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How I Learned 5 Habits in 30 Days

How I Learned 5 Habits in 30 Days

If you have been reading about personal productivity on the Internet, I’m sure you’ve read plenty of articles on how to build a new habit. One of the common pieces of advice is to work on one habit at a time until it sticks and then move on to the next one. If you try to focus on too many at a time, you will have a high chance of failure.

I’m here to say that is not true.

I found a hack that allows you to learn multiple habits at a time. It allowed me to learn 5 habits in 30 days and I’m going to show you how you can do the same thing.

The flaw in the approach of one habit per period (usually it’s a month) is that the presupposition is that all habits are created equal. This is not the case — because not all habits take the same amount of effort to make them stick. There are a lot of habits that I would say require the commitment of learning one at a time, but what I found is that a lot of habits can be learned at the same time.

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The 5 Habits

I discovered by accident that you can build multiple habits at a time. As I was trying to figure out how to build more habits, I thought one habit per month was too slow for me. So I started to question the common advice out there and look at it from different angles. That’s when I found that the presupposition was flawed and I used this as a starting point to hack the habit learning process.

Here are the 5 habits I made to stick at the same time in 30 days (they are in no particular order):

  • Flossing every morning.
  • Reading a book before going to bed.
  • Drinking green tea once a day.
  • Taking my supplements in the morning.
  • Stretching my body as soon as I get out of bed.

Here is the flaw in the “one-habit-at-a-time approach” and the question that triggered my discovery.

If I want to floss every morning, why can’t I focus on the habit of drinking green tea once a day that might kick in later in the day? I asked myself this question and pondered it for a while. By mere logic, it doesn’t make any sense to focus on one habit at a time if the two habits aren’t related and are not dependent on each other. I can floss my teeth at 8am and drink green tea every day at 2pm. Why would I then focus on just one habit at a time?

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Like I said earlier, not all habits are created equal. Some take more effort to build because of their nature. The list of habits I wanted to work on don’t require continuous focus. Example of such habits that require continuous focus include positive thinking, eating healthy, becoming a better listener and practicing gratitude. For such habits you always have to be on the lookout because you don’t know when you can expect them to be practiced — and most of them have an external component you cannot directly control.

Let’s take the example of positive thinking. You can start your day with positive affirmations, but what do you do when a negative thought comes up later in the day? It’s not something you can predict to happen (nor expect it to happen) at a certain time of the day. When a negative thought does come up, you have to reframe it right away and this can happen numerous times a day. As you can see, such habits require a lot of focus and practice. For those habits — yes, go with the one-habit-at-a-time approach.

However, there are a lot of habits that do no require this much focus and practice.

These are habits that you can only work on when you are int the right location — and at the right time. By their nature you have a lot of control over them when you want to exercise them and I call them “controller habits”. These are the ones you can make habitual very fast with two simple technique that will I reveal. By applying these simple techniques I was able to learn five habits in a month without any problems.

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Pinging and sticky notes

The “life hacker” way of learning these controller habits involves pings and sticky notes. Like I said before, for certain habits you just need to work on them when you are in the right place and at the right time. A ping is sending yourself a reminder about the habit you want to work on. This is a process you want to automate so you don’t rely on your memory. Examples of how you can ping yourself is by setting reminders, automated emails to yourself, and text messages. These little pings will happen at a specific time and will remind you that you have to enforce the habit you want to learn.

As an example of a ping, I set calendar reminders for every day at 2pm to drink green tea. If you have your phone synced up with your desktop through the cloud (like with iCloud, MobileMe and the like), calendar reminders are awesome. You can setup the reminders on your desktop (make sure there are popup notifications set) and each time a reminder is due you will get notified on your desktop and mobile phone. That way you will not lose sight of the habit you want to work on. Whenever you read the ping is when you have to take action to cultivate your desired habit. Remember to do it right after you read the ping.

The second technique requires a simple prop: sticky notes. For each habit you want to cultivate, write down on a sticky note the action you need to take. For example, “floss your teeth” or “take your supplements” would suffice.

Now this is the essential part of making the sticky notes work. Place them visibly at the location where you need to exercise the habit. This is really crucial. This acts like a reminder for you to build your habit. When I wanted to build the habit of flossing every morning, I wrote down “Floss my teeth” and I posted the note on the bathroom door. This meant that each morning when I went into the bathroom, I would see this note that reminded me to floss my teeth. Likewise for my daily supplements, I posted the note in the kitchen on the cabinet where I stored my supplements. Every morning when I was in the kitchen it would help me remind me that I need to take my daily supplements.

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There is another benefit to these pings and sticky notes. Not only do they remind you of working on your habits but they will also help in getting those habits “burned” into your subconscious. The more you see it, the stronger it will be in your subconscious. Each time I go to my bathroom, I read the note about flossing my teeth — but I don’t have to exercise it each time. However, because I’m reminded of it all the time it becomes almost second nature to me — I now know that I have to floss my teeth in the morning. Repetition is not only the mother of learning, but also the father of getting something stuck in your subconscious.

One Last Thing

If you combine both the pings and sticky notes you can learn a lot of habits at the same time. To round it up, here’s how I used the pings and sticky notes to build those five habits:

  • Flossing – sticky note on my bathroom door.
  • Reading – ping at 10pm and sticky note in my bedroom.
  • Green tea – ping at 2pm and sticky note in my kitchen.
  • Supplements – ping at 8am and sticky note in my kitchen.
  • Stretching – sticky note in my bedroom I would see first thing as soon as I wake and stand up.

If you can chain multiple habits, you will create very effective rituals — or “super habits” as I often call them.

What 5 habits can you learn in 30 days? Let me know in the comments — and hopefully with this advice you’ll be able to make all 5 of them stick!

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Featured photo credit: Bill Ringer via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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