One of the best ways to become productive is to invest your time in building habits. I’ve written about this a number of times. Today, I’ll show you (or, for some of you, give a reminder about) the four stages of competence. This model clearly describes how one can build a habit. Read on to learn more about this model.
Not all habits will stick. Not all resolutions are successful. If you want to start doing something regularly, or if you have tried different methods of building a habit and are still failing, this is a blog post for you!
Let’s begin with a story. Sometime ago, I decided to start strength training . I’ve tried to do this many times in the past, and I’ve failed almost as many times as I’ve tried. This time, I wanted to do quick workouts based on the concept of the . The key idea behind this is to exercise at a high intensity for a short period of time (7 minutes), and to do it regularly. I wanted to do it every day. I tried a few times to build this habit, but I was never able to do so. I knew that it would be good for my body but I didn’t like it all that much… Once I started talking about this with my friend. He also aimed to do strength training every day, and he was doing it successfully. I envied him a lot. I thought that if I told him that I would exercise every day, I would have an external incentive to do so. So I asked him if I could send him a text message every day after my workouts. I knew that if I didn’t send that message, he would ask me about it the next day. I really didn’t want to have to tell him that I skipped a workout. This resulted in a 69 day long streak! I have never exercised so many days in a row!
That’s the end of the story. What did I learn from this? And what lesson can you take away from it?
- It is very hard to form a habit of doing something that you don’t like to do. I don’t like to do strength training. I know that it’s good for my body. Still, I just don’t like it. I can run for 2-3 hours and I love it. Doing strength training every day is a very different story. Some time ago I described some methods for building habits (for example, Seinfield’s method.) I tried this method with this habit, but it didn’t work. My dislike of strength training was much stronger than the pleasure of building a long chain.
- Telling someone that you’ve committed to doing something will give you an additional push to do it. When I had doubts or when I heard a little voice in my head telling me it was ok to skip a day, I knew that someone would ask me if I’d failed in my commitment. That made me exercise even when I didn’t want to.
- The person you choose to tell about your commitment has to be a person you respect a lot. This can’t be just any person. It has to be very hard for you to tell them that you failed to fulfill your commitment!
- It is important to have a way to “report” that you did what you promised to do. I used to send a text message after each workout. If my partner didn’t receive a text message from me at the usual time, he would text me and ask why I hadn’t exercised yet.
This concept is called accountability partnership. An accountability partner is a person that helps you fulfill your commitments because he/she cares. You don’t want to have to tell that person that you didn’t do what you promised. You respect that person and you care what they think about you.
The concept of an accountability partner is also used in many support groups. It may be called by a different name, but the idea is usually the same – to have someone who is the last resort when your willpower is low. An accountability partner is a kind of an extension of your willpower.
Use this concept wisely and only for the real challenges, those that you can’t solve using other methods. And when you are asked to be an accountability partner, treat that as an enormous sign of trust and respect. Remember, it’s an honor!
Have you ever had an accountability partner? Have you ever been one?
I have to admit that I didn’t know who Jerry Seinfeld was for a long time. I didn’t know that he is one of the most well-known and successful comics in the USA and the star of the the popular TV show called “Seinfield.” And the first time I heard about him was when I learned about Seinfield’s method. What is it? This is a method, described by and popularized by Seinfield, that helps you reach your goals by forming habits with building chains.
Seinfield’s method is about doing small things that bring you closer to your goal every day. Seinfield advises putting a calendar in a visible place and every time you do something toward reaching your goal, marking it on the calendar. That way, you’ll form a chain of the days you did something to reach your goal. After some time, that chain will be so long that it’ll be hard to break. You’ll think “I’ve worked so many days in a row, it would be a pity to break it now.” Not breaking the chain will become your only task. Even when you have very little time, you’ll do whatever it takes to add another part to the chain. Doing so, you form a new habit which brings you closer and closer toward your goal.
The key to success with this method is visualization of the chain. It can be done in many ways, for example by using Don’t Break the Chain service. When you’ve managed to work on your goal, mark a day there. However, for me personally, a much better option is to put the chain somewhere in a visible place. Somewhere where I can see it very often. That is why I hang it on a wall. It can be also a hand drawn calendar. Do whatever works for you and is visible in your space.
Marking a day when you have done something toward your goal is a very pleasant feeling. And when it is the 10th, 30th, or 100th day in a row, then doing whatever it takes to put the next link on the chain is quite easy. You don’t want to break the chain!
I’ve used this method to form a few habits. On the pictures below, you can see my calendars. One of them is drawn on a piece of paper and the other one is drawn on a wall covered with chalkboard paint. It’s just a pleasure to see the progress.
Seinfield’s method is really simple to implement. The only rule is to do something that brings you closer to your goal every day and mark it on your calendar. Then do the same the next day. And the next one. Take small steps toward your goal. Just don’t break the chain!
Good luck with building a long chain and reaching your goals!
A couple of years ago I found an interesting methodology of managing productivity called “Zen to Done” by Leo Babauta. The core of that methodology is based on habits. The author describes ten of them and claims that by implementing any of these habits productivity can be increased. I managed to implement a few of those habits which helped me to complete my tasks. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to implement all the habits I wanted, even when I tried really hard. I was wondering why I could implement some and I was not able to do the same with others. Recently I read a book called “Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg and I found a few possible answers to my question.
Duhigg describes how the habits of individuals, companies, and societies work. He introduces us to the neurological basis of how habits are formed and how we can use that knowledge to consciously work on our own habits. It is very easy to follow what he is trying to explain. He includes many examples, maybe even too many…. On the other hand, thanks to this it is impossible to forget them :)
The one thing from the book I remember the most is a description about what a habit consists of. He lists three components of a habit:
- Cue: something that starts an action we call a habit. It can be the sound of an alarm clock, the smell of your favorite cookie, etc.
- Action: the habit itself. For example, getting up at 3PM everyday and going to the canteen to have a cookie.
- Reward: the feeling we have after an action (joy, happiness, etc).
Some intriguing advice that I found is that the easiest way to change a habit is to reuse the cue and reward of the existing one. The only thing you have to do is change the “action” part. That way we have a bigger chance to change the “bad” habit.
I am going to use this thinking on habits that I failed to change in the past. Maybe if I find a real cue and a reward for those habits I will be able to change my behaviors.
I listened to the audio version of the book. At times I felt it was too long, but overall it was very nice and informative. I encourage you to read it yourself.
Good luck in fighting with your habits!