Forming habits is hard, very hard. I’m trying to simplify it.
I mentioned some of my resolutions and goals in my 2014 year-in-review, and I thought it might help others if I went into a bit more details of how I’m achieving certain goals.
Leading a better life is not a goal, it’s an endless journey.
The most important ingredient when forming a new habit is willpower to motivation. Ironically, the hardest ingredient to get when forming habits is willpower. That’s because our conscious is just not convinced that the pain caused by forming the new habit is much less than the pain of not forming the habit. We are just not ready to say “enough is enough”.
There is no easy way to achieve more willpower, it’s a part of the process. What I can recommend is what I call The Conceivability Test. I’ll explain that will an example.
The Conceivability Test
Sandy is a 23 year old professional banker, she is slightly obese for average women of her age and she’d like to change that. She has tried juice-fasts and other diets before but could not keep up for more than a week.
Her desire for immediate pleasure far outweighed the temporary pain followed by pleasure of higher degree.
If she were to truly start changing her eating habits, she would have to conceive herself at the worst — she is 27 years old, 300 lbs and single. She gets mocked everywhere she goes, she has diabetes and skin infections, and she is about to lose her job.
If you were Sandy, you would not be happy with this future and would be ready to start changing habits now. That fear of being at our worst is motivation enough for most people. Everytime you are tempted to break your habit, think of the worst-case long-term consequences.
One of the most important steps when forming habits is setting goals. “In 2015, I want to exercise daily” is not a goal. It’s a very loose statement. What does exercise mean? And how much of it will you do? Whatever goals you set, make then as specific as possible. “I will do 30 pushups, followed by 30 crunches, every morning”. Now your conscious knows exactly what you are supposed to do.
Start measuring progress. Start recording metrics, but use only the most informative metric for setting goals.
When losing weight, you can track your weight, body fat, inches, time at gym and more. But when setting goals, use the body weight (“I will lose 10 pounds in the next 30 days”).
Notice (or read up) how babies grow up and how they start to walk. First, they crawl, then they stand up with support, then they wobble while walking (which is really cute), then they walk, and eventually they start running. It takes years. That’s how (almost) every single human learns to do anything.
So set goals that are achievable, and that your conscious knows you can definitely complete. Remove all doubt, make it so easy to get started that you don’t have any excuse to not get started. Make failure impossible.
Once you have started forming the habit, and you have convinced yourself that you are capable of doing it, scale up. Your conscious knows that you can do 30 pushups and 30 crunches comfortable, so doing 50 each should be achievable now.
What I’m presenting here is a description of 5 habits I’m forming this year, and exactly what I’m doing to form those habits. My techniques are probably not the best ones, and probably not great for everyone, but I do implore you to try it. An alternative approach is the “attack doses” technique as explained by Mark Bao here.
This is by far the hardest thing to do for us 20-something (I’m turning 21 in March) people — disconnecting from everything, closing eyes and staying still for a few minutes. I’ve tried meditating before but gave up in only a few days.
This time around, I’m more motivated than ever. I’m setting off small goals, starting out with 10 minutes of meditation every day (it’s been almost 15 days as of publishing this article). Eventually, I plan on going as high as 30 minutes at least twice a week.
Only in a couple weeks, I feel so much better; so relaxed and somewhat mindful. I would HIGHLY recommend meditation to everyone, just for 10 minutes a day.
Tools used: calm.com Android app
2. Lose weight
Again something I’ve tried a lot of times but never gave in my 100%. On a flight back from SF a few weeks ago, I read Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Body book which proposes a decent-enough diet plan. The idea is to limit the variety of things you eat, and repeat meals. I’ve been following the plan for some time now (and results are showing); it’s not fun but losing weight is not about having fun.
Here’s what my daily meals look like:
Breakfast: 3 hard boiled eggs, some cooked and sliced chicken breasts
Lunch: Pinto beans, chicken, guacamole, any veggies. Usually Chipotle or Qdoba burrito bowls.
Dinner: Same as lunch, but home-cooked.
Snacks: Baby carrots with hummus.
I’m not too keen on hitting the gym yet because I know with my schedule it will be impossible to continue working out through the months.
Tools used: Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet
3. Reading More
There is no secret or strategies here. All it takes is a little time management. My goal for 2015 is to read every single day — can be articles online or books. Luckily UW libraries have an amazing collection of books and almost all the books I want to read are present.
My goal is to read at least 25 books in 2015, and here’s the prelim list I’ve formed:
I’m maintaining a spreadsheet of books I want to read.
Tools used: Medium.com, UW libraries
4. Less Facebook
The good ol’ time sucker. Time for you to go away now.
I log on to Facebook multiple times a day, but hardly post anything. Most of my Facebook activity is on the chat. I’d still like to be able to avoid using Facebook for checking random stuff that people post on there.
5. Better Social Skills
Modern communication sucks. Facebook and Twitter have made us digital extroverts while chipping away our offline social skills. When was the last time you had a heart-to-heart with a friend or a family member?
One of my goals for 2015 is to spend quality time with people in real life, get to know them the way they are and form long-lasting relationships with a foundation of trust. That will only happen IRL.
What will work? I don’t know. Maybe inviting friends over for lunch or dinner on weekends? Going to movies? Doing things they love? I’m willing to try a bunch of stuff (recommend something that has worked for you).
Skills I’ll need to work on are listening to people, taking interest in them, being knowledgeable on a variety of subject to hold meaningful conversations and just being the true me, all of which is left out in online conversations.