Habits: How to make them easy (Chapters 11 - 14)

My before-sleep routine didn't give me the usual response of falling asleep. Generally, I start preparing for bed at 9:30. I listen to a guided meditation for 15 minutes, and am asleep by 10, give or take 15 minutes.

Last night, I did the same routine, and ended up staring at the ceiling for over three hours. A headache cropped up that continued to get worse while I tried to stay relaxed. At 1:15am, I tried to email my department, telling them that I'll likely be late, and the email client wouldn't send the email. It just added to my miserable and confused state, and I ended up emailing my manager some mostly coherent email about insomnia and a headache and that I'd be late, as less than five hours of sleep means I will be useless at work, but if I could get at least 6, I'll be able to do more than just stare at my computer screen. I fell asleep somewhere between 1:30 and 2, and woke up at 7:40, feeling mostly human.

Ended up needing the extra hours of sleep as I expected to finish a complex set of requests for a report, but instead I was called to do analysis on new tickets, look at production performance for our database, CRM and web servers, and patch several servers hosting our test databases. Guess the report will wait until tomorrow.

I read chapter 11 on the 3rd Law of Behavior Change, Make it Easy. The Chapter summary:

  • The most effective form of learning is practice, not planning.
  • Focus on taking action, not being in motion.
  • Habit formation is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition.
  • The amount of time you have been performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.

I quite liked that chapter. It started with a story about a group of student photographers - one with the challenge to produce a certain quantity of photographs, and the other group was challenged to produce a certain quality of photographs. Those that had quantity over quality ended up taking better photographs at the end of the process, because they were practicing their craft (taking action) as opposed to just reading up on the best ways to take photographs (being in motion). I've found it strangely easy to play piano as of late. I've moved it in between my couch and TV, I have a certain time that I play it (after dinner), I play for 15 minutes, and I'm enjoying playing the fake books I purchased, over Alfred's Adult Learner. I have to look at my piano every time I walk by to get another cup of tea, and I always have my books out so everything is set and ready to play when I am. It's much easier and more enjoyable to choose playing piano over watching TV now. I've not watched TV for a week, and I don't miss it.

I suppose my daily writing habit has continued on, because I made it easy. I can access Blogger on any computer or tablet or phone I have in front of me, and I don't restrict the content or have a minimum word content. My only goal is to have something to write about that day. And now I've written for well over 100 days. I've gone past my previous record set back in 2009/2010 and while I don't expect to continue the daily blog for years, at this point I don't want to stop writing daily.

Chapters 12 through 14 continue the idea of making good habits easy (or bad habits difficult.)

The chapter summary for Chapter 12, The Law of Least Effort:

  • Human behavior follows the Law of Least Effort. We will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.
  • Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.
  • Reduce the friction associated with good behaviors. When friction is low, habits are easy.
  • Increase the friction associated with bad behaviors. When friction is high, habits are difficult.
  • Prime your environment to make future actions easier.

The chapter summary for Chapter 13, How to Stop Procrastination by Using the Two Minute Rule:

  • Habits can be completed in a few seconds but continue to impact your behavior for minutes or hours afterward.
  • Many habits occur at decisive moments - choices that are like a fork in the road - and either send you in the direction of a productive day or an unproductive one.
  • The Two Minute Rule states "When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do."
  • The more you ritualize the beginning of a process, the more likely it becomes that you can slip into the state of deep focus that is required to do great things.
  • Standardize before you optimize. You can't improve a habit that doesn't exist.

A bit more on the Two Minute Rule - every habit should be able to boil down to a two minute action, or less. You want to play an hour of guitar every day? Start by leaving your guitar out, ready to play, and play it for two minutes. That's the basis of the habit. Only once you've learned to play for two minutes can you increase your timing to (eventually) an hour. It takes the quick decision of picking up the guitar to play for two minutes that will change you from playing guitar or not.

And finally, the chapter summary for Chapter 14, How to Make Good Habits Inevitable and Bad Habits Impossible.

  • The inversion of the 3rd Law of Behavior Change is make it difficult.
  • A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that locks in better behavior in the future.
  • The ultimate way to lock in future behavior is to automate your habits.
  • One time choices - like buying a better mattress or enrolling in an automatic savings plan - are single actions that automate your future habits and deliver increasing returns over time.
  • Using technology to automate your habits is the most reliable and effective way to guarantee the right behavior.

While I'm not particularly fond of commitment devices (like applications linked to bank accounts - whenever you don't do a habit at a particular time, the application will donate your money on your behalf to a charity) I use them for retirement savings and medical savings, and don't even have to think about the money not in my bank account. It's working hard for me in another account. I'm unsure if I have habits bad enough to require a commitment device, with the exception of smartphone use. Part of the issue is that I got used to being nearly available since I am no longer geographically near family, and it is how I communicate about emergency issues at work. I know I'll need to change my habits in the near future. I can use the application Tasker to set my phone ringer to max volume when I'm getting a notification from people that I wouldn't want to miss, but have other notifications as silent, so to not interrupt my hobbies or social interactions in the evenings or weekends. I'll get there, but not this weekend. It's all a work in progress. And this evening, I'm just looking for a full night's sleep.


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