How to Build a Habit
After taking up an active relationship with consuming self-help content and thinking about “optimizing my life” for near on 2 years now, I can definitively say that you cannot start self help or self improvement from a place of self-hatred, or from a place of resentment.
In order to achieve the outcomes that you want, you have to be intentional about why you are doing that you do. Now, on top of that, you have to actually do what you say you’re going to do, which to be honest, is the easy part. But again, your ego cannot get in the way of action.
To reiterate, we don’t think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.
This forms a positive feedback loop. Taking action usually leads to good mood, which reenforces that behavior and makes it more likely that whatever you’re doing will be repeated.
You might feel that positive reenforcement fueling that behavior and might call it “motivation”. The fire ignited under your ass was because of the match you struck, not because of some magic that happened because you were thinking about how nice it would be for a spark to appear. Here’s a good clip about motivation from a favorite youtuber of mine.
Now, while I can’t force you to do anything with this information, I can tell you how to make taking action as easy as possible. For this segment, I want to refer you back to James Clear’s model for behavior change that he outlines in Atomic Habits:
How to Create a Good Habit
- The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious.
- The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
- The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
- The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.
The first law of behavior change can be simplified in to the phrase. Out of sight, out of mind . Or rather, the inverse, within your sight, within your mind. I want to make going on my daily run as thoughtless as possible. Not in the sense of why I’m going on the run, but I want to reduce the time thinking about if I’m doing the run.
If I put my running shoes under my bed and keep my clothes in the closet, there’s more friction between me deciding that I should run, and actually stepping out to do so. I want to use the smallest amount of willpower to leverage the maximum amount of benefit, and setting my clothes and running shoes out in a place that’s actively in my way will make me pick them up and put them on.
The second law of behavior change is something that I’ve invested a lot of time and money into. I enjoy listening to music and podcasts on my runs, and I use my Apple Watch and Nike Run Club guided runs to slip into a state of flow.
By doing this, I’m giving myself something to look forward to for every day, where every run can be different injects novelty into what could be a quiet, monotonous struggle on some days.
Blocking out the same time every day for everything relating to my run (usually from 4-5:30) makes it simple for me to take action at the same time every day. I have the added benefit of being a college student where my schedule is relatively fixed, but having a routine and a set list of things that you take action on at a certain time of day makes things easy.
I also work on automating some of the reflections or documentation that I do about my runs, by adding recurring reminders in the Reminders app about recording what my effort was and what shoes I wore, among other things.
I’m going to keep running (pun absolutely intended) with this theme, and want to address the fourth law of change: satisfaction. I use a an online tracker called Life of Discipline that embeds into my Notion setup that creates a github-style heatmap of my runs, and how many in a row I’ve done.
Filling the box now becomes a smaller objective that I can work to achieve, which entails getting ready, which chains into walking out the door and starting the run. Not only am I lowering the bar as to what I need to accomplish to get me out of the door, but I’m making it satisfying to be able to check the box and see the color fill in at the end of my run.