How to Build a Habit

I’ve taken vitamins every single night for years.  One day I just decided to start doing it, and I have rarely missed a day.  Contrast that with my time tracking endeavor: I found I was very consistent at doing it at the end of the day, but almost always forgot to do it at the beginning of the day.  What gives?

The Association

I’ve come to think that the most easily formed habits are the ones that we associate with something else.  For example, I read that taking vitamins with food was the best way to do it, so I started taking them with dinner.  After one day, it was already a habit.  I’d sit down for dinner and I’d take my vitamins, without really having to think about it.  Even if I went out for dinner, taking my vitamins was the first thing I’d do when I got home.  It’s by far the easiest habit I’ve ever built, and I’m fairly certain its because I strongly associated dinner with taking vitamins.

Likewise, I quickly associated my shutdown routine with my daily time tracking.  Every night before bed, I would open up my spreadsheet and record my day’s data.  But, more than half the time, I still forget to do this when I get up.  My startup habit is shower, then make food, then leave.  I don’t associate time tracking with waking up, or eating, or anything else.  I just don’t think about it most mornings, and I don’t allot myself the time to do it.

Frequency Matters

Daily habits are definitely easier to forge than weekly or monthly habits.  It’s just harder to forget something you do every single day.  It’s not too hard to remember something you do once a week, but it’s pretty difficult to remember to do something at the same time each month, particularly if its something that’s tough to associate to some other activity, like vitamins and dinner, or something that’s easy to blow off, like going for a run on Saturday morning.   Training yourself to consistently do something every couple of months, or every year, is pretty much impossible without help.

Use Technology

A calendaring system can certainly help you build a habit, and using digital calendaring tools can make this pretty easy.  I would definitely recommend this, especially if you’re already using a calendar system. Next time you’re doing something that you need to remember to do again, or want to make a habit of, simply make a calendar entry for every time you need to do it in the future.

I don’t always check my calendar though, so that doesn’t work that well for me.  But, I do check my time tracking spreadsheet every day.  If I have a new activity I’m trying to habituate, I just add a line to my sheet.  There’s still a line there that says “Vitamins?” that I put a “yes” next to every day.  This works well for me, but definitely has a downside: if I forget to do something one day, I’m not getting that reminder until that night when I review my time.

To solve this problem, there are a couple tools I’d recommend.  First is this great little tool called HabitForge.  This little web app will email you every day for 21 days, which is the time they presume it takes you to build a habit, with a reminder and some encouragement.  You can even have it remind you why you’re building that habit.  I like this tool, but it’s limited as to time and intervals.  If you’re looking to build weekly, monthly, or even less frequent habits, you can use the same idea and set up automatic emails to yourself.  Using Google’s free Google Calendars tool, you can create events, and then have Google email or even text you you reminders about those events.  This makes it super easy to set weekly, monthly or yearly reminders.

Conclusion

  • Use association to easily build habits
  • If that fails, try calendaring or time tracking
  • If that fails, or isn’t feasible, use technology like HabitForge or Google Calendars to automatically email or text you reminders at specific times
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3 Responses to How to Build a Habit

  1. Pingback: Don’t Break The Chain | The Blog of A.J. Kessler

  2. Pingback: How To Break A Habit | The Blog of A.J. Kessler

  3. Wow, this article is fastidious, my sister is analyzing these kinds of
    things, therefore I am going to tell her.

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