- Read on : 2016-02-13
- Rating : 8/10
- Amazon Link: Superhuman by Habit
Immensely practical book on how habits are formed (both good and bad), how we fail to stick to build good habits. The book covers both psychological aspects, and give lot of practical tips on how to build a sustaining habit.
Building habits makes so much of life automatic that it feels like having complete autonomy because one don’t have to worry about the basics. They get done in the background.
What is a habit, and why are habits so important? It’s an action that you take on a repeated basis with little or no required effort or thought. The power of a habit lies in the second part of that definition–the bit about no required effort or thought. It’s a loophole that allows you to upgrade your health, quality of life, productivity, and enjoyment of the world with a fixed expenditure of energy in creating a habit, rather than on an ongoing drain on your willpower.
Habit is what we have closest to superpower.
Don’t Spend Your Willpower, Invest It The glorious benefit of a habit is that it converts something that requires a lot of willpower and focus into something that becomes automatic and often outside of our conscious thought. We can consciously push ourselves to do a only a certain amount of things every day, which means that if we don’t have good habits, there is an ceiling to what we can accomplish, personally and a professionally. This limit is not particularly high, and is probably not high enough to achieve our goals and live the life we want.
This takes effort, but establishing most habits takes the relatively short time of one to twelve months.
If you want to improve yourself permanently, you must develop more old habits, which is done by creating new habits and sticking with them until they mature into old habits. You know that a habit has crossed that threshold when it becomes something that you subconsciously do, rather than something you must consciously think about doing.
When looking through a long-term lens, we can easily see that consistency is the most important factor. Just as it would be better to make 5% interest per year on your financial investments for the rest of your life than 50% interest for one year, it’s better to maintain a modest life-long habit than to start an extreme habit that can’t be sustained for a single year.
Your results will be commensurate with the consistency to which you execute your habits, not to the magnitude of their one-time impact. The practical implications of this are twofold.
- First, be conservative when sizing your new habits. Instead of saying that you will eat a perfect diet for the rest of your life, resolve to cut sugar down by fifty percent. Rather than saying that you will run every single day, agree to jog home from the train station every day instead of walk, and do one long run every week.
- Second, you should be very scared to fail to execute a habit, even once. By failing to execute, potentially you’re not just losing a minor bit of progress, but rather threatening the cumulative benefits you’d accrue by establishing a habit. This is a huge deal and should not be treated lightly. So make your habits relatively easy, but never miss doing them.**
- Missing two days of a habit is habit suicide. If missing one day reduces your chances of long-term success by a small amount like five percent, missing two days reduces it by forty percent or so. Three days missed and you may as well be starting over. At that point you have lost your momentum and have made it far too easy for you to skip in the future.
Planning a variance, make it concrete, black and white, and specify exactly when the variance will end. For example, instead of doing your regular gym routine while traveling through Europe, you commit to do twenty pushups every morning, and then as soon as you return home, resume your normal routine.
You Just Go . Do a Terrible Job. Remember that the power of a habit isn’t actually in the individual execution, but in the consistency. It is far far worse to skip doing something than to just do a horrible job of it. This feels wrong and sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. Skipping a day makes you feel guilty and unmotivated to do it the next day. Doing a crappy job makes you feel a little bit guilty, but also proud that you worked through a tough time, and eager to improve the next time. Don’t believe me? Try it out for yourself. Don’t Reward the Lazy Brain
Whenever you stick to a habit, especially if it was difficult or you did particularly well, take two seconds, smile, and congratulate yourself. A fist pump coupled with a, .Yes!. might be in order. It feels silly and trite, but it serves its purpose of releasing endorphins and marking progress. It’s a reminder to yourself that you’re working on something worthwhile and succeeding at it. With the difficulty of building habits and the inevitable slip-ups, these simple rewards can be the difference between enjoying habit change and dreading it to the point of failure. Small actions like rewarding yourself with a moment of congratulations combine to build a personal system of habit building. Just as any given instance of executing a habit is insignificant compared to the cumulative benefit, every small piece of your habit-building system combines to create a powerful method of improving yourself. Focusing on results, especially short term results, is an excellent way to add stress to your life, which is an excellent way to quit a habit associated with that stress, thus ensuring no long term results are ever achieved. Track your adherence to process, not your results.
Addition Versus Subtraction Fundamentally, there seem to be two types of people: those who find it easier to add new things to do, and those who find it easier to subtract things. A simple test is to think about whether it’s easier for you to cut out junk food or to go to the gym. Those who prefer to go to the gym are adders, and those who cut out junk food are subtracters.
Don’t Overshoot Habit forming is effective and efficient, but it’s not effortless. Habits should always follow an actual concrete goal, rather than just exist for the sake of having a habit. In other words, don’t eat healthily because it sounds like a nice habit, eat that way because you want to live longer, be more capable of physical activity, or improve your appearance. An important component of having a goal tied to a habit is that it allows you to size your habit proportionally to the goal. If you want to lose weight to look better, maybe you need to lose one pound per month for a year. That will allow you to create an easily sustainable habit that will get you to your goal and still leave you plenty of capacity for other habits or obligations on your time and willpower.
If you are not going to follow through with a habit, it is better to never start it at all. A downward spiral of failing to adopt habits is harmful in the long term, and the time spent on a habit that never had a chance could have been better spent on a properly motivated habit that would have been successful. Whenever you feel like you may not have proper motivation for a habit, pick a new one and revisit the discarded habit later on.
Discovering Motivation Sometimes you have to create a new habit due to outside pressures, but you don’t have a burning desire to implement it. Chances of success under these conditions is slim, so you must learn to discover motivation. On a piece of paper, write down these four sections: 1. What good things will happen if I implement this habit? 2. What bad things will happen if I implement this habit? 3. What good things will happen if I don’t implement this habit? 4. What bad things will happen if I don’t implement this habit?
Start Easy and Often : You’ll get the greatest compliance by maximizing frequency and minimizing intensity. Daily habits are hard to overlook or miss, and low intensity habits are easy to complete. This combination greatly increases your chances of sticking with a habit. Start small, become consistent, and increase at a manageable pace. That’s how you optimize for the finish line, rather than the starting line.
The Magic of Daily Habits: Whether for small or big habits, bias yourself strongly towards habits which require daily execution. There are several factors in play that counter-intuitively make daily habits the easiest to maintain. - The daily habit also earns a place in the front of your consciousness. It’s hard to juggle complex weekly and irregular schedules, but we all know the basic things we must do each day. It takes a couple weeks of compliance, but it’s daily habits will quickly become an indelible part of your daily must-do list. I’ve written every day for the past six months or so, so if I didn’t write today, something would feel wrong, just as if I forgot to brush my teeth.
Don’t Build Habits That can be Automated. Prime candidates for automation tend to be these sorts of habits, those that are less about personal change and more about things that just .have to be done. on a regular basis. Saving a minute or two here and there isn’t a big deal, but the cumulative benefit of removing things from that mental todo list is big. It’s the difference between constant distraction, wondering if there’s something critical that needs to be done, and having a clear mind for whatever tasks and habits you have each day. An example would be automating your credit card payments so that cards automatically get paid in full on their due dates. As long as you’re confident you’ll always have enough money in your account, that’s a decent sized mental burden you can completely erase.
Loading and Maintenance
Humans are creatures of routine, and altering that routine takes significantly more willpower and effort than simply maintaining it. For that reason, you’ll often want to have one very strict habit for loading, and then another to maintain. Put in the effort up front and then make it easy.
How do you know when to switch from your loading habit to your maintenance habit? The key is to be able to honestly evaluate what would happen if you dropped the habit entirely. If you think that you would immediately go back to your old ways, keep loading. If you think that you would either slowly slide back to your old ways over a period of months or years, or if you think you’d remain in stasis, switch to a maintenance habit. The purpose of the loading habit is to completely remove all associations with your old habit. You start small, build up to your loading habit, keep at it until you believe that your new behavior is fixed in place, and then switch to maintenance. The hidden benefit is that you can only have one action most-strongly linked to any given trigger, so this is also a good way to get rid of bad habits. If you have the habit of browsing gossip sites whenever you turn on your computer, and you retrain yourself to respond to open emails as soon as you turn on the computer, you both gain a new good habit and lose a bad old one. When appropriate, sacrifice your maintenance habits in favor of keeping up your loading habits. You might let your diet slip, because you’ve been on it for years, but make a point of writing five-hundred words every day because that’s a new habit that hasn’t gotten a toehold yet. Maintenance habits will very quickly slip back into place on the chain when you’re able to return to it, but I’ve found loading habits to feel like big impositions and sometimes completely fall off. The solution is to only quit habits when you no longer want to quit them. This is the only mindset under which we can make difficult decisions and not be influenced by our pesky lazy brain. This point will never be found in the loading period, only some time during the maintenance period.
You can also use habits as triggers for other habits, thus creating a reliable chain. For example, when I wake up, the very first thing I do is put a pot of water on the stove. Putting the water on is a trigger to brush my teeth, so I do that while it boils. Once it’s done, I make tea and sit down at my desk. That’s a trigger for me to read my email, check my calendar, and check various reports and stats that may affect how I plan my day. When I’m done with all that, I allow myself to browse my favorite sites, but finishing my tea is a trigger to get to work. If I feel tired while I work, that’s a trigger to drink some water, a trigger I reprogrammed from my previous default of lying on my bed and possibly taking a nap. My entire day isn’t one giant long chain, but there are some core sequences. Waking up is one and the clock hitting midnight (signaling the end of my workday) is another.
The Natural Habitat of A Habit Builder
For most activities, there is an ideal environment in which they take place. A weightlifter can get a decent workout in using his own bodyweight and items he finds around him, but to maximize his gains, he’ll want to be in a well-equipped gym. A chef can whip up a good meal with leftovers over a single burner, but a stocked kitchen will allow him to cook better food in the same amount of time. There is also an ideal habitat for a habit builder, but it relies less on physical tools and more on environment. This doesn’t mean that building the ideal environment is any less important for the habit builder. Given the same level of willpower and motivation, having the right environment decreases slip-ups and reduces the stress of building habits. Simplicity and freedom from distraction are the core components of the habit builder’s habitat. Building habits takes conscious focus, and to focus you must eliminate distractions. In particular, you want to eliminate the type of distractions that force you to use willpower. For example, watching advertisements might prompt you to weigh the pros and cons of buying something you don’t really need. That mental battle, subconscious though it may be, reduces the willpower you have available for your habits.
Most of your focus should be directly on the habits you’re trying to build. There’s no better angle to hit a nail than head-on. Be aware of your environment, though, and make changes to improve it. Short term efforts to improve your environment can pay off big in the long term by making new habits easier and faster to build.
PRACTICAL ANALYSIS OF VARIOUS HABITS
Becoming positive is a one-habit job that takes one to three months. You will notice a difference after one month, but it will have built so gradually that you may discount it’s effectiveness. This is similar to having laser eye surgery, where after a couple months you can’t remember having bad vision, and the wonder of perfect eyesight no longer seems so amazing. From now on, every time you have any negative thought, simply think of one positive aspect of the situation. The positive aspect doesn’t have to be equal in magnitude to the negative aspects, it just has to exist. At first this process will feel cumbersome and unwieldy, which will discourage you from continuing with the habit. Remember that if you’ve committed to this habit, you should not quit in the loading phase where there are no benefits but there is effort required. After a period of two to four weeks, the habit will become almost automatic. Remain vigilant and make sure that you’re still doing it. After two or three months you will have trained your brain to automatically come up with the positives.
Health habits are some of my favorites to work on because they have extraordinarily high payoffs. Rather than improve just one area of your life, they tend to really transfer well to other areas. Unless you already have an excellent repertoire of health habits, I’d encourage you to start with a health habit or two. Because limiting processed carbohydrates is so important, I would focus on it exclusively rather than trying to do oils and fats at the same time. Success for that first habit is critical enough to warrant eating unhealthy oils in the process.
The first step towards a good sleep habit is creating a good sleep environment. The key components of a good sleep environment are complete darkness and silence. Buy a sleep mask. Bucky 40 Blinks mask. Wear the mask every single night, even though you will just pull it off in your sleep for the first few weeks. Regulate your bedtime. Set a strict screens-off time one or two hours prior to your bedtime.
Your overriding goal is just to sit there for five minutes. Any time you do that, you have successfully meditated. When you notice that your mind starts thinking about something else, refocus on your breathe. The loading period for meditating is approximately two months. After that you continue to meditate every single day, but you will slowly begin to see the benefits, which makes it much easier.
I began writing my blog nine years ago, completely on a lark and without any expectations for it. Since then it’s become a major avenue of connecting with other people, and has become a primary source of income , but the biggest benefit is that it has made me a clearer and more precise thinker and communicator. For that reason, I recommend that you build the habit of writing daily as well.
The Easy Habit to Stay On Top of Email
As soon as you read any email that requires further action, including replying, following up, visiting a web site, etc., you flag or star it. Once per day, preferably early afternoon when you’ve had the chance to read emails and still have a bunch of productive time left, go through all of the starred emails and either reply, take the necessary action, or unstar it. Notes: You can also reply to email immediately. Even if you’re going to do this, star it first. This gets you into the habit of deciding up front if email is going to be acted on or not, which is the important part. The nice thing about this habit is that because the deciding is decoupled from the acting, there’s never a good reason not to star. Then, even if you’ve skipped the writing phase for a few days, say while traveling, you can pick back up with all of your starred emails as soon as you have the time.
Twice, Then Quit
Twice, then Quit is very simple. When you want to quit working for the first time, don’t. Push through and work some more. The second time you want to quit, also don’t quit. Push through again. The third time you want to quit, go ahead and quit. This habit is deceptively simple, but is very effective. It allows us to push through while simultaneously taking pressure off because we know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and that we won’t drive ourselves to complete exhaustion. It also allows us to quit when we are really exhausted, rather than when we hit a small stumbling block. Often I’ll feel exhausted because the work ahead of me seems daunting, but once I push through for the first time I get through a tough bit, and then feel like working again. So even when you don’t actually push twice, but then quit, you’ll benefit from the habit. Last, when you finally do quit, you can enjoy your time or spend it working on something else, rather than feeling like you should have kept working. This is important, because we want to maximize all of the use of our time, not just the time we spend producing. When you push through twice but still want to quit, you can be confident that you gave it a solid effort and that you need a little bit of time off before tackling the problem again. That lack of ambiguity erases unnecessary guilt.
Rating Your Day
Every night, before you go to bed, rate your day on a scale from one to ten. I recommend that you rate yourself on how little time you wasted, rather than on raw productivity or output. This method has its perils, but the advantage is that you don’t have to give yourself a bad rating if you spent the day doing something unproductive but worthwhile, like helping out a friend.
Putting it All Together
At its core, though, the practice of building habits is simple. We identify things that we do each day and we adjust them to make them a little bit better. We put our faith in the compounded power of small repeated actions, and we adjust our behavior to reap those benefits.