The Science Of A Habit
July 3, 2020
Its day 184 of the year 2020. As I write my 184th blog dedicated to sharing my lessons on personal growth, I reflect on how I have managed to do something that seemed impossible one year back.
Many people have asked me how I have managed to keep up with the discipline. How have I mustered the will power, self-motivation, and drive to keep to this rigor?
The answer is that I have converted the task of writing a daily blog into a habit. Habits are subconscious. They are automatic and take no effort. Think of waking up in the morning and going to the washroom and brushing your teeth. There is no will power there. It is an automatic instinct.
So, how does one develop a brand new habit like writing a blog, as I did?
Imagine yourself to be a supervisor in a factory hiring an obedient worker. The obedient worker is a metaphor for a new productive habit you are looking to develop. As the supervisor, you take the time and effort to train the worker(habit) so that he can execute a given task independently, without your involvement.
A fully trained worker frees you up as the supervisor to focus on recruiting other workers that would serve you. Eventually, as the supervisor, you can show up to work, head to your office, and watch your workers reliably execute tasks and pump out work without you needing to motivate them to do any of it.
Productive habits like the obedient workers keep chugging away on their own, without much effort. Good Habits are a source of your freedom.
They help you conserve your will power and energy to focus on pursuing goals that are important for you.
If you want to enjoy the freedom to live your desires, you will need a reliable process to hire and train good habits for the factory of your life.
In my journey to develop the habit of writing a blog, there were three critical steps.
Start small with a minimum quota.
When you develop any new behavior, you need motivation. Your motivation fluctuates day to day, moment to moment. Trying to adopt any new routine that requires a substantial amount of motivation is a low success strategy. It is very likely to fail. However, if the intended behavior change requires just a small amount of motivation, the newly hired habit is likely to stick.
So, I started small. Writing a Blog came much later. The start had to be short and petty, where I did not have to struggle with will power or motivation. I started with a quota of writing 100 words every day for two months before I scaled it to writing a blog.
Show up every day
Habits are funny. There are scientific studies that indicate that failing to execute a daily habit one day, reduces the odds of retaining that habit by 5%. Failing to perform a habit two days in a row, reduce the odds of maintaining that habit by 55%. Miss more than two days, and you can kiss your new habit goodbye. When developing a new habit, the output, quality, etc. don’t matter. What only matters is that the habit shows up without fail every day. That is when it starts becoming a subconscious instinct that is automatic and requires very little willpower.
I knew of this statistic. Therefore, my primary goal was to ensure that my writing habit of at least 100 words did not miss more than two days. As my subconscious mind got comfortable with 100 words for over a month, I slowly increased the output and started focusing on the content. I just took care not to miss more than a day of writing…..
Have a support system
When you start building any new habit, you need to have a support system that you can lean on to keep you honest when your motivation may be flagging. It helps if you had someone who will push you because you have enlisted them at the outset to look out for your moments of weakness.
My wife played this role for me. She was my accountability meter who would keep a check on me every day. She would remind me of my promise and nudge me to put that effort to write daily and not miss the schedule for any frivolous reasons.
Looking back, it feels incredible that I have managed to keep up to my new year resolution of sharing a life lesson every day. There is an intention and an effort to think up and write about a new idea every day. I open my journal, compose my thoughts, and start typing away on my laptop. Some days it takes me one hour, some days a couple of hours. But, at the core, it feels effortless, just like a habit.
Aristotle said it right- we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act but a habit.”