Why is it So Hard to Create Permanent Habits?

Motivation works well in the short-term. If you set a new goal, you can probably summon up the motivation to pursue it earnestly for a week or two. If the goal is tremendously important, that motivation may even carry you uninterrupted for a month.

But motivation wanes. If your goal takes more than a month or two, you’re going to need more than just motivation. You’re going to need habits.

Habit-building methods are great because they translate that short-term motivation into something more durable. If you invest in consistent routines, with triggers, rewards and punishments, you can stabilize that motivation into systematic output.

The Gospel of Changing Habits

This transition from motivated bursts to stable habits is often so powerful that people who’ve never tried it before become proselytizing converts.

My friend recently got into setting habits. He went from struggling to go to the gym regularly to managing dozens of habits with intricately engineered systems.

I know many bloggers that built their initial audiences on habit forming. Part of that is because habits are a popular topic. But I suspect the real reason is that the methods are so powerful that people feel compelled to start a blog about them.

I know this because I was one of them. I went from struggling to follow through on simple plans to coordinating habits with eating, exercising, reading, sleeping, productivity and more. Outsiders must have thought I was crazy, but the truth was it was simply the first time in my life I had the ability to do it.

Habits Work Well in the Medium-Term

I’ve been using habit-changing tools for well over a decade now. If you follow the basic assumption of habits, that it takes a few months of running a habit to make it permanent, I should have had time to permanently stabilize dozens, perhaps hundreds, of habits.

But that hasn’t happened.

Instead, if I review the last ten years of my time spent working with habits, I’m far more often restarting habits than creating new ones.

In all, I can only think of two that have been more or less permanent: vegetarianism (currently pescetarianism) and weekly/daily goals. Some have had long lifespans: my gym-going habit lasted for several years unchanging before I had to restart it. Many others, like morning rituals, I end up needing to restart every few months.

What gives? After all, the promise of habits is that an initial investment in effort could create a permanently stable system. Why do some habits require perpetual maintenance to sustain?

Action Requires Two Kinds of Effort

My explanation is that any action requires two kinds of effort in order to get done. An intrinsic effort that depends on the action and an effort to decide whether or not to execute the action. Habits can modify the first, but the main reason they work is that they eliminate the second type of effort.

To understand this, let’s say that you have the goal of reading a book per week, so you decide to make it a habit. In this case, you decide you need to read at least fifty pages a day in order to meet your goal.

Every time you read the book, you’re investing these two kinds of effort. First there’s the effort of reading. Depending on the difficulty of the book, this might require a lot of effort or zero effort. Imagine the difference between a quantum physics textbook and a Harry Potter book and you’ll see why.

However, if the book you plan to read will require effort, it also requires a secondary cost of effort. This is the effort required to overcome the urge to procrastinate and start reading the book. If you’ve ever felt tired after a day of doing nothing, you probably understand this effort cost.

Habits, from my experience, appear to reduce these two costs in different ways:

  1. Habits can reduce the intrinsic cost by making you better at the task. As you read more difficult books, you get better at reading, so it doesn’t require as much energy.
  2. Habits reduce the decision cost by eliminating the ambiguity of when and how to perform the behavior. If you read your fifty pages at lunch, every day, for three months, the next lunch break you’ll automatically start reading without having to decide whether to do it.

For a lot of tasks, the second cost reduction is far greater than the first. Flossing, for instance, hasn’t gotten any easier the hundredth time I’ve done it, but I have stopped thinking about whether I should do it.

Habits are Metastable

This idea that there are two types of effort invested in behaviors explains a lot of my own experience with habits. Namely:

  • Not all habits are equally easy to build. This makes sense because some have higher intrinsic effort required, which results in not only higher intrinsic cost but also higher decision costs.
  • You can’t establish an unlimited number of habits. This makes sense because even if you eliminate the decision effort, you still have to pay the intrinsic effort. That means you could set up many intrinisically easy habits (like flossing), but probably not a large amount of intrinsically difficult habits (like reading boring books).
  • Most habits are only metastable. Metastability is a concept in physics where a certain state of affairs is stable, but small perturbations can break that stability. A pendulum, for instance, has two stable points: one where the weight is at the bottom and one where the weight is perfectly balanced at the top. Except the one at the bottom will return to the bottom if it is pushed slightly, whereas the one perfectly balanced at the top will never go back after a slight push.

This idea of metastability conforms to my experience as the reason why I’ve found few habits have had permanent lifespans. Inevitably, the habit breaks down because of a temporary lifestyle change: a vacation, an illness, needing to move or work overtime. These create shocks which are often enough to break the behavior, increase the decision cost, making it no longer automatic when you return to the habit.

How to Deal With Medium-Term Habits

This metastability suggests that the most important positions to look at when setting a habit are during possible disruptions. If you temporarily have to break a habit, then re-establishing it as soon as the interruption is gone should be your top priority.

Even better if you can avoid breaking the habit at all, creating a placeholder habit in its absence. That might mean reading five pages instead of fifty when you’re busy, or doing a home workout when you’re traveling instead of going to the gym.

Which habits do you have to frequently restart? What causes you to break the habit? Which habits have you maintained without interruption for years? What prevents them from degrading? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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  • Interesting post, Scott. I’ve also wondered why so few habits have permanent lifespans, when most people proclaim that after 30 (or 90) days a habit will solidify and essentially become second nature.

    I was wondering, do you see your explanation as to why some habits require perpetual maintenance to sustain–i.e. that any action requires two kinds of effort in order to get done–as applying equally to subtracting habits too? For example, not watching TV in the evening, or not eating in between meals? Would that be the same as adding something to your routine as opposed to subtracting?

    By the way, fantastic new web design. Definitely a lot easier on the eyes and the design is very sleek and intuitive. Good job!

  • Lingholic

    Interesting post, Scott. I’ve also wondered why so few habits have permanent lifespans, when most people proclaim that after 30 (or 90) days a habit will solidify and essentially become second nature.

    I was wondering, do you see your explanation as to why some habits require perpetual maintenance to sustain–i.e. that any action requires two kinds of effort in order to get done–as applying equally to subtracting habits too? For example, not watching TV in the evening, or not eating in between meals? Would that be the same as adding something to your routine as opposed to subtracting?

    By the way, fantastic new web design. Definitely a lot easier on the eyes and the design is very sleek and intuitive. Good job!

  • Great post, Scott. And I love the new design. A lot cleaner and more modern! Although it doesn’t seem optimized to grow your email list, is that intentional? (Small help on that, if you changed your “Free newsletter” link to an alternative like “learn new things” (or anything), you’d prob get twice the clicks. Here’s a case study showing that on 2 different sites: deveshdesign.com/website-navigation/

  • DeveshKhanal

    Great post, Scott. And I love the new design. A lot cleaner and more modern! Although it doesn’t seem optimized to grow your email list, is that intentional? (Small help on that, if you changed your “Free newsletter” link to an alternative like “learn new things” (or anything), you’d prob get twice the clicks. Here’s a case study showing that on 2 different sites: deveshdesign.com/website-navig…

  • cuke

    I relate to disruption causing problems with habits. I have moved several times in the year and a half since I started thinking about habit formation. Different home locations have been more or less conducive to exercise, for instance. Just getting used to new systems of where to store my exercise clothes can be disruptive. I can also relate to restarting habits periodically. I feel like I have a hierarchy of habits; some are important, and some are less important. I don’t get too worried if I don’t exercise every day. (I get more worried if two days go by.) However, my weekly and daily to-dos are more important to me. I also feel like sometimes habits keep me from the flexibility I need to do other things. (I don’t like the feeling of being ruled by non essential habits.) If I have told myself that I will jog every morning, it can become an excuse that prevents me from doing something else on a particular day that might have been more valuable. It can also prevent me from taking a day off to do yoga or strength training. I personally don’t see the logic in defining a habit as a daily practice. I think that what constitutes a habit is individually defined. I am reminded of something Brian Johnson has been talking about on Philosopher’s Notes. He’s mentioned that we should try to define ourselves by the things we do right, rather than the things we do wrong. Rather than focusing on the day that we didn’t get to the gym, we should think about what went right the other six days of the week and focus on doing more of that and then identify ourselves with the good habits rather than the bad ones. By the way, I love the new website. It looks a lot cleaner and more professional.

  • cuke

    I relate to disruption causing problems with habits. I have moved several times in the year and a half since I started thinking about habit formation. Different home locations have been more or less conducive to exercise, for instance. Just getting used to new systems of where to store my exercise clothes can be disruptive. I can also relate to restarting habits periodically. I feel like I have a hierarchy of habits; some are important, and some are less important. I don’t get too worried if I don’t exercise every day. (I get more worried if two days go by.) However, my weekly and daily to-dos are more important to me. I also feel like sometimes habits keep me from the flexibility I need to do other things. (I don’t like the feeling of being ruled by non essential habits.) If I have told myself that I will jog every morning, it can become an excuse that prevents me from doing something else on a particular day that might have been more valuable. It can also prevent me from taking a day off to do yoga or strength training. I personally don’t see the logic in defining a habit as a daily practice. I think that what constitutes a habit is individually defined. I am reminded of something Brian Johnson has been talking about on Philosopher’s Notes. He’s mentioned that we should try to define ourselves by the things we do right, rather than the things we do wrong. Rather than focusing on the day that we didn’t get to the gym, we should think about what went right the other six days of the week and focus on doing more of that and then identify ourselves with the good habits rather than the bad ones. By the way, I love the new website. It looks a lot cleaner and more professional.

  • Love the topic. would love to see you discuss, in a new article, the reverse. namely removing an old bad habit. (perhaps you have elsewhere) Habits to me indicate love/preference toward that behavior because of it’s intrinsic perceived rewards. Often these rewards are just chemicals based in our brains. Your logic implies we have control of habits, and this is of course the goal. My research indicates that at the core of our “bad” habits lies clues about why they are there and from those clues the ingredients to change them to be more purposeful for us rather than arbitrary. Love the site new look and focused appearance of this post.
    Thanks, grant…
    confused, eager, and smart all at once.

  • Grant

    Love the topic. would love to see you discuss, in a new article, the reverse. namely removing an old bad habit. (perhaps you have elsewhere) Habits to me indicate love/preference toward that behavior because of it’s intrinsic perceived rewards. Often these rewards are just chemicals based in our brains. Your logic implies we have control of habits, and this is of course the goal. My research indicates that at the core of our “bad” habits lies clues about why they are there and from those clues the ingredients to change them to be more purposeful for us rather than arbitrary. Love the site new look and focused appearance of this post.
    Thanks, grant…
    confused, eager, and smart all at once.

  • Johnny Mean

    Scott,
    Firstly, I am loving the new look on the site-easier visually.
    Secondly, thanks for re-visiting this topic and the sustainability of habits and sharing with transparency your own experience. I have found that some habits requiring different levels of maintenance and that with any environmental change, habits require some tweaking.
    I use Lewins’ change management model to examine my own processes. http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_94.htm.
    For example, I move on a yearly basis, this of course changes work flow pattern in the home as well as external routines.
    Consciously refreezing in the new environment ensures sustainability for me.

  • Johnny Mean

    Scott,
    Firstly, I am loving the new look on the site-easier visually.
    Secondly, thanks for re-visiting this topic and the sustainability of habits and sharing with transparency your own experience. I have found that some habits requiring different levels of maintenance and that with any environmental change, habits require some tweaking.
    I use Lewins’ change management model to examine my own processes. http://www.mindtools.com/pages….
    For example, I move on a yearly basis, this of course changes work flow pattern in the home as well as external routines.
    Consciously refreezing in the new environment ensures sustainability for me.

  • Scott Young

    Good idea. It’s a first draft, so I’ve got to work on some split testing in terms of sign ups, although I imagine that (like before) most of the sign-ups are going to come through the popup, so that’s what I’m going to focus on in list building.

  • Scott Young

    Good idea. It’s a first draft, so I’ve got to work on some split testing in terms of sign ups, although I imagine that (like before) most of the sign-ups are going to come through the popup, so that’s what I’m going to focus on in list building.

  • Scott Young

    I think there’s a relationship with negative habits as well, although I’m not as sure what the theory would be. My guess is it’s something similar: avoiding something you want to do takes energy just like doing something you don’t want to do does. With both there are decision and intrinsic costs.

    My sense is that if you have nearly perfect replacement, you can permanently create a negative habit (as I felt I did with vegetarianism/pescetarianism). However replacement is often far from perfect, especially when people want to substitute a task that has low intrinsic effort demands (watching television) with one that does (reading books).

  • Scott Young

    I think there’s a relationship with negative habits as well, although I’m not as sure what the theory would be. My guess is it’s something similar: avoiding something you want to do takes energy just like doing something you don’t want to do does. With both there are decision and intrinsic costs.

    My sense is that if you have nearly perfect replacement, you can permanently create a negative habit (as I felt I did with vegetarianism/pescetarianism). However replacement is often far from perfect, especially when people want to substitute a task that has low intrinsic effort demands (watching television) with one that does (reading books).

  • Great post Scott! I’ve been studying habits for years and have thought about their “metastability” often, but I love how succinctly the term sums it up (I always find applying diff eq and similar topics to real-life scenarios to be loads of fun).
    One thing that I would like to add is that I have found that the degree of stability for a particular habit, and thus the expected value of its sustainability, is highly correlated with the number and strength of its environmental dependencies. If the habit is initially structured to be flexible with regards to said dependencies, it then will be far more difficult to disrupt. I’ll illustrate with a few examples.
    1. I decided several years ago that whenever I brush my teeth I should either be stretching or squatting against the wall. This is an activity with medium intrinsic effort and comparatively low willpower requirements. The real distinction between this habit and others with similar levels is the fact that its only environmental requirement is “be in a room larger than an airplane bathroom.” This makes it possible to maintain almost indefinitely, with small failures having only small impact.
    2. The classic “going to the gym.” Almost everyone has experienced periods in their life where they commit to going to the gym, maintain it fairly regularly, but then end up losing the “habit” when something else happens in their life that forces them to temporarily stop. This often comes in the form of schedule changes, travel, or similar logistical difficulties.
    If, however, the habit that you work on instilling in yourself is not “go the the gym” but “set aside 30 minutes per day for exercise, whether in a gym or at home”, and make sure that you learn a specific “at home workout” to use, the odds of this habit being disrupted are far lower. This is primarily due to the lowered environmental dependencies making it more flexible.
    3. Morning routines. These have always been one of the hardest for me to keep with any regularity. Why? Because my mornings are always so different on a day-to-day basis in terms of timing and location. If your lifestyle involves a variable bedtime and frequent travel, keeping any consistent morning routine that requires any large amount of time or particular facilities is quite difficult.
    In light of this, I would say that the best way to start the day productively is to keep your morning routine internal rather than external. Rather than it being “get up, go for a run, shower, make breakfast,” which has many possible disruption points, instead it might be better to keep it to “wake up, stretch for 2 minutes, meditate for 5 minutes.” This is something that can be done anywhere, requires minimal intrinsic effort, and will nonetheless be extremely beneficial towards putting you in a productive mindset for the day.

    -Avisha

  • Lilmod

    Great post Scott! I’ve been studying habits for years and have thought about their “metastability” often, but I love how succinctly the term sums it up (I always find applying diff eq and similar topics to real-life scenarios to be loads of fun).
    One thing that I would like to add is that I have found that the degree of stability for a particular habit, and thus the expected value of its sustainability, is highly correlated with the number and strength of its environmental dependencies. If the habit is initially structured to be flexible with regards to said dependencies, it then will be far more difficult to disrupt. I’ll illustrate with a few examples.
    1. I decided several years ago that whenever I brush my teeth I should either be stretching or squatting against the wall. This is an activity with medium intrinsic effort and comparatively low willpower requirements. The real distinction between this habit and others with similar levels is the fact that its only environmental requirement is “be in a room larger than an airplane bathroom.” This makes it possible to maintain almost indefinitely, with small failures having only small impact.
    2. The classic “going to the gym.” Almost everyone has experienced periods in their life where they commit to going to the gym, maintain it fairly regularly, but then end up losing the “habit” when something else happens in their life that forces them to temporarily stop. This often comes in the form of schedule changes, travel, or similar logistical difficulties.
    If, however, the habit that you work on instilling in yourself is not “go the the gym” but “set aside 30 minutes per day for exercise, whether in a gym or at home”, and make sure that you learn a specific “at home workout” to use, the odds of this habit being disrupted are far lower. This is primarily due to the lowered environmental dependencies making it more flexible.
    3. Morning routines. These have always been one of the hardest for me to keep with any regularity. Why? Because my mornings are always so different on a day-to-day basis in terms of timing and location. If your lifestyle involves a variable bedtime and frequent travel, keeping any consistent morning routine that requires any large amount of time or particular facilities is quite difficult.
    In light of this, I would say that the best way to start the day productively is to keep your morning routine internal rather than external. Rather than it being “get up, go for a run, shower, make breakfast,” which has many possible disruption points, instead it might be better to keep it to “wake up, stretch for 2 minutes, meditate for 5 minutes.” This is something that can be done anywhere, requires minimal intrinsic effort, and will nonetheless be extremely beneficial towards putting you in a productive mindset for the day.

    -Avisha

  • Scott Young

    This is interesting. I feel there’s two parts to a habit: an unconscious part which is probably mostly related to classical conditioning. In this sense, you’d want habits to be as consistent as possible, so that the trigger always compels the resulting action.

    However, there’s almost certainly a cognitive element as well. It’s not so much that I have a habit of going to the gym upon very specific triggers, but that I have a mental rule about my behavior that says “I have to go to the gym today.” If that rule is reinforced, it becomes a kind of habitual decision that doesn’t get broken. If it get broken frequently, it’s harder to enforce mentally and requires more decision effort.

    For this latter case, flexibility is definitely a plus. Having a home workout may be a very different habit in terms of the triggers and resulting actions you take, but it helps you stay consistent with that rule-based habit which you don’t want to break.

  • Scott Young

    This is interesting. I feel there’s two parts to a habit: an unconscious part which is probably mostly related to classical conditioning. In this sense, you’d want habits to be as consistent as possible, so that the trigger always compels the resulting action.

    However, there’s almost certainly a cognitive element as well. It’s not so much that I have a habit of going to the gym upon very specific triggers, but that I have a mental rule about my behavior that says “I have to go to the gym today.” If that rule is reinforced, it becomes a kind of habitual decision that doesn’t get broken. If it get broken frequently, it’s harder to enforce mentally and requires more decision effort.

    For this latter case, flexibility is definitely a plus. Having a home workout may be a very different habit in terms of the triggers and resulting actions you take, but it helps you stay consistent with that rule-based habit which you don’t want to break.

  • Cool, the pop up is effective. Even more effective is content upgrades, this would work really well with your detailed posts: http://blog.crazyegg.com/2015/02/04/list-building-case-study/

  • DeveshKhanal

    Cool, the pop up is effective. Even more effective is content upgrades, this would work really well with your detailed posts: http://blog.crazyegg.com/2015/

  • Kathleen Cushman

    Can you share the platform you used for this lovely website design?

  • Kathleen Cushman

    Can you share the platform you used for this lovely website design?

  • byustudent

    I’ve started with “mini habits.” They are so easy that you can have basically the craziest day of your life and still accomplish them. Mine are very simple. One example: I’m religious, and I want to be better about reading scripture, so I set a habit to read one verse per day. No motivation cost, very low willpower cost, and never a point where it’s too hard and you have to break the habit. I’ve had this habit before with much higher numbers: an hour a day, thirty minutes a day, a chapter a day, whatever. But 1 is infinitely greater than 0, and the nice thing is that it’s easy to do extra. I figure that down the road, my actual practice will be much higher, but the expectation will still be low, because I don’t want to lose the habit.

    This way of starting habits has helped me be a lot more confident and productive, even though the bar is really, really low. BJ Fogg talks about it, as does Stephen Guise.

  • byustudent

    I’ve started with “mini habits.” They are so easy that you can have basically the craziest day of your life and still accomplish them. Mine are very simple. One example: I’m religious, and I want to be better about reading scripture, so I set a habit to read one verse per day. No motivation cost, very low willpower cost, and never a point where it’s too hard and you have to break the habit. I’ve had this habit before with much higher numbers: an hour a day, thirty minutes a day, a chapter a day, whatever. But 1 is infinitely greater than 0, and the nice thing is that it’s easy to do extra. I figure that down the road, my actual practice will be much higher, but the expectation will still be low, because I don’t want to lose the habit.

    This way of starting habits has helped me be a lot more confident and productive, even though the bar is really, really low. BJ Fogg talks about it, as does Stephen Guise.

  • Steven Chu

    Thank you for sharing the idea,Scott ! This article really benefits me a lot . By separating the process of establishing habits into two parts,it’s more easy for me to analyze obstacles encountered forming new habits. Further, I noticed the concept”most habits are only metastable”to be reasonable when using it to explain why we tend to choose easier task rather than the one really matters. However, if the motive is “enormously” strong ,efforts that relates to the subject we thought leads to zero,while the real difficulty still exists. Seeing that, next time if there is something i wanted to make it a habit , I would first build up my motives and try to break down the task into more doable ones (like weekly-daily goals)!

  • Steven Chu

    Thank you for sharing the idea,Scott ! This article really benefits me a lot . By separating the process of establishing habits into two parts,it’s more easy for me to analyze obstacles encountered forming new habits. Further, I noticed the concept”most habits are only metastable”to be reasonable when using it to explain why we tend to choose easier task rather than the one really matters. However, if the motive is “enormously” strong ,efforts that relates to the subject we thought leads to zero,while the real difficulty still exists. Seeing that, next time if there is something i wanted to make it a habit , I would first build up my motives and try to break down the task into more doable ones (like weekly-daily goals)!

  • Great article (which will definitely help me in my struggle).
    I like the new design; it’s simple and elegant.
    As a student, I really appreciate your articles on such interesting and pertinent topics.
    Thank you!

  • Binni

    Hey Scott! I have been a subscriber to your blog for a couple of months without reading it religiously. After today’s post, however, I’ll probably be coming back more frequently.

    Since the beginning of February, I have gone from being a night-owl to waking up at 6 am every morning, and established a habit of exercising 5-6 times a week after struggling to exercise just once every week prior to that. Alongside that, I’m working on my diet in an effort to lose weight. I really liked your post because it touches on so many of the concepts that have been occupying my mind lately. As a mechanical engineer, I particularly appreciated the “metastable habit” analogy. Visualizing habits that way really highlights the dangers temporary setbacks or disruptions pose to semi-established habits.

    I have become pretty good at establishing new habits through my own version of the WD system. It’s pretty neat to see that the principles I have discovered independently during the last couple of months are also being highlighted by many of the other “habit forming evangelists”, the WD system being just an example. I found myself nodding along in approval when I read the following sentence:

    “I suspect the real reason is that the methods are so powerful that people feel compelled to start a blog about them.”

    I fall into the same category as those individuals you are referring to. In addition to hopefully helping others, I have found that blogging about the methods that helped me form new habits (as well as the ones that didn’t) is a great way to analyse and solidify the lessons I’ve learned. There is also something to be said about blogging as a way of creating accountability in forming new habits.

    At any rate, I really appreciated this post. If you’re interested in my story, check out my blog at http://www.upat6.com/about/

  • Binni

    Hey Scott! I have been a subscriber to your blog for a couple of months without reading it religiously. After today’s post, however, I’ll probably be coming back more frequently.

    Since the beginning of February, I have gone from being a night-owl to waking up at 6 am every morning, and established a habit of exercising 5-6 times a week after struggling to exercise just once every week prior to that. Alongside that, I’m working on my diet in an effort to lose weight. I really liked your post because it touches on so many of the concepts that have been occupying my mind lately. As a mechanical engineer, I particularly appreciated the “metastable habit” analogy. Visualizing habits that way really highlights the dangers temporary setbacks or disruptions pose to semi-established habits.

    I have become pretty good at establishing new habits through my own version of the WD system. It’s pretty neat to see that the principles I have discovered independently during the last couple of months are also being highlighted by many of the other “habit forming evangelists”, the WD system being just an example. I found myself nodding along in approval when I read the following sentence:

    “I suspect the real reason is that the methods are so powerful that people feel compelled to start a blog about them.”

    I fall into the same category as those individuals you are referring to. In addition to hopefully helping others, I have found that blogging about the methods that helped me form new habits (as well as the ones that didn’t) is a great way to analyse and solidify the lessons I’ve learned. There is also something to be said about blogging as a way of creating accountability in forming new habits.

    At any rate, I really appreciated this post. If you’re interested in my story, check out my blog at http://www.upat6.com/about/

  • Ali

    I followed the 30-day rule to set a new habit, waking up at 6AM. It worked, until I got sick. And since that day, I can’t get up early anymore. I’m trying to fix the habit again. Lilmod said that you should make your habits flexible to make them last longer, I don’t know how I could make a habit like waking up more flexible, does anyone have an idea? Thanks.

  • Ali

    I followed the 30-day rule to set a new habit, waking up at 6AM. It worked, until I got sick. And since that day, I can’t get up early anymore. I’m trying to fix the habit again. Lilmod said that you should make your habits flexible to make them last longer, I don’t know how I could make a habit like waking up more flexible, does anyone have an idea? Thanks.

  • kipki

    I think a good indicator for how stable (real stability, not metastability) is the tradeof between the quality the established habit adds to your life and the residual effort that is still needed for an iteration of the habit once it is established.

    This explains why the following habits have a better chance to stick:

    – replacement habits: the extra effort is not much higher than the previous behavior, while the quality augments

    – habits that fill up time that is somehow anyway consumed: if your valuable (and limited, certainly if you are a parent) free time is fully planned with habits, this can downgrade your overal life quality as you don’t have the freedom anymore to relax, rest or engage in some new interesting activity..

    Some habits that stuck for me:

    – go to work by bike (20 min) instead of the car (10 min)

    – go for a walk during lunch and be alone with my thoughts (30 min)

    – read in bed until I (or my wife) is sleepy

    – always participating in at least one MOOC (except for holidays)

    Some habits that I don’t manage to stick:

    – regularly exercise

    – meditate

    – play the guitar daily

  • kipki

    I think a good indicator for how stable (real stability, not metastability) is the tradeof between the quality the established habit adds to your life and the residual effort that is still needed for an iteration of the habit once it is established.

    This explains why the following habits have a better chance to stick:

    – replacement habits: the extra effort is not much higher than the previous behavior, while the quality augments

    – habits that fill up time that is somehow anyway consumed: if your valuable (and limited, certainly if you are a parent) free time is fully planned with habits, this can downgrade your overal life quality as you don’t have the freedom anymore to relax, rest or engage in some new interesting activity..

    Some habits that stuck for me:

    – go to work by bike (20 min) instead of the car (10 min)

    – go for a walk during lunch and be alone with my thoughts (30 min)

    – read in bed until I (or my wife) is sleepy

    – always participating in at least one MOOC (except for holidays)

    Some habits that I don’t manage to stick:

    – regularly exercise

    – meditate

    – play the guitar daily

  • BRaven

    Interesting post, Scott. I really like Lilmod’s comments about reducing the “environmental dependencies” which we can base our desired habits on. A great example is not going for a run because it’s raining out! I’ve also found that I really need to WANT to start this new habit. It does begin with a desire. That motivation does need to be there to start (at least for me!).
    One thing that has really helped me is establishing triggers. If I want to make it a habit to read every night before I go to bed, I have an alarm on my phone that goes off at 9:45PM every night. This is my trigger that tells me to finish what I’m working on, grab my preferred reading materials, and get into bed and read. I turned off the alarm and very quickly fell out of the “habit”. If it’s scheduled, does it then become a habit or merely a scheduled activity? I’ll leave that open for debate. Thanks for the posts!

  • BRaven

    Interesting post, Scott. I really like Lilmod’s comments about reducing the “environmental dependencies” which we can base our desired habits on. A great example is not going for a run because it’s raining out! I’ve also found that I really need to WANT to start this new habit. It does begin with a desire. That motivation does need to be there to start (at least for me!).
    One thing that has really helped me is establishing triggers. If I want to make it a habit to read every night before I go to bed, I have an alarm on my phone that goes off at 9:45PM every night. This is my trigger that tells me to finish what I’m working on, grab my preferred reading materials, and get into bed and read. I turned off the alarm and very quickly fell out of the “habit”. If it’s scheduled, does it then become a habit or merely a scheduled activity? I’ll leave that open for debate. Thanks for the posts!

  • Scott Young

    I completely agree. Early on in my habit changing I was able to make switches from watching television to reading books completely, but these habits never lasted very long. Reading a book is harder than watching television, especially if it’s a book you’re reading for information, not pleasure.

  • Scott Young

    I completely agree. Early on in my habit changing I was able to make switches from watching television to reading books completely, but these habits never lasted very long. Reading a book is harder than watching television, especially if it’s a book you’re reading for information, not pleasure.

  • Scott Young

    First, I think 30 days probably isn’t long enough for the habit. Waking up at a certain time probably requires a few months at least before it’s somewhat resistant to bumps in your schedule.

    Second, maybe you don’t have a habit of waking up at a specific time, but doing a specific morning ritual (say not hitting the snooze button and getting out of bed immediately). That way you could adjust the exact wake-up time and not break your habit.

  • Scott Young

    First, I think 30 days probably isn’t long enough for the habit. Waking up at a certain time probably requires a few months at least before it’s somewhat resistant to bumps in your schedule.

    Second, maybe you don’t have a habit of waking up at a specific time, but doing a specific morning ritual (say not hitting the snooze button and getting out of bed immediately). That way you could adjust the exact wake-up time and not break your habit.

  • Scott Young

    I hear you! My blog was also one of the early converts to habit-changing. There are so few methods that have the effectiveness and generality of habit-changing tools.

  • Scott Young

    I hear you! My blog was also one of the early converts to habit-changing. There are so few methods that have the effectiveness and generality of habit-changing tools.

  • Priyankush Deka

    Thanks for your important post. These posts show your deep analytical, logical and experienced thinking on some important aspects of life, which should be improved by everyone but often been unnoticed. Obviously, improving these factors is related to improving one’s life.
    In case of maintaining my habit, I am not satisfied by my own earlier experiences. I think its because of my lack in a deterministic mind. My plan of working changes because of many distractions. So my uncompleted works gather day by day . And it’s an unexpected story of almost everyday. As a student, my primary work is study. I am appearing in my class-xi final exam, but I couldn’t complete all chapters of physics and chemistry. So now I have to complete these chapters in class-XII.
    One another habit I always try to maintain,but never been success to make it a regular habit, is writing diary. Every year, I collect a new note book for making the habit of diary writing a regular one. But I have never been successfully done the job . So every year, my diary can deposit my daily life’s feeling and working history for only three or four months, not beyond than that. It’s because of my strong resolution and laziness. But I must give up this laziness for a better performance in class-XII. Please advise me.

  • Priyankush Deka

    Thanks for your important post. These posts show your deep analytical, logical and experienced thinking on some important aspects of life, which should be improved by everyone but often been unnoticed. Obviously, improving these factors is related to improving one’s life.
    In case of maintaining my habit, I am not satisfied by my own earlier experiences. I think its because of my lack in a deterministic mind. My plan of working changes because of many distractions. So my uncompleted works gather day by day . And it’s an unexpected story of almost everyday. As a student, my primary work is study. I am appearing in my class-xi final exam, but I couldn’t complete all chapters of physics and chemistry. So now I have to complete these chapters in class-XII.
    One another habit I always try to maintain,but never been success to make it a regular habit, is writing diary. Every year, I collect a new note book for making the habit of diary writing a regular one. But I have never been successfully done the job . So every year, my diary can deposit my daily life’s feeling and working history for only three or four months, not beyond than that. It’s because of my strong resolution and laziness. But I must give up this laziness for a better performance in class-XII. Please advise me.

  • I have recently been drawn to the idea of habits and am listening to a great book about them. Not that habits are a new concept, but somehow I’m zeroing in on the concept now. I think it’s interesting how different people respond to habits differently. I personally love the idea of habits, because I am always trying to be more efficient and effective, BUT I have to rebel against my habits occasionally to remind myself that I’m the one in control, not the habit. It’s a funny psychology. Interesting stuff here. Thanks for sharing.

    -Tara
    http://absolutelytara.com

  • Tara Schiller

    I have recently been drawn to the idea of habits and am listening to a great book about them. Not that habits are a new concept, but somehow I’m zeroing in on the concept now. I think it’s interesting how different people respond to habits differently. I personally love the idea of habits, because I am always trying to be more efficient and effective, BUT I have to rebel against my habits occasionally to remind myself that I’m the one in control, not the habit. It’s a funny psychology. Interesting stuff here. Thanks for sharing.

    -Tara
    http://absolutelytara.com

  • sukhvirk150

    Thank you for sharing your experience Scott.

    I recently started filling out a tracking form. First I scheduled it last thing at night. Then I saved a link to my phone that I could access anywhere I had internet. I dealt with possible disruption (no wanting to do it) by creating a ‘skip’ question that I could mark to skip the form. That 1 question made me fill it out every day for over 100 days (minus the 4 without internet).

    Your post seems to focus on the importance of planning for when things fall apart, or applying Stoic thinking.

  • sukhvirk150

    Thank you for sharing your experience Scott.

    I recently started filling out a tracking form. First I scheduled it last thing at night. Then I saved a link to my phone that I could access anywhere I had internet. I dealt with possible disruption (no wanting to do it) by creating a ‘skip’ question that I could mark to skip the form. That 1 question made me fill it out every day for over 100 days (minus the 4 without internet).

    Your post seems to focus on the importance of planning for when things fall apart, or applying Stoic thinking.

  • Ali

    Thanks a lot Scott, I’ll keep in mind that I should wake up and go to the toilet when the alarm goes off, instead of trying to wake up at a specific hour. I’ll spend the next 3 months re-establishing my waking habit.

  • Ali

    Thanks a lot Scott, I’ll keep in mind that I should wake up and go to the toilet when the alarm goes off, instead of trying to wake up at a specific hour. I’ll spend the next 3 months re-establishing my waking habit.

  • Albatrossed

    What book is that, Tara?

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