Every night, before going to bed, my Grand daughter and I have a story session, which we both look forward to. I tell her some ‘moral’ stories. And she listens with rapt attention and dozes off to sleep. I prepare myself for these sessions by googling some stories, which I can narrate to her. I came across this story, which was perfect for this week’s newsletter, which is about HABIT.
A rich man once asked an old, wise man to help his son change his bad habits. The old man asked the rich man’s son to take a walk with him through the garden. After taking a few steps, the wise man stopped, and asked the young man to pluck a small flower out of the ground.
The young man grabbed the plant with his fingers and easily plucked it out. The wise man nodded and they resumed walking.
A few seconds later, they stopped again and the wise man pointed towards another plant, a bit larger than the last. The young man grabbed it with his hand and plucked it out of the ground with a bit of effort. “Now pluck out that one” the wise man said pointing towards a bush. The young man grabbed the bush with both of his hands and using all of his strength, barely managed to pluck it out of the ground.
“Now you see that small tree, there? Try and pluck that one.” The young man grabbed the trunk with both hands, pulled as hard as he could but he couldn’t even move it.
“It’s impossible, master. I can’t do it.”
“You see my boy, it’s the same with our habits. If we let them grow and take root, it becomes harder and harder for us to stop them.”
How many times in our life we let a bad habit take root and become a small tree? What are you doing on a daily basis that you know is wrong and it becomes stronger and stronger every day? It may be spending too much time on social media, cheating on your diet, or neglecting your health.
Over the last few years, I’ve found that almost everyone wants to make some kind of change: eat healthier, lose weight, exercise more, reduce stress, get better sleep. But most people fail. Creating positive change isn’t as hard as you think. It’s all about some tiny habits. Building habits and creating positive change can be easy—if you have the right approach. A system based on how human psychology really works. A process that makes change easier. Tools that don’t rely on guesswork or faulty principles.
We know habits matter; we just need more good habits and fewer bad ones. I tinkered with the behaviours I wanted to incorporate into my life. I did silly things that turned out to be wildly successful, like taping my mouth while sleeping or running, like getting out of meeting and taking psychological shy. Some things worked, some didn’t . Whenever something didn’t work, I went back to my models and analyzed what happened. I started seeing patterns. I followed hunches. I pivoted. I iterated endlessly. Creating habits wasn’t obvious or natural for me; it was a deliberate process. But with practice, I turned a weakness into a strength, and six months later, I had significantly changed my life.
When you woke up this morning, what did you do first? Did you hop in the shower, check your email, or grab something to eat from the kitchen? Did you brush your teeth before or after you shower? Tie the left or right shoe first? What did you say to your kids on your way out the door? Which route did you drive to work? When you reached your desk at work, did you deal with email, chat with a colleague, or jump into writing a note? When you got home, did you put on your shoes and go for a run, or pour yourself a drink and eat dinner in front of the TV? All our life so far, as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.
Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we order, what we say to our kids each night, whether we save or spend, how often we exercise, and the way we organize our thoughts and work routines have enormous impacts on our health, productivity, financial security, and happiness. Transforming a habit isn’t necessarily easy or quick. It isn’t always simple. But it is possible. And now we understand how. A toolkit on how to make right habits, is right here in this issue of Good Vibes.
Habits emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.
We all have habits. The hallmark feature of habit is that it’s reflexive. You have a mosquito bite in your leg and you scratch it. You don’t think about it. Caltech University did a beautiful study. They set up cameras in the parking lot. They studied the behavior of faculty and the students who came to park their car. And what they found is that people follow same trajectories every day. They will usually try to park at the same place every day, walk the same path to their office. They turn and pivot their body the same way every day. They open the door of the office gate with the same hand. They carry their office bag the same way. It’s such a stereotype activity they do that you can trace the lines on each other. Every day is the same. We all do this. If we had a camera following us, you will be surprised to notice that how much of a robotic life we live. Every day, every minute. And this is so advantageous for us that it clears the brain of daily chores and drive us to do other things and learn other behaviors. Decision making needs effort. Habits and reflexes don’t need an effort. Like once you know how to walk, you don’t think about how to walk. You just get up and walk. These habits put us in a comfort zone. And we don’t want to change things.
I’ll tell you a story that’s a small bit of evidence that there are better ways to do things or better routines that people don’t always explore. There was a study about the London subway, the Tube. It’s a huge sprawling system, and lots of people commute on the Tube in the morning. The Tube workers went on strike because they didn’t think they were treated well, but the strike was only for 48 hours and only took place on part of the Tube system. As a result of which some (but not all) Tube stations were closed – forcing many commuters to experiment by exploring new routes on those days.
From a scientific point of view, this is a natural experiment: you can look at what happened to the people who commuted during the strike areas where there were no trains running and people had to find a different train route to get to work, and you can compare them to people who, on the same days, could keep their regular commute. The result of this forced experiment was that 5 percent of the workers found a slightly better commute.
The whole point of a habit is that you’re on autopilot, you don’t try out new things. But trying out new things can be beneficial.
We have to select behaviours to perform and what to supress. The place to intervene has to be habit. Make good things reflexive. How do you a break a habit which you know is not good? Find out what is leading up to the habit. No behaviour happens without a prompt
If you don’t have a prompt, your levels of motivation and ability don’t matter. Either you are prompted to act or you’re not. No prompt, no behaviour. Simple yet powerful.
Motivation and ability are continuous variables. You always have some level of motivation and ability for any given behaviour. When the phone rings, your motivation and ability to answer it are always there in the background. But a prompt is like lightning. It comes and goes. If you don’t hear the phone ring, you don’t answer it.
You can disrupt a behaviour you don’t want, by removing the prompt. When I check in at a hotel I ask the housekeeping to remove all those cookies, chips and goodies and alcohol from the mini bar. I know this mini bar will be a problem when I am back to my room after a busy day. I am going to end up eating some of those. All I do is remove the prompt. You can do the same in your home. If you don’t buy those chips and cookies, you will not eat them.
Same is with forming habits you want to do. Let’s say you don’t exercise in the mornings as you’d hoped. Instead of blaming yourself for a lack of willpower or motivation, walk yourself through the steps: Did you have something to prompt you? What is making this hard to do? Keeping your workout clothes and shoes in visible range the previous night may prompt or putting exercise in your Most Important activity of the day, while planning your calendar for the next day may work. All you need to do is create a prompt.
In many cases, you’ll find your lack of doing a behaviour is not a motivation issue at all. You can solve for the behaviour by finding a good prompt or by making the behaviour easier to do. Maybe working out alone is not helping you. A partner may help as a prompt. Having a trainer may help. Note down the habits that you don’t want and you want. Dissect them. Bring the prompts or remove them. You will change yourself.
Small habits are the foundation for creating positive habits and these contain all the key principles you’ll need to design for other behaviours down the road. You’ll use the same process to achieve a specific outcome over time, do a big one-time behaviour, or disrupt unwanted behaviours. And the first step to creating a series of positive habits is to decide which ones to cultivate. Small is Big.
At least when it comes to change.
Good habits can change your life. Better habits can improve your life. Lifelong routines impact everything. If you focus on changing or cultivating keystone habits, you can cause widespread shifts. However, identifying keystone habits is tricky. To find them, you have to know where to look. Detecting keystone habits means searching out certain characteristics. Keystone habits offer what is known within academic literature as ‘small wins’. They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious. Here are some suggestions from my experience.
- Catch the early morning sunlight. Catching the early morning sun light,even just for 15 minutes, when the sun is low in the horizon, is the best thing you can do for your brain health, circadian rhythm, sleep, hormones, mood and many more things.
- Write things down. Don’t try to remember everything.
- Begin your day with the end in mind — focus on a few high-priority tasks at a time.
- Make daily walking a must-have habit — your mental clarity depends on it.
- Meditate – even if for 5 minutes.
- First 8 hours of the day are the most productive time. Don’t waste them doing low value tasks.
- Work on tasks that get you closer to your bigger goal.
- Eat your last meal at least couple of hours before sleep.
- Go to bed at around the same time every night.
- Take warm water shower in the evening before going to bed.
- Get off all screens and devices at least an hour before bed time.
- Practice the one-tab rule — use a single browser tab when you are working. It minimizes web distractions so you can stay on a single task.
- Recover from work stress by scheduling quality breaks or fun habits between focused work sessions.
- Write a gratitude diary.
- Plan your day the night before, including the clothes you want to wear and your To do list
- Master the habit of task elimination to reduce your time on unnecessary work.
- Take time out for breathing exercises.
- Practise mindful eating.
- Declutter your immediate workspace before you start focused work — distractions can ruin deep work.
- Disable notifications on your phone.
One of the things I do to keep myself motivated is watch inspirational stories. Please enjoy the following story. I had tears in my eyes watching this clipping from Barcelona 92 Olympics. It reminded me of all the people who supported me when I needed them the most. Enjoy and get inspired.
Developing your mental strength and self-discipline is one of the most valuable things you can do. It allows you not just to survive, but thrive during life’s challenges. It allows you to make better choices in stressful situations. And it allows you to do hard things — and doing hard things leads to a good life. A very interesting article I came across this week was 3 Stoic Habits To Develop Self-Discipline & Mental Strength
What Does It Really Take to Build a New Habit? Habits and routines are not interchangeable. A habit is a behavior done with little or no thought, whereas a routine is a series of behaviors frequently, and intentionally, repeated. To turn a behavior into a habit, it first needs to become a routine. How do you start?
Here’s a saying I’ve found to be true like nothing else:
If you give a task to someone who has all the time in the world, they’ll struggle and procrastinate. But if you give it to someone who is extremely busy, they will make it happen. Highly productive people don’t find time to do the things they want; they make time. If it’s important—for example, getting regular exercise or spending time with their children—they’ll set it in their schedule and make sure it gets done. They know how to organize and manage their time so all their priorities in work and life get accomplished.
What are the essential things that you often postpone? Don’t ‘find’ time—it probably won’t get done that way. If they’re important to you, set it in your calendar and build your schedule around them.