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Jumpstarting the Habit Change Process

09/02/2013

in Productivity

Over the last few months, you might have noticed a lot of articles and emails about productivity from Hack the System.

Earlier this year, I had a moment of revelation while traveling — a very private moment that I only detailed to my newsletter readers. It was in that moment that I took a long hard look at my habits and results, and began monitoring and experimenting in order to improve myself. I’ve since gotten a much clearer understanding of how I work, and what sort of habits and actions I need to develop so that I can fully thrive.
I’m generally an extreme procrastinator. People often ask me how I have achieved so much in my life time, but inside I’ve always felt like an impostor — someone who really wasn’t able to achieve as much as he possibly could. My productivity level online (as measured by RescueTime) hovers around 30% during 9h/day usage — meaning that, in the 9-hours per day that I spend on the computer, only 2.7 hours are used productively (I’m wasting 6.3 on chat, email, Reddit, and Facebook). Imagine if I were able to put all of those hours to good use…

That’s why I have to implement tactics to help me achieve what I set out to do (e.g. why I set bets to make me write or get in shape or why I have to hire someone to slap me when I use Facebook)

This year, I decided that it’s time to start developing the habits that will help me succeed, rather than simply using tactics to help me get around my bad habits. See: How to get more done.

A Routine Requires A Home

One of the most important foundations to building a habit is having a home place. Through years of travel, I’ve managed to find myself in transitory locations for the majority of my time — locations where I had a place to sleep, but didn’t really consider home (for various reasons).

For my first month in Boston, my friend and mentor Nick Kho (aka Papa, one of the characters from The Game and Founder of Real Social Dynamics) graciously offered to host me for the month of August. It was a great arrangement, but this weekend I spent the majority of time finding, renting, and moving in to my new place — a large room in a spacious apartment in Beacon Hill in Boston, MA. The best part? It’s walking distance to my work. Plus, my daily walk takes me right through the Boston Commons Park, meaning that I get at least a few moments every day in nature.

Having a home and having a work space is a great first step in building a routine.

Building No More than One Habit At A Time — And Reaffirming the Ones You’ve Already Made

One of the central tenets of habit formation is that you cannot and should not attempt to build more than one habit at a time. (You can sometimes replace a bad habit with a good one, but it is dangerous to try and add 2 new habits to your routine). Thus, for at least the rest of this year, I’m attempting to add a new simple habit into my routine, once a month.

They say it takes somewhere from 30-66 days to from a new habit. In my experience, you can spend 30 days building, and another 30 days reaffirming the habit, to make it stick. That’s why I’m adding in no more than one habit a month at this point — at least until I see some major gains.

For the month of August, I focused on building the Gym Habit. I crafted a weekly routine with my trainer Adam Gilbert of My Body Tutor, and headed over to the gym five days a week. I managed to make it there 19/20 weekdays — excellent.

To reaffirm that habit this month, I’ve hired a private trainer to help me push through another month.

New Habits To Focus On

I jotted down a short list of new habits I’d love to add to my routine, to see where they fit in.

1) Daily Meditation
2) Writing 750 Word Every Day
3) Daily Floss
4) Before sleeping, write 3-5 MiTs (Most Important Tasks) down. In the morning, start working on them BEFORE checking email.
5) Turn off computer every night by 11pm.
6) Keep a gratitude journal and write 3-5 things I’m grateful for every night before sleeping.
7) Add a ritual to my morning routine: Visualize my day ahead of time and how I’ll approach it, then watch inspirational videos.

Here it is

Write 750 words every day, towards some sort of finished article.

My good friend Tynan began writing every day a couple years ago, and I watched the quality of his words drastically improve. Now, he didn’t publish all those words—in fact, he often threw away more than half of what he wrote. The truth is, the act of allowing himself space to throw away words truly increased the quality of his writing — he only has to publish the best ones he writes.

I’m hoping that, by adding in a daily routine of writing, I’ll be able to craft some better stories that you’ll love to read. And maybe even inspire you to add some of your own.

Will you join me on this quest? Leave a message in the comments — what habit will you start working on for the month of September? If we start working together, today, by the end of the month we’ll see some big changes in our lives.

Let me know below in the comments. What habit will you focus on building in the next month? Why?

{ 25 comments… }

Digby January 28, 2014 at 10:44 pm

I have success creating new habits, like flossing each time I brush my teeth, but struggle to eliminate bad habits like snacking often between meals. I’ve read the Duhigg book, my current strategy is to write why I want to eat when I am not hungry, but I struggle.

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Jonathan Roseland January 10, 2014 at 9:19 pm

I’m going to try RescueTime

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Alex Kurth January 3, 2014 at 8:14 pm

As a Bahai, I’m trying to make saying my obligatory prayer every day a habit.

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Jovy November 20, 2013 at 8:06 pm

The bulk of my work involves a lot of writing online. I am such an info junkie that my research time goes on and on. To balance my research time with my writing output, i want to cultivate the habit of writing 5 articles on one topic (600 words minimum each) everyday using 5 varied templates.

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Chloe September 25, 2013 at 4:21 am

I’m working on having a cup of green tea immediately after waking up 7 days a week. After 15 minutes of drinking my team I will exercise. The tea is the reward for waking up, and it kicks off a keystone habit (exercising) which I have already successfully developed.

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Nick September 18, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Hi Maneesh. I can totally relate to what you were saying about the importance of having a home base. And that’s just my problem, for various reasons, but mostly to do with job insecurity, I haven’t paid rent in over a year, and as a consequence, I’ve been moving around quite a bit. No consistency in surroundings makes it hard to create consistency in my pursuit of my goals (habits or otherwise). Right now I have a short-term job in SF and am having a hell of a time finding a sublet. Any advice on how to tackle that first obstacle of habit building (finding a home)?

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Ryan Riehl September 10, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Once again, I’m currently working on the habit of writing everyday. Out of every habit I’ve tried, writing gives me the most sense of fulfillment. But it’s also super hard to make stick. Personally, if I don’t do it first thing in the morning, then I probably won’t do it at all.

Other habits I’m considering for the future:
Track all personal spending (I want to automate this, but I need to do a little research)
Track how I spend my time
Write down ideas (James Altucher style)
Saying daily affirmations

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Isabel September 10, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Hi Maneesh and everyone!!!
I really line your list. This month I am working on my meditation routine, it’s been hard to keep going even though I am only commuting to ten minutes everyday. Following your adventurous and hardcore way of doing things, I have enrolled on a ten day vipassana meditation retreat starting on the 20th of September. I’m excited and anxious to go all the way in, since from your list meditation and writing are the two habits I haven’t been able to conquer.
Thanks for sharing with us your experiences, it’s very inspirational, I am even getting ready to go on a survival course next year.
All the best, Isabel

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Tiago September 10, 2013 at 4:05 am

Mine is to go to bed by midnight. I’m using Zen Habits, by Leo Babauta, as a source of inspiration.

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Steve September 10, 2013 at 1:26 am

I’m heading on a 24 night cruise from Canada to Australia and hope to disprove the one habit at a time myth. Like you, I have a long lists of habits I want to create, so have decided to pretty much put myself in jail (a very comfy jail) for a month and concentrate on nothing but habit forming.

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Dennis September 9, 2013 at 10:13 pm

My new habit I know I need to focus on is no more snoozing..that’s something for next month!

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Una September 9, 2013 at 9:11 pm

I stuck to the Slow Carb Diet with great success in May… and gave up a month later. For the rest of September I will eat SCD with no exceptions, as per the 4 Hour Body.

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Erik September 9, 2013 at 7:17 pm

“This year, I decided that it’s time to start developing the habits that will help me succeed, rather than simply using tactics to help me get around my bad habits. ”

This is exactly how I’ve been feeling lately. I’ve had a lot of success when I add hard accountability or some other measure to contradict a bad habit, but find that I revert right back once that’s finished. I’m working on tackling the root of the problems, too.

Last month I worked to implement 3 habits at once and was pretty successful. I think you can do more than one if you keep them all pretty small. 750 words a day is a pretty big habit, though, so I can see the benefit of focusing.

This month I’m focusing on waking up right after my alarm (no snoozing or laying in bed delaying) and recording my expenses every day.

When I delay getting up, it throws my morning routine off and gets the day off to a bad start. Recording my expenses will keep me aware of what I’m spending so I can hit my savings goals.

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Sue September 9, 2013 at 5:23 pm

I agree with you about the one habit at a time. I have had a lot of success in adding habits like keeping the kitchen clean, flossing, picking up my clothese, etc. However, I am having extreme difficulty _breaking_ the web-surfing habit. Can you perhaps focus on that in future articles? I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here.

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Sue September 9, 2013 at 5:24 pm

*clothes

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Gracie September 9, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I’ve also been trying to add a new habit per month. This is my 3rd month in! I’m now going to try to exercise 3 times a week. This app called WepleDiary has helped me keep track. It lets me make habits I want to work on, schedule to-do’s towards that habit for a range of time and keeps a track record for me. I would suggest it to anyone trying to keep track of their new habits.

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ian September 9, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Great post- Thanks
I had an awesome routine/ base of habits going, and for some reason it all fell apart about a month ago. It was one of the strangest events in my life.
I have started a new workout routine, and I think it is already becoming a good cornerstone on which to build a new foundation.
I hope I am right.
Thanks again.

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Tulio September 9, 2013 at 4:14 pm

I’m a huge procrastinator as well. It’s great to read about someone with the same issues and how they overcome it. I really liked the 3 MiT’s and viualizing your day ahead. I have read about them, but never implemented. Thanks for reinforcing. I will add to my agenda to write the 3 MiT’s at 5:00PM before going home. I will also visualized my day and work on those 3 before doing email.

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Jan Koch September 9, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Hi Maneesh,
can’t wait to see how you’re progressing with your habits over time!

I’m trying to add the GTD principle to my habits and I’m having a damn hard time. Just like you say I’m in the first month were I’m following that principle and over the next month I’ll use my time to set that change into stone.

Let’s hope we’re both successful 😉

Best,
Jan

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Marieke September 9, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Working out every other day, for about 45-60 minutes.

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Brian September 9, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Start at 900am, hit the 25 min timer, get stuff done, once 25 min is up, 10 pushs up, then hit the 25 min timer again.

I either dont’ stop after 25 min or forget to start the 25 min after push up now, but i notice I got a lot more done once I hit that timer.

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Hardy Green September 9, 2013 at 3:16 pm

I’d like to hear more about how you got yrself to go to the gym: Sounds like the trainer was a key part of it…like someone to nag if you didn’t do it.

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Razwana September 9, 2013 at 2:57 pm

My habit is doing a 40-min pilates workout 4 days a week.

Today is day 1! I know in the past when I’ve tried to build a habit in 30 days, it hasn’t stuck. It definitely takes longer than that. But in 40 days time, I will be a pilates MACHINE! (not literally, obv).

Annika – accountability at work! Love it!

– Razwana

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Annika S September 9, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Thanks Razwana, good luck turning into a pilates machine :) Hope you put some accountability in place!

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Annika Stahlberg September 9, 2013 at 8:45 am

What habit am I going to start working on?
Does reaffirming the habit of doing productive work on my Lifestyle Design business count? I have gotten into the habit of working on my business after my day job (finally!), but I often find myself caught up in non-productive ‘busywork’.

So I would like to focus on building the “3 truly productive things/week” habit. To do this I write down the 3 things I want to achieve by the end of the week on a postit note, and post it (geddit? :) to a private Facebook accountability group. They then get to harrass me endlessly at the end of the week until I’ve done those 3 things.

I’m confident that using this technique, by the end of the month my business will be in a much stronger position – I’m almost ready to launch my very first course, which was non-existent 2 weeks ago! :)

PS: I’m really enjoying following your journey on this, I’m picking up a lot and it’s also just great to see that we’re all only human! (Totally know what you mean about feeling like an imposter sometimes!)

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