Forming Habits – Part 2
In the last post, and podcast episode, we started talking about forming good habits. Turns out, there’s a system for forming good habits that works better than simply saying, “I want to do X,” and expecting it to become part of your routine.
I need to start by correcting an error. Last time, I talked about the equation for a habit. I said, Behavior Modification (the habit) = Motivation, ACTION, and Prompt. Or, B=MAP. My mistake was saying the “A” stands for action. In fact, the “A” stands for Ability. Thus, to form a habit, you have to have the ability to do the behavior. You can’t make flying a plane a habit if you don’t know how to fly a plane.
The Ability Chain
In his book, Tiny Habit, author BJ Fogg lists five questions you can ask to determine whether you have the ability to form a new habit:
- Do you have enough time for the habit?
- Do you have enough money for the habit?
- Does the habit require too much physical effort?
- Does the habit require too much mental effort?
- Does the habit fit into your current routine?
If you answer “NO” to any of these questions, the chain breaks, and forming the new habit is going to be incredibly difficult, if not impossible.
The first question is whether you have enough time for the new habit. My daily routine requires me to wake up at 4am every morning. From there, I am at work by 5am, home to help my wife between 11:30am-1:30pm, and usually back to work until around 6:30pm. By the time I get home, make dinner, eat, walk the dogs, and get ready for bed, it is 10pm and lights out. Within those hours, I also have to get in a workout for 45 minutes. If I wanted to form a habit of running for an hour each day, I don’t have time. If I want to form a habit of journaling for 10 minutes a day, I can probably make the time. So, for me, I may be able to answer “YES” to all the other questions above, but I have no time.
Going for a run outside is pretty much free. Granted, there is some cost associated with running shoes, proper clothing, and maybe something to play music. But, generally speaking, running is a pretty low cost activity. However, if I wanted to take up horseback riding as my new habit, that comes at a much higher cost. Especially if I am considering private lessons, my own horse, and all of the gear. Realistically, that new habit might be out of my price range.
Too Much Physical Effort
Unless I have been running regularly for some time, going zero to 1 hour of running per day is not going to happen. It is going to require way too much physical effort. I have to build up to it.
Too Much Mental Effort
Chances are a new habit of running isn’t going to require too much mental effort. There isn’t a lot of thinking involved. However, a habit like reading philosophy before bed might tip the scales. Philosophy is hard to read and can requires some deep concentration and contemplation. By the end of the day, my brain is fried. Additionally, I am trying to go to sleep when I climb into bed to read. So, I probably don’t have the mental effort needed to make reading philosophy before bed a habit.
If a new habit fits into my current routine, that makes my life much easier. If exercising is already part of my daily routine, and I want to switch up what I am doing, then making running a habit is going to be pretty easy. However, if I don’t currently workout, and I have to rearrange my life to form a new routine, that’s going to make the habit much harder for form. In this instance, it is much easier to form a habit if we can fit it into our current routine.
3 Ways to Gain Ability
Assuming you answered “NO” to one of the questions above, how then do you change that “NO” to a “YES” so you can form a new habit? First, you may have to increase your education. Learning to fly a plane in the first step in forming a habit of flying. Learning to cook is going to give you the mental effort needed to cook for yourself on a daily basis.
Next, you may need to add to your tools and resources. If you are trying to cook for yourself, but time is the limiting factor, you may need a new resources, a cook book of fast meals to cook. If you are trying to make running a habit, but your feet hurt (physical effort), adding new running shoes (a new tool) may fix that issue.
Finally, make the habit smaller. Can you reduce the behavior down so much that is takes minimal time, minimal money, little physical and mental effort, and fits into your current routine(s)? If so, you will be ready to form a new habit. Instead of trying to run for an hour, can you find 10 minutes to run? Instead of trying to cook an entree and side dishes, can you learn to cook some eggs and then add a piece of fruit?
Motivation to do something is important. However, motivation is fleeing and limited. Thus, you can’t rely upon it to keep you moving forward. You also need the ability to do something. Develop the ability, and you are one step closer to forming a new habit.