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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

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.

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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