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Last Updated on October 28, 2019

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!

Featured photo credit: Bill Ringer via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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