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How I Form Habits

Since a few people have asked, here’s my habit-forming system. It’s remarkably effective-for example, I used it to install the habits of going to the gym every day, flossing, using a neti pot, and eating paleo all within the last month, while spending almost no willpower to do so. In contrast, without a system I’d tried individual versions of those habits several times (e.g. just trying to start flossing my teeth) and had failed consistently.

    1. Figure out the intended behavior and frequency (e.g. going to the gym every morning or flossing your teeth every night before bed)
    2. Find the minimal version of that habit (putting on gym clothes when you wake up or flossing one tooth each night)
    3. Create an if-then plan from trigger to habit (e.g., “if I get out of bed, then I’ll put on my gym clothes. If I set down my toothbrush, then I’ll start flossing.”)
    4. Incentivize yourself to stick to the minimal version of the habit (using Beeminder, stickK, or telling your friends that you’re going to do the habit)
    5. Minimize the effort needed to do the habit (putting your gym clothes next to your bed each night or keeping your floss on top of your retainers so you can’t go to bed without moving the floss)
    6. Practice the habit several times in a row in one day by simulating it as closely as possible-for example, if the habit is waking up when your alarm goes off, then practice lying down in bed, setting your alarm, and getting up immediately with the alarm. In some circles this is known as “offline habit training.”

Categories: Focus, Happiness, Intelligence, Productivity