The skill of starting habits

November 10, 2017 by Joshua
in Habits,

A reader, Melissa Gaudart, wrote from Australia about starting habits, after reading about my one-minute wake-up habit.

How I Learned To Start Every Day With Purpose

How I Learned To Start Every Day With Purpose

I thought our question and answer would be valuable for others, so here is her question:

Great article and glad you’re waking up faster as there is a lot to be excited about first thing in the morning.

I’m wondering if you’ve thought about how people can form and change habits instantly. This happens all the time but is usually linked with a traumatic experience.

Some new habits take 30 days or more and the effort and amount of thought that goes into it to me feels excessive. Is there a way to decrease this timeframe to 1 week or even 1 day before the new habit is automatic?

I’m thinking along the lines of electric brain stimulation, virtual reality programs or hypnosis. Or do you think achieving this is as simple as learning to be decisive on a daily basis? And aligning behaviours with your overarching vision or key values?

I responded:

Enough people have thrown that 30 day number around that people seem to believe it unquestioningly.

I view starting habits as a skill. The more you practice it, the more you develop that skill. When I first started picking up habits, I failed as much as anyone. Now I pick them up without fail. My latest ones are picking up a piece of trash daily and waking up in under a minute.

Starting them was easy compared to starting blogging daily, doing burpees daily, and taking cold showers. The first habit I noticed I adopted effortlessly and knew I would was flossing daily, which I had previously done intermittently.

Actually, I’d call it a set of skills that includes knowing what reward you’ll get from the activity, knowing what you’ll have to give up if it takes time or other resources, foreseeing what you’ll feel like when you want to give up, and so on.

Anyone who brushes their teeth daily can pick up a habit. As with any skill, to a novice, mastery looks impossible, like magic, but with practice you develop skills that make it easier and easier.

I recommend starting with simple habits and working up to challenging ones. Eventually the big ones become the foundation of a lifestyle.

She followed up to say, “Plenty more questions where that one came from. You have no idea,” so I expect we’ll follow up with more.

In the meantime, enjoy mastering the skills of starting habits. And I recommend ignoring anyone who suggests you can’t.

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