Develop Good Habits By Copying How You Develop Bad Ones.
Laziness is underrated.
There are many things about life that are unfair. There’s the fact that vegetables don’t taste like ice-cream. The fact that the human body naturally tends towards being a hairy, flabby, stinky mess. And the fact that good habits are so much harder to cultivate than bad habits.
Good habits require constant effort and vigilance to maintain whereas bad habits can be picked up effortlessly and even worse, often take conscious effort to stop. Fortunately though, there are lessons that we can learn from our bad habits and apply to the formation of more desirable ones. Let’s consider a few:
Make it easy.
Bad habits are invariably easy to stick to. Or at least they’re easier than the thing you should be doing. Nobody every found themselves unable to resist the urge to do their daily 5k run or spend an hour practising the piano. Bad habits become habits because they represent the path of least resistance and therefore we feel compelled to indulge them.
Even though it’s not as easy to detect, we feel to indulge our good habits too. We want to go running and learn to play Fur Elise on the piano, otherwise, we wouldn’t feel guilty when we don’t. We just don’t always want to do so badly enough to get started. So instead of setting yourself a goal which is optimal, set yourself a goal which will get you started.
Don’t set yourself a goal of an hour’s practice, set yourself a goal of ten minutes. Just ten minutes of practice and then, if you want to, you can get up, pat yourself on the back for doing your bit, and go back to watching Netflix on the sofa.
Most of the time you’ll be able to continue once you’ve gotten started The resistance to good habits is typically just resistance to starting. But even on the days when you do your 10 minutes and stop, that’s ten minutes which you wouldn’t have done otherwise.
Start with a lifelong mindset.
When do you plan to stop wasting time watching cat videos on YouTube? How many weeks before you can stop eating chocolate? When will you have finished scrolling mindlessly through Instagram? We approach bad habits with a lifelong mindset. There’s no end date, they’re things we do and the plan is just to kind of…keep doing them.
A lot of the time good habits are entered into on an “I’ll stick this out for X days” or “let’s just see what happens” basis. And while it’s true that there’s no guarantee that a habit will stick, starting with the viewpoint that you’ll be doing this for the long haul is very different from just hoping for the best.
For starters, picturing yourself doing this thing regularly for the rest of your life ensures that you’re realistic about how much time, effort and consistency you can commit. When you’re just starting out and fun of enthusiasm it’s easy to imagine yourself running 10k every day, meditating for an hour each morning, or eating nothing but kale and goji berries for all of your meals. Then as time goes by and you resolve starts to slip, you’re faced with a choice between lowering the high standards you set for yourself, which feels like quitting, or just straight up quitting.
Another advantage of thinking long term is that you can think about the benefits your new habit will bring to your life in that time. Having your attention on a long term aim makes it easier to weather the occasional lapse in motivation. Even the odd missed day doesn’t feel like the end of the world because it’s the long term consistency that matters. That being said, it’s always good to set some nearer-term checkpoints too to keep you engaged.
We all have the same reason for sticking with our bad habits; bad habits feel good. Porn, smoking, eating entire tubs of Ben & Jerry’s, zoning out in front of the TV. All of them feel good or at the very least, help us to feel less bad.
In an ideal world, the same would be true of the good habits you’re trying to develop, but even if they will make you feel good in the long term, good habits don’t always feel great in the short term. That’s why you need to have a good reason for sticking with them.
Say you want to practice a language or a musical instrument every day. How can you make doing this fun? How can you make practising put a smile on your face? How can you find ways to get that sweet, sweet endorphin rush seeing yourself progress?
If you want your habit to stick you have to find a way to et your brain to reward you for doing it. Maintaining a streak is on way, but the process itself should also be rewarding. Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.
Don’t be a bully.
Most of the time we don’t fail to stick to our goals or our New Year’s resolutions because we lack willpower. We fail because the goal wasn’t important enough to us, it was poorly defined, or the path to reaching it was unrealistic. The human spirit is innately resistant to bullying, even if we’re trying to bully ourselves.
Nobody ever struggled with their willpower or time management when it came to indulging a bad habit. There’s no reason why the same shouldn’t be true of good ones. Rather than battling with yourself, understand why and whether you want to do the thing you’re trying to do. Weigh the pros of doing it against the cons of not bothering. And then, once it’s something you want to do instead of something you feel like you have to do, you might just not want to stop.