How I Changed My Entire View on Habits

I thought the trick to habit forming was about developing the will power to tackle anything. If I could train my mind to focus and build self-discipline, habits would be easy I thought. But the problem is that it never seemed to work. It always worked for the first time or two, but then I hit the snooze button or missed my workout. I would get up an try again, and get the same results. I was spinning my wheels, convinced I had hit my mental limits.

Turns out, this was the exact wrong approach. It’s not that will power isn’t a good thing to develop. Training the mind to focus and direct your actions is a good skill to have. But it’s also the hardest skill to develop. And it’s not a consistent skill, meaning that we all have times when we are worn out and can’t pull through anymore. We’ve exhausted our mental capacity and have no more effort to give our habits, which is precisely when we need it. This makes will power a good skill, but not the best strategy for tackling our habits.

So what do we do instead? Make it easy. Make your habits easy. The more barriers in front of a task, the more mental energy we need to complete it. So what if we remove the barriers and minimize that mental energy requirement? Instead of building up muscles to jump over the barrier, try removing the barrier?

How about an example. Let’s say I’m trying to develop a habit of working out in the morning. When my alarm buzzes at 5 am, what do I need to do? Get up, find workout clothes, find my socks and shoes, find my work clothes, pack my gym bag, find a quick snack, etc. All of those are trivial tasks, but together they are quite a load that early in the morning. When I get up, I’m thinking about all of those tasks and weighing them again my sleep. I’m setup for failure at this point. What if instead, I prepped all of this the night before? I wouldn’t be all groggy when I pack, and when I wake up the next morning, I”m already half way ready to go. At this point, not going would seem like a waste of my efforts the night before, which becomes a sort of motivator for completing what I’ve already started.