to write.” (I did this with an app called Trello, which I’ll talk more about in a few days — look, a new article to write!)
When I woke up, I took a quick look at my Trello Notebook, and there were already several ideas written down:
So, I don’t have to think about what to write — it’s already started.
In summary — I’m increasing my perceived ability by ‘already starting’ on the article—lowering the amount I need to think before I get going.
3. Reduce demotivation by making the behavior more familiar
How can I make this behavior more familiar? I’m not exactly sure, but for right now, I’m working on doing the habit in the same location, with the same software, everyday. I hope that this will make it much easier to succeed.
So, that’s my process — that is how I’m instilling my new habit. We’ll see how well it sticks. One thing I wanted to add before summing up:
Today, I started writing and planned to 1) finish writing and 2) head directly to the gym, before work. But then, I realized I was missing my workout shirt — I had left it at my office.
Small obstacles like these are the bane of habit creation.
In the future, I’ll make sure to have extra workout shirts, shorts, and socks at both home and office locations so I won’t have the excuse of ‘not enough clothes’ as a reason to not hit the gym. Cleaning up the ‘small obstacles’ is one of the cardinal rules of forming a new habit.
Conclusion: I’m trying to improve my productivity, and experimenting with habits is my method of approaching the problem. We are all works in progress.
Again, I’d love for you to join me on the habit creation journey. Just leave a comment announcing the habit you’d like to create, and join me along the way
P.S. As I finished this article, I got hit with a burst of happiness — call it the ‘Reward’ as I navigated to my list of articles and hit the ‘Archive’ button. Nice