Cultivating good habits is a topic that never gets old. Part of it is due to the fact that we all want to get better. Another part of it is that making good habits stick is incredibly hard.
Whether it’s to workout four times a week, write daily, or wake up early, most people start doing them passionately and feel great about them, knowing full well that these small habits will one day change their life for the better. Then they start backsliding to the same old behavior, getting the same old results.
You’re not alone if this sounds like you. Frankly, I have also felt guilty for getting in and out of commitments I’ve made and sometimes frustrated about how to really keep myself disciplined.
Think and Act Like a Scientist
The last thing you want to do is to blame yourself for the lack of discipline and consistency or fall into the “What The Hell” trap where one small setback makes you decide to go all-in on the bad habits limbo. And finally, to abandon the pursuit of a 1% daily improvement for good.
Instead, think and act like a scientist. Approach the journey of your personal behavioral change as a series of experiments and tests. Make a hypothesis, implement what you learn, track your results and adjust from there.
Speaking of which, I recently tested out a simple set of experiments that worked very well in terms of changing my habits for the better.
Make Good Habits Effortless
Making a decision to do what’s good for us is harder than ever. We’re wired to seek instant pleasure while our environment has evolved rapidly to favor the ability to delay gratification.
Forcing ourselves to do what’s unpleasant now for future gains is hard enough. It requires focus and consumes energy. I sometimes think it’s really not my fault to slack, get distracted, and procrastinate when everyone else is doing their best to grab my scarce attention.
However, pointing finger at others isn’t very helpful. Instead, I suggest we focus on what we can control: making it easy to do what’s good for us.
Here are a few changes I made. You can use them as a reference if you want to practice the same habits.
- Organize apps on my mobile home screen strategically. I have three types of apps on my mobile home screen: (1) Relaxation/mindfulness apps, (2) Fitness apps, and (3) Work-related apps. Then I have finance apps, learning apps, and communication apps on the second screen. Finally, social media apps on the last screen.
- Open the calendar apps once log in to my laptop. I make a dream week template and then add my to-dos for the next (week) into it. So the weekly calendar is what I need to get done plus how I want to spend my time. Having it open automatically reminds me of my schedule before the reactive mode of work (or distraction) kicks in.
- Subscribe to the gym nearest to my home. It’s not just for working out. Think about who you want to become, then decide which city and which area you should live in to fit your desired lifestyle.
- Carry a bottle filled with water everywhere I go. The best way to start practicing a healthy diet is to start with small steps and drinking enough water is one of them. I make sure I have water when me almost all the time.
- Read only 10 to 20 pages a day. You don’t need any tactics to read fast and efficiently. If you want to read, the only thing you need to do is to actually read—consistently. To make it easier, I set a low-par progress goal for reading. I read around 20 to 30 pages every morning but if I really have no time for it, five pages are good enough for me.
Make Bad Habits Unreachable
Making what’s good for you easier reduces resistance. While doing that, you can make it harder to do what’s bad for you. Here are a few things I do on purpose to block bad habits and distractions.
- Keep only ONE or no social media apps on your phone. I tried to delete all my social media apps once and I’m still alive. Now, I have a few of them back, mainly for work.
- Never keep junk food at home. If maintaining a healthy diet is your goal, don’t shop for unhealthy junk food and don’t store any of it at home.
- Turn off all notifications (including the badge icon). Most push notifications aren’t necessary. I only have push notification on two apps: Slack, which I use for work and WhatsApp, which I use for all communication purposes.
- Use site blocker to block distracting websites. I block them using a Chrome plugin in the morning and evening. The plugin also redirects me to the “When Dean Lose Focus” page if I visit those websites during my set focus period.
- Stop sending unnecessary emails. The best way to receive fewer emails is to send less. And don’t subscribe to every newsletter unless you truly find it useful like this one.
Change Your Environment to Change Your Behavior
The truth is, even with these tweaks, our behavior and habits will never be perfect. I don’t think it’s worth trying to be perfect if the price is to weed out all the fun. Instead, the purpose is to have fun while doing what’s good for us.
As I’ve mentioned before, our environment plays a significant role in how we act and behave in our lives. On a larger scale, the government, the economy, and technology change the society or can even change a generation. On a smaller scale, the book we read, the apps we have on our home screen, and the room we live in transform every bit of ourselves.
- Speaking of making bad habits difficult, one thing I want to test out is to leave my mobile phone outside of my room before bed. (I’m sometimes guilty of consuming all kinds of unnecessary information non-stop.)
- If you’re interested in using a site blocker for your browser, here’s the one I’m using: BlockSite.