Five Tips on Building Successful Habits
A wrote by me summarizing my life challenges trying to be a more effective person. During my youth, where it was much harder to delay gratification, I often and commonly told myself the same self-talk, which included :
“I’ll let future myself sort that out”
“My future self will do it ”
“I’ll study later”
However, looking back at my youth an adult perspective, these are all just good-intentioned self-deceptive lies. The truth I’ve arrived at instead is there there’s no such thing as letting my future self deal with it. There is just only now. Building good habits actually have to right now, right at this second. No procrastination at all. As quoted by Yoda from Star Wars :
Do or do not. there is no try.
1Incremental and Gradual Changes, Not Overnight Transformations
Back when I was grade 7, after being humiliated by my teacher in a parent-teacher interview, I aimed to have better study habits. How long did it last?
Then when it was the summer time, I was trying to lose fat via daily running. My goal was to run one lap around my neighbourhood. How long did I actually manage to sustain it?
ANOTHER TWO DAYS.
Was I lazy? Yeah, sure that’s one way to look at it. Did I give up too easily? Perhaps. However, the teenager in me would argue in my defense that I didn’t have enough willpower to sustain it.
A major hurdle that I see many people do is that they try to completely change overnight. It could work for some very gifted people but for many others, it could be a major struggle. Although many have good intentions, I believe that for many, their bodies/mind/spirit are just not used to a new major load in their daily routine.
The more realistic approach is to actually change gradually. Starting with something very small and simple at first. Then, increase the difficulty with incremental steps. It’s like many of the video games I’ve played, where there’s many different levels. The player starts off easy so they can get used to later harder difficulties. Building new good habits are the same way. It requires a step-by-step approach, over an extended period of time.
2Find what works for you, not what works for others.
When I introduced my weight loss journeys to some of my friends for the first time, a few of them were actually against my methodology. Although they were impressed with the final results I achieved at the end, they weren’t too optimistic about the required effort.
My weight loss journey carried a few couple of implicit requirements. First, at the time, I didn’t have any profession obligations so I didn’t really need to go outside or deal with anyone. Second, I had the finances and resources to afford some of the products I used. Third, I actually had the personal time to deal with any serious health issues from the fasting. To them, it just didn’t seem doable for them.
For them, it was more likely something else would’ve worked for them. This applies to all of our good habits. Say stress management for example. Some of us meditate, some of us draw, some of us write, some of us create music, some of us create humour and some of us reach out to our loved ones. There are some good habits that work to each of our unique personalities and there are some that just doesn’t work.
It applies the same to me as well! Take running for example, that’s just something I never could get into. I ended up doing incline walking on a treadmill or biking around the neighbourhood. Likewise, trying to study when I get home, that still didn’t work for years since grade 7 either. I instead just study at a public library.
So before you aim to build a good habit, you may need to try a couple of different ideas to see what works for you and what doesn’t.
3 Focus on Yielding Measurable OUTPUT Results, Not Your Measurable INPUT Effort
I’ve learned that human nature on average are more interested in the final result than the required effort. For starters, during my undergrad, although I spend as much as 30 hours on a coding assignment, the professors only cared that I passed the assignment solution test cases. I thought it was unfair in the sense that I had spend so much time, I should be awarded marks for the code I had written and not the test cases that were passed. Fast forward to the present, I agree with their decision. Customer/clients pay to ensure their technology will work when it’s suppose to and will not pay when it doesn’t. They don’t really care about the amount of time programmers spend on it.
Another personal example was job searching after graduation. Everyday, I allocated one hour for job applications. I didn’t care what was done in that one hour. As long as I input one hour of work on something related to job search, that’s what counted. Unfortunately, I believe this wasn’t a very effective approach so I did something different. Rather than spending one hour applying for jobs, I devoted to sending out at least 25 applications per day. Further more, I made at least one change to my resume from the wording/ideas from job postings. This approach was much more successful.
For those who have heard about SMART goals, when picking a metric, try to make sure the metric is related to the gains we receive rather than the input we put in. Why? I find that when input-related metric is used, it can be tempting to somehow “cheat” on it. As in the example above, one hour job search could be as a simple as looking job postings or merely listening to music in the back ground. Likewise, the 25 applications per day can be a good start, but the 25 application per day can be still be cheated by sending low quality applications. The test cases passed by coding assignment is probably the best metric, as my code passes them or it doesn’t. There’s not an really easy way to cheat on it.
Some more examples of cheatable and non-cheatable metrics are my daily weight training. Two hours at the gym isn’t really a good metric. It’s easy to cheat on this by wasting time at the gym talking or playing on my phone. Doing 5 movements, 25 repetitions each is a good start, but this can be cheated by having bad form. Doing 5 movements, as many repetition as needed until failure is the best.
So keep in mind that when you are looking to build good habits. Ensure the incremental good habit metrics are focused on the final result. Although the effort is still important, it can be too tempting to cheat on it somehow.
4Choosing the Right Mentors and Peers
I wouldn’t have successfully accomplished many of my goals without the right people in my life. They teach me the potential best way to do something through their life experiences. Their ambition can be infectious and it will influence you to make healthier and better decisions. Many of the success I had in my life, it was indirectly contributed by someone I met or someone I admired. The right number of peers actually held me accountable on what I wanted to achieve, ensuring that I go wherever I need to go successfully.
Likewise, the opposite is true. There are people who give advice that actually end up sabotaging you. They may peer pressure you into making bad choices that would be detrimental in creating good habits. Their laziness and self-destructive choices may also start poisoning you as well.
You will become who you choose to learn from. As quoted by Otto Von Bismarck:
“Fools learn from experience. I prefer to learn from the experience of others”
5 Create Room For Breaks and Mistakes
Back when I was on my third weight lost journey, the ketogenic diet with 16–8 fasting/eating window became very difficult to maintain after an extended periods of time. I’d say I would start to feel burdened after about two weeks in. To counter the boredom, I had cheat carb meal about once a week. Although the cheat meal slowed down the journey, the satisfaction of that meal actually increased my willpower to help me last the hardships of the remaining journey.
Similarly, although I have “quit” video gaming, I do allocate certain times of each year for purely gaming. In these allocated times, I’d get my gaming desire done with. These brief gaming marathons actually give me a much needed rest to help me get my life back on track. I actually re-enter whatever journey I’m with more energy.
There’s bound to be days where a break is needed. The journey to building good habits is not completely linear. Rather, it is semi-linear, with moments of trough from time-to-time. These troughs are meant to allow room for mistakes, failures, set backs, relapses and any inconveniences in general.