Get THE NEWEST HACKS

Post image for How to Build a New Habit — My Process for Starting to Write 750 Words a Day

How to Build a New Habit — My Process for Starting to Write 750 Words a Day

09/02/2013

in Productivity

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.

bleh

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.

Behavior Wizard Screenshot

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.

Examples include:

  • 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.

  1. Couple the trigger with an existing habit
  2. Increase the perceived ability (self-efficacy) by making the behavior easier to do
  3. 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:

Productivity System

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:

Small Obstacles

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

Habit Creation Process

{ 19 comments… }

Eric September 30, 2013 at 9:38 pm

I’m starting the habit of writing four pages daily (~1000 words).

Reply

Justin McClelland September 6, 2013 at 5:33 pm

I love how you broke this down. I never imagined habit creation to be such a science. My main takeaway, is to work on one habit per month. I have the habit (pun intended) of trying to establish too many new habits at once.

Reply

Mallie Rydzik September 6, 2013 at 5:36 am

Love it! Something about 750 words feels so much more reasonable than 1000 yet much more accomplished than 500.

Silly how we convince ourselves of these things, isn’t it?

Reply

Joseph September 5, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Hey Maneesh,

I’ve been trying to build the “write 500 words a day” habit but I always get overwhelmed. It’s always difficult for me to get to the 500-word count. I’ve just started out writing and getting stuck this early in the game is not good.

How did you make getting to your word quota easier? My approach was always to try and force my 500 words on a single topic, but it seems that you write your 750 words for more than one topic. How do you go about doing this?

Reply

Annika Stahlberg September 5, 2013 at 10:22 am

Hey Maneesh,
This is really fantastic stuff – I think us entrepreneurs and self-employed folks really need to nail the whole habit creation thing, otherwise life is a frantic scramble just trying to catch up with the business!
For all of last month I created a workout goal: Tues, Thurs and Sat/Sun are workout days, no excuses. I did it, and it felt amazing!
This month, I really can’t be Effed. Now that I don’t have a point to prove to myself anymore I just don’t want to workout – but I know I should. Any ideas?

Reply

Sami October 2, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Hi Annika,

Personally I find it motivating and simple to follow a predefined program – either created by yourself, a trainer, or one off the internet from someone you respect. Hope this helps.

Reply

Colin September 5, 2013 at 6:02 am

I really think I can stop my habit now. I can also create many good ones. Thank you.

Reply

Tuesday September 5, 2013 at 4:56 am

Yoga! Since I have moved to Belize I’ve lost (and resisted starting again) my habit of exercising daily and finally rolled out the mat and started doing yoga again this afternoon…now to insert some writing time into the day! Thanks for the tips and like the others said before me- beautiful timing! :)

Reply

Kelly September 4, 2013 at 8:25 pm

What excellent synchronicity! I’ve been working for the past three years to create the life I envision, and not just let one happen to me. That involves a lot of habit creation and habit changes.
My current eBook is the Power of Habit, and, I recently found Trello, which is the first tool of it’s type to work like I think, then soon after, I found you!
Your emails and post are very beneficial to me. Thank You.

Reply

Will Hamburg September 4, 2013 at 10:33 am

Great insights as always Maneesh! Trello has been a huge breakthrough for me and my companies over the last 6 months or so. We have created a card for every department and this has increased productivity ten fold – making it easier for me to be away from the office. Love it!

Reply

Carrie September 4, 2013 at 12:48 am

Thanks for mentioning Trello. I had never heard of this app before, but I think it could be very useful in increasing my productivity. I just gave birth to my second child, and I am in desperate need of order so I can begin to accomplish various personal goals. I’m excited about a tool that can help me along. Good luck in your habit creation… I look forward to reading more of your blog posts.

Reply

Barbara September 3, 2013 at 9:21 pm

Proud of you for sharing your truth and vulnerability while increasing your standard of practice…mine…walking everyday followed by tai chi…day 4:)

Reply

Vikram September 3, 2013 at 9:15 pm

I got a pushup app for my phone which decides for me how many I need to do. So I just follow the directions of the nice English lady voice (also makes it more pleasant). I’m building back my health after nearly dying 20 mos ago. For a while I had trouble getting out of bed, let alone doing one pushup. So knowing how different things are is a big reward. The app sends my results to Facebook, something I resisted at first. Then I got a couple of likes, from a family member and some friends. That made a huge reward as well.
The cue starts the night before, when I think about the pushups and the reward of maybe getting a like on FB. I also think about setting a good example for my nephews and, since my new job will soon have me more in the public eye, the prospect of looking good.
My new job provides a natural cue. I’m COO and editor of a small financial news firm, so I’m up at 4:30 to edit the morning report. Along with email and the website, the app is open and waiting. And I know now that I’ll stand straighter and have more energy and confidence all day. It’s sort of like, “I did my pushups this morning. How about you?” when I deal with challenging people. That virtuous cycle from DuHigg’s book is what influenced me as well, along with Czikszentmihalyi’s “Flow,” which you would absolutely love, Maneesh. Working hard is important, but harder than necessary is silly. It makes sense to make the good things easy to do and the bad things harder. Then we keep finding the path of least resistance. Thanks for the post.

Reply

Pritesh September 3, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Maneesh:

Good to see this post in my mailbox after a Labor day weekend. Timing couldn’t be better as I did start a new habit of taking one picture a day starting September 1st. I would like to get better at Photography and your process flow on this post is really helpful. Thanks again and see you at the finish line at the end of the month :)

Reply

Joe September 3, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Maneesh,

This is a great post on building diverse habits. Of course, I have come to expect only great information from your blog /newsletters

I have one habit related question, do you have any suggestions for creating habits around startups? I’ve noticed that most of the habit creating content you discuss is centered on health/fitness. Currently, I am a 9-5 wage slave and crossfitter (can’t live without my WoD!).

I’ve been making progress on a startup that I’m currently testing, but some steps have taken longer than expected (creating test sales page per 4HWW, launching my 1st PPC Campaign). Do you have any suggestions goal setting relating to startups, which require a multitude of tasks?

Reply

shawn September 3, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I never thought to attach a new habit to an existing one. I’ve been trying to get myself into a daily exercise routine and it seems a bit easier now that I have a daily event I can “attach” it to.

Reply

Karl September 3, 2013 at 6:18 pm

The habit id like to start today, and for the next 30 days, is my breathing exercices in order to improve my singing skills. 5 minutes everyday :) Let’s do this!

Reply

Tulio Teixeira September 3, 2013 at 6:14 pm

I loved how you broke down the process and used The Power of Habit and BJ’s stuff.

Reply

Kaitlyn September 3, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Excellent timing for this post! I’m working on building new habits, and have also come to the conclusion that more than one a month is a terrible idea. Using cues is the best way I’ve managed so far. Mine is coffee -> workout. Next? Writing. Bleh.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Leave

  • A COMMENT
  • Previous post:

    Next post: