Building better habits

I am a creature of habit. When I get onto a certain kick, it’s hard to get off it. For example, breakfast. I’ve had a bowl of oatmeal with coconut flakes and granola almost every day for breakfast for the past several years. For me it ticks all the boxes I’m looking for in a breakfast; it’s quick, it’s easy, and it tastes good. While oatmeal is a pretty benign habit, not all habits are created equally.

When I think about the word ‘habits’, I immediately think of things I do each day that I want to change. Like scrolling Facebook/Instagram/Twitter over and over again, choosing soda or beer at meals instead of healthier options, checking my email 100 times a day, etc. But, not all habits are bad. Heck, my breakfast habit could be to eat a dozen donuts, so I think I’m doing alright in that regard. Still, there are some changes I’d like to make. Not only to my daily habits but to the way I think about habits in general.

A chance meeting at the Watercooler

A couple weeks back, I was a guest on the WP Watercooler podcast. One of the other guests that day was Jonathan Wold. While I’ve known of him for quite some time, and there’s a high likelihood that we’ve met in person since we work in the same industry, sometimes you run into somebody at just the right time and the information they have to share is exactly the information you need at that moment. That’s how I felt after bumping into Jonathan.

Jonathan wrote a book called Tiny Habits. A book he says he wrote to help encourage his kids to form their own habits. The principal is simple; Create ridiculously small tasks that you want to do each day, set up reminders, do the tasks. Over time, those tasks become second nature.

After we were done with the podcast, I finished reading TinyHabits and some of the posts on Jonathan’s blog. It ended up being a combo of two things that kicked me into gear; his post 500 days of pushups, and checking out Productive, the app he uses for tracking his habits.

Starting small and learning as I go

Not only am I a creature of habit, but, I also have a bit of an obsessive streak. If I’m into something, I’m ALL THE WAY into it. One thing Jonathan mentions a couple times is how for each of the habits he starts, he makes them all ridiculously easy to complete. The idea being, the tasks should be something simple to complete so that you build the habit of doing them. Over time, you can always adjust the amount. So instead of starting with a task for 100 pushups a day, which he knew wasn’t sustainable (or even possible at the very beginning), he stated with 4 per day.

As a guy who’s usually quick to overdo it, I took his suggestion to heart and have come up with my own list of daily tasks. Here’s my list:

4 Sets of Pushups: I liked the idea of doing pushups multiple times a day as a way to both get in some exercise, but also keep bringing me back to the app which can help as an extra reminder to knock off other tasks. I am starting with 3 pushups for each set and I’ve set up a reminder every two weeks to increase the number per set by 1.

Read 15 minutes each day: This one is interesting. I love reading, but I rarely set aside time to do it. But, what I’ve found is that at the end of my 15 minute timer, I usually want to read more. The other day when my timer went off, I realized I was only about 20 minutes from finishing the book. So I picked it back up and finished it. This is a book I’ve been “reading” for the past 4 months. If not for setting a goal to read each day, I may not have finished that book for another several months.

I did make one change to my daily reading habit. When I first started, I was reading at night. I was finding it hard to stay focused on reading. I have now switched it up and am reading each morning instead and am finding it to be a much better fit.

Drink water: I don’t have a goal for how much water I drink each day at this point. Simply put, any water going into my mouth is going to be more than I have been drinking lately. So, I’m starting small.

As I get back into the habit of drinking water on a regular basis, I may play around with my goal and throw in some number of ounces to consume each day. But until then, it’s simply to drink water.

Write for 10 minutes: OK, this one is brand new. Just started today. And, I’m well over that with this one post. My goal is not to release a new blog post each day. I’ve tried that in the past and it doesn’t work for me. Instead, I want to get into the habit of writing regularly. That 10 minutes of writing may end up here, it may end up on VegasGeek.com, or it may end up in a journal that’s just for me. It’s not so much about the what, it’s more about the doing.

That’s it for now. There are some other tasks I want to add in, but I’m taking it slow. As the current list become habits, I’ll look to add another task or two. But only when I’m ready.

Yeah, but…

My brain is an asshole. When I start a project like this, my brain likes to step in say “Yeah, but”. Yeah, but you’re not going to stick to it. Yeah, but you’ve tried things like this before. Yeah, but it just won’t work. It’s exhausting. But in some respects, it’s right. I have tried things like this before. What makes me think it’s going to work this time?

Timing

While the past couple years have been some of my worst, right now, things are feeling overwhelmingly positive. In the past, I may have started a project like this thinking only about the “yeah, but”, but not now. I’m feeling positive. I’m feeling motivated.

Gamification

In the Productive app, when you finish a task each day, you keep the streak going. And, when you complete all your tasks for the day, the little circle turns green. It may sound silly, but it took all of about 3.8 seconds to realize I am going to crave that Serotonin boost from keeping the streak going.

While talking with some coworkers about the app, one person said, “Oh, like Seinfeld’s Don’t Break The Chain method. I wasn’t familiar with the reference, but after reading that post, yeah, it’s exactly that.

Milestones, not goals

After a few days had gone by and I’d filled in some green circles, I got to thinking about Jonathan’s 500 days of pushups and how cool that is. He specifically said he never set out to do 500 in a row and I totally get it. If you set a goal to do 500 days in a row, what happens on day 501? Do you just stop because you’ve reached your goal? Oh, hell no!

That being said, I’ve set 3 milestones that I’m looking forward to checking off: double digits, a full calendar month (the 1st through last day of a single month), and triple digits. I’ll write a follow-up post when I get there to check in and see how things are going. Until then, go grab the app, pick a couple tasks and get started!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have one more set of pushups to knock out to complete my day.

2 Comments

  1. “My brain is an asshole” . OMG ditto. Right there with you John.

    March 17, 2019
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