Build a Habit in XXX Days

You’ve been in a job that required getting up early and going to work on time, at the same time for the last two years. You’ve never been an early bird, or someone who’s on time for personal events; but you made sure to get there on time the entire two years.

Now, however you’re no longer in that job and you’re allowed to come in whenever you like. You decide, may as well stay in the habit and keep getting up early and be consistent. The first week is business as usual, but you have to make a doctor’s appointment. Normally, you’d schedule leave and take off to make the appointment, but since there’s flexibility in your new job you schedule the doctor’s appointment for first thing in the morning. Another week goes by and a friend is leaving the area and has a small late window to see you before they leave the next day, you decide to hang out knowing that you can go into work later if you need. Another week goes by and you have to go to a 4 day conference that starts mid-morning.

After just a month, you realize you’ve started getting to work about 30 minutes later than you used to. What happened to that habit you formed for the last two years? Where is the precision that you were held to previously?

Fallible Habits

Have you ever forgot to grab your keys, or wallet or other important item before you left home? After hundreds of times of not forgetting, well over 21 days, well over 300 days, you still manage to forget sometimes. Clearly this ‘habit’ thing isn’t as infallible as we make it seem. What is causing these strange inconsistencies?

Imagine trying to change a serious addiction, when we can’t even fully control whether we remember our keys or not. Imagine trying to change our emotional response (road rage, anxiety, etc) when we can’t manage to get to work on time consistently.

The thing is, we treat habits as if they are infallible. As if once we’ve made something ‘habitual’, it’s in stone. It simply isn’t. In fact, it can be argued that nothing in our minds are fixed permanently. This means, that every ‘habit’ is subject to being broken at the slightest change in your situation, which is typically called life…

To add to this problem, there is a degradation effect that occurs with just about everything in the known universe. For example, if we were to not work out and lay in bed all day every day, our muscles would atrophy. We’d become weaker, affecting just about everything in our life. No matter what herculean body we had, and habits we formed using it, by laying there consistently, everything gained previously will be lost, including those habits.

The Conditioning of a Habit

We love the idea of habits, because we can make actions feel automatic. Make them the norm and thereby continue to achieve whatever it is we ultimately want to achieve with less effort. The concept is ingrain things into our minds through practice and repetition. If we want to enforce this even more add some rewards or punishment in the right way and create a conditioned response.

As most of us know, Pavlov made the famed experiment of ringing a bell and serving food to a dog, resulting in the bell causing the dog to salivate before seeing any food. This classical conditioning, underscores the idea of ‘expected’ reward or punishment, which governs our mood. By having an expectation of some reward or punishment, things change in our brains just like the dog expecting food and salivating.

Pavlov also helped form the concept called ‘reconditioning’ showing that, reconditioning can take form much faster than the initial conditioning. This means that the most ingrained, conditioned response can be reconditioned quickly given replacement stimulus.

If there is a correlation between habits and classical conditioning, it would make sense that a formed habit can be broken easier than it was originally made. Coinciding with the idea that often replacing a habit with another habit is easier than removing the habit altogether.

Imagine if instead of a single bell before getting food, we have a series of events. And instead of just relating ‘food’ to these series of events, we relate getting paid, being socially accepted, staying healthy, etc. The point is we experience a never ending list of stimulus and responses, they intermingle, become conditioned and get reconditioned non-stop, all the time.

The Solution: Never Stop

There is no easy win. Every habit must be tended to consciously, deliberately, and consistently. Thinking that something is a habit and you don’t have to think about it, is the same as saying you don’t have to train. In sports, training to make something a habit, doesn’t mean you can stop training once they are habits. Things may feel a little easier when you build positive habits, but it’s not because you aren’t putting effort into the habits.

If there is something we actually want to be a habit, then we have to accept that we have to say NO to everything else that impacts our desired habit; we cannot relax once it’s become a norm. Breaking the habit takes one instant, forming the habit takes a non-stop, never ending series of forward movement.

Good to great by James Collins, explains the concept of a Flywheel. Imagine if you have a large flywheel that takes a lot of energy to move forward. The only way to get it moving is a long series of small pushes. Over time, as you constantly make small pushes the flywheel will move faster and faster. That momentum is what Collins explained is necessary to go from good to great.

Habits are no different. No matter what habit you want to create, you must remove every barrier and ensure *nothing* stands in its way. It will be tough to create, and it will stay tough to maintain. Every habit that is not moving towards our goal, is a habit that is moving against our goal.

Related

Leave a Reply

Latest posts

Categories