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Use This One Simple Trick to Conquer Any Bad Habit

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Use This One Simple Trick to Conquer Any Bad Habit

Lots of people misunderstand what exactly goal setting can do for them. I think Seth Godin sums it up perfectly here:

Your audacious life goals are fabulous. We’re proud of you for having them. But it’s possible that those goals are designed to distract you from the thing that’s really frightening you – the shift in daily habits that would mean a re-invention of how you see yourself.

– Seth Godin

We all have our big, fat audacious goals. Me? I’d like to be the next Hugh Howey. I want loads of readers hungry for the next part of my story. And the royalties that would come with a best seller wouldn’t hurt either. And when do I want it? Now! But the sad truth is I’m not going to get it unless I do the small daily steps that lead to that big, audacious success.

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If Not Goals, Then What?

Habits, not goals, are the more direct route to productivity and success. What exactly are habits? Habits are something that you don’t have to think about. You just do them. Taking your conscious mind out of the equation makes bad habits very hard to change and good habits very hard to develop. So, why bother with habits? Simple, once you make a good habit yours, it’s no longer a chore that your subconscious mind targets for procrastination. In Charles Duhigg’s book, “The Power of Habit” he talks about what he calls the Habit Loop:

  • Cue: the trigger, what causes you to do the behavior
  • Routine: the behavior itself
  • Reward: then benefit you get from the behavior

The Golden Rule: Do This to Change Bad Habits

The most important concept from Duhigg’s book is his Golden Rule of Habit Change. The Golden Rule says the most effective way to change a habit is to keep the Cue and the Reward the same. Only change the Routine.

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I wanted to apply this to developing the habit of writing every morning. How does that happen? First, I had to make space in my life for some extra writing. I wanted to write every morning when I get out of bed (before my daughter gets up). The old morning habit:

  • Cue: 6:30 am, time to get up
  • Routine: drink coffee and stare out the window, 45 minutes
  • Reward: caffeine and relaxation

That’s a pretty comfortable habit. I decided to start small to maximize my chance for success. Here’s the first change:

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  • Cue: 6:30am, time to get up
  • Routine: write for 15 minutes on previously outline material
  • Reward: caffeine and relaxation

I was skeptical that I would be able to carry this out. I like my coffee. Coffee in the morning is not optional. But, following the Duhigg’s Golden Rule, I didn’t do something crazy like try and wake up 30 minutes earlier to get my extra writing time. Let’s face it, 6:30 is early enough, don’t you think?

It Turns Out I Can Write the Words AND Drink the Coffee

Making sure that I had something outlined made writing for 15 minutes pretty easy. There were no plots to ponder, no places to research, just words to write. I could do that! Then I kept my reward the same, my beloved coffee in my favorite chair. But a funny thing happened on the way to the comfy chair. My “required” 45 minutes of coffee time in the morning was reduced. I found myself ready to start the next part of my day in more like 15 minutes. Eventually, I painlessly transitioned this time to writing. So, I harvested 30 minutes of “free” writing time from my day!

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It turns out that morning is a peak brain power time for me and for most other people. That 30 minutes of writing is usually my best of the day. That time writing with no external influence has become crucial to my work. Actually, any period right after a recharge/rest period is good time to do your more challenging work for the day. If you are considering transitioning a less desirable habit into something more productive, I encourage you to look at your morning. You may be surprised, like I was, to find you already have the time you need for your new endeavor.

Featured photo credit: Coffee/David Leggett via flickr.com

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer 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.

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Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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