How to Build Habits

(You might be interested in my podcast episode #25 – Something About Habits.)

There’s Only One Way To Develop Consistent Habits

We’ve all tried to develop habits that we know are good for us. And we’ve failed at most of them. At least I have.

But, persistence pays off here. If you keep trying new approaches, you will eventually find something that clicks. People get stuck when they stop trying new things.

Radical acceptance will make it easier for you to try new things. This is your best chance of success.

I know, I know: this isn’t the story you were taught as a kid.

You were taught that the way to develop habits is to TRY REALLY HARD. To say, “Yeah, I know, I should…”, or “I just need to…”, or whatever you say.

Those strategies don’t work (do you even think of them as “strategies”? You should).

Meditation will never be a consistent habit until you find a way to enjoy meditation. I don’t mean enjoy the idea of meditation. I mean enjoy meditation itself.

The only way to do that is radical acceptance of whatever shows up.

Go ahead, argue with me. I’m not budging on this one.

Why You Suck At Changing Habits

If you want to change habits, stop trying to change your behavior over large stretches of time. Instead, pick one isolated moment and work on that.

Over this past year, I’ve been spending way too much time on my phone. Whenever I’m not on the computer, my phone is in my hands. Even while walking outside for hours.

So, I said to myself that I’d like to stop using the phone while walking.

But (and here’s the part that’s different from what you would do)I didn’t do that by trying to “break the habit” of using my phone while walking.

Instead, I said “after I put my shoes on, I’m going to turn off my phone.”

That’s the entire thing.

It’s just one moment in time.

It’s easy to do.

It’s easy to keep score (if I wanted to, which I don’t).

If there’s any problem doing it, I can zero in quickly on where the issue is.

Get it? “Breaking the habit using my phone while walking” is now the end result of my actions. And, if I don’t get that result, I have only my ingenuity to blame (and not my willpower or lack thereof).

You’re just a rat in a maze. Stop taking yourself so seriously.

If you want to get better at this, you need to become aware of more isolated moments throughout your day. Each one is a hook you can use to reprogram yourself however you want.

That awareness comes from KorMeditationNo Problem will get you started.

You Can’t Force Yourself to Build Habits…

…but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Every time you try to force yourself to do a thing, you’re weakening the obstacles that are preventing you from doing that thing automatically (this assumes you aren’t building new obstacles in the process).

For example, let’s suppose you want the habit of walking every morning.

You can’t just will this to happen. But, if you force yourself to walk tomorrow morning, you might discover that you don’t like your walking shoes, and you might buy better ones.

The next day, if you force yourself again, you might discover you’re bored walking in silence, and you might listen to a podcast.

After 30 days of this, you might find that your walking routine has become so pleasant that it just happens on its own. But, it’s not because YOU made it happen. It’s because of what you learned along the way.

You’ll learn a lot in 30 days of this. But, there’s no guarantee you’ll build the habit. The habit may take years of trial and error. Still, you’ll learn a lot in 30 days.

Habits don’t happen because of repetition! But, repetition can help you discover what does make the habit happen.

A single repetition can be enough to cement a habit, if the rewards are great enough. (I hear this happens with heroin, for example.)

When you try to form habits (I call this “practice”), it’s essential that you don’t just grit your teeth and bear it. You must let yourself be open to incoming data. This is the only way you’ll learn from your practice.

Don’t try to figure it out. Just let yourself practice. Your mind will learn from its mistakes.

(If you want to give yourself something to do, after each session, write down everything you found unpleasant. Again, no need to figure anything out. Just notice.)


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