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What's the Best Way to Make a Habit? Comparing Seven Different Approaches | Scott H Young

Building habits

The basic process for building all habits is basically the same: you repeatedly condition the behavior you want, over time, until it becomes automatic.

But no habit starts out automatic; there’s a deliberate period, where you must consciously apply yourself to make a certain behavior your default.

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What's the Best Way to Make a Habit? Comparing Seven Different Approaches | Scott H Young

What's the Best Way to Make a Habit? Comparing Seven Different Approaches | Scott H Young

https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2019/06/05/7-habit-approaches/

scotthyoung.com

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Key Ideas

Conditioning a habit

2 main ways you can condition a habit:
  • Classical conditioning: a paired association with a trigger and a behavior. Going to the gym after you wake up each morning is this kind of habit.
  • Operant conditioning: you not only associate a trigger with a behavior, but you reward that pairing, to accelerate the habit-forming process.

The 30-Day Trial

You commit to some change for 30 days, then tou can go back to your old ways. But having spent thirty days applying a new behavior is often enough to convince you to stick with it.

Pros:

  • Can handle more significant/difficult behavior changes you might be unlikely to start with a perpetual commitment.
  • Fosters an experimental mindset, rather than assuming you already know what’s best.

Cons:

  • 30 days probably isn’t enough to actually make something a habit.
  • Without a long-term plan, many 30-day trials will revert back to the original behavior.

Don’t Break the Chain

Keep track of how many days in a row you’ve successfully followed your habit. As your chain gets longer and longer, you become increasingly committed to the habit.

Pros:

  • Maintains habits over a longer timeframe than a 30-day trial.
  • Better for things you already do (or are easy to do).
  • The longer your chain, the more serious your commitment

Cons:

  • Accidental slip-ups or situations where your habit becomes impossible can collapse your motivation.
  • Many habits don’t work on an easy daily or weekly interval.

Never Miss Twice

The goal is to do it every day (if possible) but if you miss a day, you must do the habit the following day.

Pros:

  • Easier to keep up for longer stretches with harder habits.
  • Easier to handle on an irregular schedule.

Cons:

  • You’ll be much more likely to take days off unnecessarily if you know it’s only two-in-a-row that count.
  • If you sometimes do X, and sometimes don’t, it will take longer to make the association automatic. 

Pretraining

It means practicing the habit a bunch of times in an artificial situation so that it occurs more automatically in real life.

Pros:

  • For when you think you won’t be able to consciously control your reaction in the real situation without practice.
  • When the behavior you want to perform requires skill or knowledge you might not possess without practice.

Cons:

  • The practice may not fully transfer to the real situation.
  • Practicing multiple times in the same session is known to have a weaker impact on long-term changes to your behavior.

Project-Driven Habits

Ignore the process of creating habits altogether and simply focus on a project that will force them to occur.

Pros:

  • You can often change multiple habits at the same time with less overhead. 
  • Help you be flexible about adopting and dropping habits based on what works.

Cons:

  • Once the project is done, the habits may go with them.
  • A project can often eat up or push out other good habits.

Tattletale Tactics

This strategy works by deputizing others to enforce your habit for you.

Pros:

  • No formal rules or mechanisms are required, just the social pressure from the outside.
  • If you find yourself constantly breaking your own commitments, this may be the only tool you can use to effectively control your behavior.

Cons:

  • Most people won’t care about your behavior as much as you should.
  • Doesn’t work if others aren’t watching you while you perform the habit.

Identity-Driven Habit Changes

Avoid thinking about changing a habit, but instead think about changing your self-conception.

Pros:

  •  “I’m a healthy person now,” for example can trigger eating better, exercising more and quitting smoking and drinking all at once.
  • If successful, these can make not following the habit unthinkable. 

Cons:

  • If you’re trying to change your identity but you still really like the old you, the change won’t last.
  • Hard to plan for and pull off

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  • Time and Energy are limited resources, and as we grow, our habits may become obsolete. We could use the same time and energy to explore new and better options.

  • It is a good idea to pay attention to where we spend our time and see if there is something we do daily but have outgrown long ago.

Consistency and Boredom

Being consistent can also lead to burnout and lack of growth, and to be creative and innovative, we sometimes need a break from our daily activity. When we stop and do something new, we start to be part of a creative process, instead of simply repeating the same thing every day.

The key is to not rely on a rigid consistency but to be resilient enough to withstand any breaks. Our resilient habits are usually the old ones and have some psychological rewards while involving some external accountability. 

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