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Life | Make Starting Habits Easy For Yourself

Preface: I'm only a young whippersnapper 23 year old that knows next to nothing about life and so probably shouldn't be giving advice. In spite of that, I enjoy writing and who knows, you might learn something from my ramblings...

Introduction

You've got to give it to yourself. You're a hard working machine and its a miracle that you simply get by day-to-day. When you work 8 hours with a 30 minute commute either way, you come home exhausted and your remaining time just seems to slip by. We humans only have a limited amount of energy, so when we're trying to make life changes it's not surprising that we struggle when we're tired and at a less-than-peak state. Much of the self-improvement market is devoted to helping people overcome this struggle, so I'll share my 2 cents as well.

New Years Resolutions

As the new year passes, the thought of starting new habits invariably comes into many of our heads.

We've all heard/engaged in the office banter that surrounds talk of new years resolutions—"Yeah I'll try it for a couple weeks, then we'll see how it goes"—with a polite laugh from both sides. We all kind of know and accept that 'failing' resolutions is the default, so we resign with an "Eh, maybe next year" if we falter. 

To give us some credit, the overall concept of a New Years Resolution itself is sound. We believe that beginning anew on this momentous occasion gives the habit starting a much-appreciated boost; because of this apparent boost we should make new goals on the occasion. This post brings forth a simple proposition: to extend this idea that most of us already hold to all events and goings-on that will give your habit-starting a boost.

We believe this rule (conciously or sub-conciously) and use it on a new year. The problem with this is that it isn't necessarily a good time to start habits and the significance we've put on the new year is shallow. I'll be the first to admit that a fresh start can be just what's needed to edge myself forward, however once the the buzz of "Woo we're in a new year" wears off, we fall back back to plain-jane life, feeling barely different than before the calendar change.

Side Note: Friction

I'd like to briefly introduce the idea of Friction - the force that stops us from doing things we would otherwise like to. This force affects us in many ways, examples being:

  • Moving away from a friend makes it harder to retain the friendship. In this case, distance is friction in the friendship.
  • Culture differences in romantic relationships can cause a clash either between the people themselves or between the families on either side. Culture difference is a source of friction in this relationship, making it more difficult to succeed.

Friction can also be used in a positive way:

  • If you're addicted to food and trying to quit, simply throwing your bad food out of the house can make it easier to stick with a diet. The friction of having to put some shoes on, get in your car, and drive to the store makes it a lot easier to resist the temptation of delicious food.

The Fix: Making It Easy for Yourself

I'm a fan of simple, pragmatic tools and strategies. The hack to combat our laziness is simple: start a new habit when actually doing it is the easiest it can be. You may have heard of the 21 day rule—the first 21 days of starting/breaking a habit are the hardest. Starting a new habit when it's easiest to do so simply reduces Friction and increases your speed as you move through the boggy 21 day period, accelerating towards the smooth sailing beyond (obviously things don't work out this nicely in the real world, but it's a fun and useful way of looking at things). The goal is to reduce Friction as much as possible before you even start. When you do so it becomes easier to implement whatever habit you're trying, and therefore more likely to succeed.

I'll repeat the point again because it's what this post is wholly about: when timing suits, absolutely try your all to implement new habits when they're easiest to do. Aim for those quick wins, make it easy for yourself. This isn't a new idea of course, but it's such an easy and underused strategy that I think it's worth repeating. To give it a more practical base, some examples include:

  • Cold Showers - Do it during summer. It sounds stupidly simple, but it's miles easier to take cold showers when its hot and muggy (enjoyable almost) than during winter. Ingraining the habit while it's easiest will make the colder months a breeze.
  • Gym/Working Out - When you have more time (which may in fact be at the start of a new year), going to the gym doesn't seem like quite so much of a slog. A mid morning gym session after breakfast can be great, if you have the luxury of not having to be at work at 8am.
  • Read More - Again, when you have more time, reading can be quite enjoyable. To make it easier on yourself, pick books that you'll actually enjoy.
  • Quitting Smoking - If you're going to stay with your parents for a few days and they despise smoking, start your habit then. Abstaining out of respect for your parents makes it much easier to stick with it. 

The point is to make it easy for yourself. You probably over-estimate how strong-willed you are, especially because we have the wonderful tendency to forget all the times we fall short of our earlier goals. 

Conclusion

You're only human, and it's expected than when we're not in our strongest state, we'll struggle to overcome Friction and actually do we want to do.  Doing everything possible to do these things when they're easiest increases the chance that you'll stick with the habit, which means that when you hit the harder times you'll be less likely to cave.