In 2012 I picked up a new habit – listening to audio books. I had long told myself it would be a good habit, one that would allow me to fill those gaps when I was doing dishes, putting my son to sleep or sitting on a train with something productive and educational.
But for whatever reason I had a hell of a time installing that new habit. In the end, it finally worked when I discovered the Bugle podcast. My business partner, Micah, told me about it and I was instantly hooked. I quickly grew used to listening to people talking on my phone and the rest was history.
So, I found it ironic when, a few months later my choice for the next book was The Power of Habit, a book entirely about how to install new habits, remove old ones and affect changes in how I looked at the world around me.
This is by far one of my favorite books of 2012 – it’s filled with valuable real world anecdotes and it’s written in an entertaining way. More importantly, the structure is designed in such a way that you slowly but surely begin to understand how habits are formed and what the mind does when you feel compelled to perform a certain task.
It covers psychological phenomena like visualization and addiction and it applies to everything from phobia development to running a business. This is not a book review – I will get to that in a few days when I finish skimming back through my notes – but I wanted to talk a bit about how I form habits and why, despite what I now know, I probably won’t change a lot of what I do.
The Habit Gauntlet
This summer a friend leveled an accusation that was unfair and 100% true.
I had a habit, he claimed, of immediately looking for NEW solutions to problems that I was close to solving. I was give up on perfectly good ideas because they were no longer shiny and new and start something different to see if THAT would work faster.
I was impatient.
It was true and to some degree, that conversation has had a profound effect on everything else I’ve done this year.
At the same time, his characterization was not entirely accurate. Yes, I’m impatient, but I don’t quite have shiny object syndrome.
I simply want to find the BEST way to do something and on occasion I think I’ve discovered a method that will be BETTER than what I’m currently trying.
Of course, that is a bad way to run a business (or anything else). It turns out that “best” is subjective and that “better” is unimportant because if things are working out, we should go with it.
My perfectionist habits have served me well in life, but in this particular case, they were holding me back. I couldn’t take my business to the next level until I settled down, chose a structure and committed to it – best or not.
That was a revelation of sorts, but also a reminder that I create and test new habits in odd ways.
Here’s a prime example and one reason I don’t entirely agree with the premise behind the Power of Habit.
How I Create Habits
The Power of Habit states that if you make a conscious decision to install a new habit in your life, you can do it by identifying an existing habit and its cue and reward.
There are three parts to any habit – cue, routine and reward. By replacing ONLY the routine, we can effectively get the same effect with a healthier, happier habit.
Alternately, to remove a bad habit, you simply need to remove the cue – i.e. never buying chocolate so that you can’t see it and want to eat it.
For me, formation of new habits was not so much the problem as deciding what habits I wanted to have. I would tell myself “successful businesses have project management software, so I need it to” and I would then spend three weeks forcing myself to use Basecamp only to realize that I did not in fact NEED to use it. The reward I was chasing was an illusion – I wasn’t better organized. I simply had MORE organization.
It turns out that project management didn’t really make sense for my business until there were multiple people working on each project and I needed to be sure everyone was always on the same page and nothing fell through the cracks. The reward in this case was that I didn’t have to worry every night that something was forgotten. I could just check my Podio account (the post-Basecamp option for project management) and see that we were caught up.
And yet, I probably wouldn’t have figured all of this out if I wasn’t constantly experimenting to some degree.
If I wasn’t telling myself every day “we need to improve X and Y” and then pushing and pulling on the pieces until those things were improved.
Is it always efficient? Not particularly, but with time it has gotten me to where I am and I feel that it works best for me.
So, What Have I Changed?
I’ve made important changes to how I create habits in that I create less of them. The Power of Habit has shown me that I need to recognize cues and rewards BEFORE I try to install a new routine.
At the same time, I have recognized the need to minimize how often I try to install new habits, give myself MORE time to test them and not change my mind for a certain period of time.
For me, 2012 was a testing year. We tested a lot of new ideas, systems and strategies – most of them didn’t work. But some did. A good business is constantly testing new ideas and systems – pushing the system outside of the comfort zone it has created. The key to success is to properly prepare for those changes, make educated moves and give the changes enough time to work.
So, have I changed my habit creation methods? Not really. But I have changed how I research and implement them and it is making all the difference in the world.