So, where were we?*
I had started unpacking what I'd learned during Cristina and Andrei's workshop on making and breaking habits.
In the previous newsletter (#24), I mentioned a few insights about:
- self-confidence and its role in building habits
- overestimating our willpower supply
- BS-ing ourselves into poor choices
- default brain settings
- neuroplasticity and a stack of great stuff to learn more from.
I was just about to get into the specifics of building a new habit, so let's dive into it.
*I recently developed a guilty pleasure/mild obsession with Jane the Virgin, so, if you've seen it, I hope you read it in the voice. if you haven't, just watch a few episodes and let it happen. 🙃
This is how you build a new habit
1. Write it down.
One of the things Andrei mentioned in the workshop that stuck with me was this:
Everyone builds new habits the same way. Violin virtuosos, wrestlers, athletes, scientists, construction workers, your next door neighbor, you, me - the process is the same for everyone.
It consists of these steps:
2. Track it daily.
- On a piece of paper, with a pen. Write down the habit you want to achieve.
- Make it SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound).
- Don't self-sabotage by setting a goal that's too broad, undefined or unachievable.
- Example of a SMART objective I set for myself: doing 5 squats/day, something that takes the smallest effort to do and that I can believe I can achieve as a step in building the habit of doing some form of exercise daily.
3. Remove blockers.
- Draw a calendar containing 30 days by hand.
- Mark your streak under the days you drew.
- This way, when you miss a day and the count is reset, you can take that opportunity to reflect on why that happened and remove that blocker.
- I added my examples below.
4. Keep it up for at least 30 consecutive days.
- Think about what might keep you from achieving your habit.
- Write these blockers down and figure out how to remove them.
- Try not to experience the same blocker twice. Once you become aware of it and overcome it, don't let it pop up again. (No one said it would be easy. That's why not everyone can do it.)
- Write about your experience with blockers. It might help you get a much-needed different perspective on things.
- Personal example: I like to snack in the evening, after dinner, which is a poor eating habit that I want to ditch. Instead of trying to cut it off directly, I've decided to start by replacing what I snack on, so I limited this to something I enjoy that's healthy: frozen raspberries.
- If you're trying to build a habit you've never tackled before, you might find this difficult to do. Doing a bit of research can help you uncover plenty of blockers that people who've tried the same face.
- There are various opinions about how long it takes to form a new habit but most people agree that 30 days is something that works for everyone.
- Turn to your calendar and let it be your honest mirror. Numbers don't lie (in this case) so use it as a tool to stop lying to yourself. Clarity and acknowledgment are powerful drivers for personal growth.
- As you can see in my example below, I missed one of my goals and had to start again.
- The blocker was that I was really tired that day and I fell into my usual routine, watching a TV series to get relaxed before sleep and take my mind off things. Because I let FOMO get the best of me, I stayed up too late and missed my goal by half an hour.
- I could've lied to myself and say that 30 minutes of sleep is not much and that I still slept more than I do on average (7.5 hours/night instead of the usual 7h) but it doesn't help. Losing half an hour of sleep per night leads to sleeping 3.5h less/week and 14h less/month. That's like missing more than one night's healthy sleep per month! 😱Numbers really help put things into perspective, don't they?
Breaking bad (habits)
Now that we've covered the essentials of building new habits, it's time to shift perspectives.
Bing eating, excessive drinking, overworking, procrastinating, - there are tons of habits that we know are bad for us and that we haven't managed to ditch yet.
What often helps build emotional distance and become more objective is to see what needs that bad habit satisfies.
Behind every action, no matter how awful, there is a good intention.
Here's an unpopular idea Andrei shared with us during the workshop. It made me pause to give it more consideration.
The good intention behind each deed is that it satisfied one of these 6 human needs:
- Love and connection
Here's a personal example:
For me, my current role at work has a significant impact on all these 6 fundamental needs:
- It provides certainty because I'm part of a bigger structure that's quite stable and I know that my job will still be there tomorrow if I'm professional about it and do my best to deliver.
- It satisfies my need for variety because I'm engaged in a large number of projects that are different, exciting and challenging in their own ways. I get to work with a lot of different people and I have small amounts of repetitive work in my schedule.
- My current work makes me feel significant because I have the chance to make an impact and because I have a certain amount of responsibility.
- The connection I experience in my team (content) and with the rest of the marketing team and beyond is an important driver for me. Working with people with similar values is something I deeply value.
- As a marcom manager, I feel like I can contribute to various important aspects of how the company makes a difference: make the product easier to use for people around the world through better, clearer copy, contribute to educating internet users about privacy and online security, promote the values of a free and open internet, "translate" complex technical concepts into ideas, emotions and experiences people can empathize with and so on.
However, here I am, almost burned out and spending at least 50% more time than I usually do on writing this newsletter because I'm tired.
Achieving a balance between work and other habits that contribute to a healthy life has always been difficult for me, so I'm tackling this issue again, starting with the two habits you've seen in the calendars above (click the pictures for better quality).
Breaking a bad habit is definitely more difficult than building a new, healthy one. No need to lie to ourselves that it's not. Rather than deter us from trying, this realization should help us asses our willpower supplies and achieve a better... distribution. :)
It doesn't have to be complicated
I realize that I've barely scratched the surface on the topic of making and breaking habits but I strongly believe it doesn't have to be complicated to work.
You don't need to read all the books and articles (some right ones are all it takes). You don't need to spend weeks to build a strategy; a few hours of focused thinking were more than enough for me. You just need to start doing.
Here's something I noticed about me: I get the best ideas for next week’s newsletter while writing the current one. Every week, without fail.
For example, next week I plan to write about extroversion and introversion in decision-making and I've already outlined 4 examples that have made a difference for me.
A good habit has the ability to discreetly seep through your life, helping build other good habits and thus creating a virtuous, self-reinforcing circle of improvement.
Writing weekly helps me organize my ideas, reflect on my life, my decisions, my work and how I can achieve more of what I consider meaningful and helpful, both for others and myself.
Building a new habit doesn't have to be complicated. I don't need fancy yoga pants to do my squats. I don't need lavender oil, scented candles, and a sound machine to sleep 8h/night (although they can help, to a certain degree). All I need is to start and keep it up for 30 days.
So I may have missed my sleeping goal but I'm certainly not breaking my squats streak, so I'm off to do just that!
Have a go at building a new habit right now. As Cristina and Andrei mentioned, the you who wants to start running today has a lot more willpower than the person you will wake up tomorrow morning.
Have a peaceful weekend,