Which shoe do you put on first in the morning? Do you even know? A simple exercise to bring habits further into focus is to change which shoe we put on first. Another variation might be to change which part of your mouth you start from while brushing your teeth. I find both of these changes in cues to enable awareness for other habits.
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take 21 days to create a habit as discussed in this article. Most science suggests that habits are formed by daily attention to detail. I’m currently reading The Power of Habit; this book is fascinating and I have high hopes that I will learn more about my internal wiring.
A few of the nuggets in the book are:
- Some habits hold greater sway over your life. These are called the keystone habits and they have the power to transform your life and tend to work like a gateway to other habits:
- Having family dinners
- Making your bed every morning
- Exercising regularly
- Tracking what you eat
- Developing daily routines
- Planning out your days
- Having strong willpower
Habits often act as algorithms to help our brains to cope with (over) stimulation.
Personal changes can be made by hacking the Habit Loop (Cue – Routine – Reward) using these steps:
- Identify the routine
- Experiment with rewards
- Isolate the Cue
- Have a plan
- For lasting habits you need to internalize some reward.
If you are like me, you’ve had your fair share of habits you wanted to make permanent but you fell short. For illustration I’ll share a few of my failures with you…
Yes I know that it is really named P90X … I had been diligently completing the daily routines and a funny thing happened…I had to travel and I skipped a few days and before you knew it, I had quit a month before the finish line (hence P60X). We are going to see this pattern again later in this post.
In my defense I didn’t really set myself up for success. For whatever reason my wife and I decided to work out after dinner. In some cases we started at 8:30 or 9:00. Yes PM. Frankly, I’m surprised we made it as far as we did because who has energy for a bunch of nonsense right before bed?
All lasting habits generally have a reward and there just wasn’t much time to enjoy finishing a workout because it was time to go to bed (and do it all over again).
flow free is an excellent diversion, or in my case an obsession. Each puzzle can take 15-60 seconds, although some puzzles have taken 10 minutes or more. Not only does the game have thousands of puzzles, but it also has a daily challenge mode.
I completed all the puzzle packs long ago but I keep coming back to the daily puzzles. At this point I’m at 821 days in a row and it’s all John Allspaw’s fault for introducing me to the game. Seriously, I’m happy to have a daily habit for almost three years now.
My favorite commute game. (Flow) Connecting things is maybe my most basic urge, motivation, satisfaction. pic.twitter.com/WoBVDrJdOd— John Allspaw (@allspaw) May 5, 2016
For the first 200 days or so I was worried that my streak would be broken because I wouldn’t be able to solve a puzzle. As I completed more puzzles and gained confidence, I know I can solve any puzzle. Now I have a different problem…what if I forget to do my daily puzzles?
If you are not familiar, here’s an example of daily puzzles on flow:
As crazy as this sounds, my streak has almost been broken twice at a crazy karoke bar in San Francisco (Bow Bow). In fact, one time I noticed I hadn’t done my puzzles about 10 minutes before midnight and I start scrambling to do the puzzles while a bit tipsy. I may have casually entertained the idea of putting my phone in airplane mode and changing the time. Luckily I solved the puzzles with a few minutes to spare.
Another near miss happened when I dropped my car off for an overnight service. Later that night I’m looking for my phone and realize I left it in the center console of my car and the mechanics have left for the day. All of a sudden I’m back in my dark place thinking of how I can possibly keep the streak alive. As it turns out, this particular game is part of the game center on iOS and I was able to complete my puzzles on an iPad.
The funny thing is I don’t have a consistent time that I do the puzzles. After 2+ years of this habit you’d think I would settled on a time of day to do them…nope, I’m living a bit dangerously.
Essentialism is an incredible book and I’d highly recommend you checking it out. This book was the first selection in a short lived remote book club. (We also read: Turn the Ship Around, The Manager’s Path, High Velocity Edge, and Hit Refresh). If you know me, I sometimes get enamored by ideas and may overcommit myself as evidenced by these observations and goals:
All I can say is I’m very human.
Waking up routines
What do you do when you first wake up? It is incredibly easy to get into a rut by checking email, social media, or possibly slack channels from the night before. I’ve done all of the above but I’ve also had intermittent periods of more virtuous habits. For example, I have stopped charging my cell phone by my bed (we’ll see how long that lasts). Not a waking up habit but I’ve also removed twitter from my cell phone.
At one point I started out my day by doing push ups right next to the bed. I was able to stick with this habit for about three months. Out of boredom I experimented with different types of pushups including diamonds, wide arms, handstands, etc. I bet you know what’s coming now…yup, I skipped a day or two and now I sleep in.
I didn’t completely hate the daily pushups. As another countermeasure to aging, I need to figure out some process that doesn’t go off the rails if I miss a day or two. I wonder what it is about the consecutive days/streak that makes it more compelling? Am I OCD and I haven’t noticed until now?
100 Day Challenge
As you may know, I’m trying to create a new habit, and this blog is a part of that. The good news is that I haven’t given up on it yet (we are 17 days in so far).
A few years ago I didn’t get anywhere close to enough sleep each night. I was busy refactoring an application that was in really rough shape. One of our developers was refactoring during the day and I would take my turn from about 9 PM to 3 AM or so. I can remember several times my toddler had to wake me up because I fell asleep while reading mid sentence.
If you ask my wife I think I was super grumpy as well.
Moving to the Infrastructure Engineering leadership role was a blessing because I was no longer the expert and had to engage differently with the team and the work. It also meant I got a lot more sleep (except when oncall and the phone rang)
Most of us understand that proper sleep is one of the best predictors of health, so why do we routinely shortchange ourselves when it comes to sleep?
As I’ve learned, awareness of the habit loop and especially what is happening at the same time as cues is a powerful way to debug our own habit loops. Happy habit hacking.