Season 2 Episode 1
This week I set out to find ways to build better habits. Essentially, the search is a lost cause. Or at least trying to distil what I found is…
There’s an endless amount of advice, tools, tricks and tips out there. But I did my best and stuck with some writers who know what they’re talking about.
I feel like the best advice is not the quick snippet, bitesize wisdom when it comes to this topic. You’re too likely to just let the information go in one ear and out the other. If you really want to build better habits, you’re looking at a longer process of gradual change, that involves embedding a series of ideas and principles. Anyone who says they can fix your bad habits in ‘3 QUICK STEPS!’ Is lying. Or trying to sell you something.
Wait a second, didn’t I distil my advice into 3 points though? Why yes, yes I did. No, I don’t have anything to sell you though, so I guess that makes me a liar.
Hear Tim Ferris talk a bit more about his habit building advice:
Seth Godin’s now famous blog post on short and long term behaviour. It’s only a 30 second read!
The entirety of James Clear’s book – Atomic Habits – available for free!
I’m a huge fan of all three authors. Although I’ve never read any of James Clear – just watched some of his talks. I would advise having a look at some of the other topics they touch upon if you liked what I spoke about in this episode.
When most people think about habits, they think of these small, fairly insignificant actions that people end up repeating on a very regular basis. Sure, a bad habit may be quite unattractive, and a good habit may – I don’t know – give you slightly clearer skin, but rarely do we think of them as something that fundamentally shapes a person’s life.
I certainly used to think of habits in this way, and I would simply gloss over the ones that I knew to be bad, instead framing them in my head as tiny, irrelevant features of my day-to-day activities. Certainly not as something that defined or shaped my life in any real way.
This was a really convenient way of looking at them, a kind of ‘no harm, no foul’ type of reasoning. But as I’ve gotten older, I’m realising more and more that my habits aren’t insignificant, but that together they make up nearly all of my actions and approach to life.
Now that the stakes are higher, I see that a series of good habits can be the difference between living the kind of life you want to lead, and falling into a rut, letting time, opportunity and potential pass you by.
I heard a quote the other day that sums this up:
‘Every action is a vote for the type of person you want to become’
Damn, well if that’s true, then throughout my life I’ve voted ten thousand times to become a lazy nose-picking, late-sleeping, non-hand-washing, leave-my-clothes-on-the-floor-of-the-bathroom, procrastinating slob. This is not the kind of person I would choose to be, and yet it is the kind of person I vote to become, every single day, with my actions, that then become my habits.
So with this is mind, I thought that it’d be worth my time to look for the answer to the question:
How Do I Build Better Habits?
This is Season 2 of Tim Quit His Job, the show that follows me – a regular guy in his mid-20s – on my adventures into the unknown, as I quit my job, start a business, and try to figure out life along the way. Each week this season, I’ll attempt to find the answer to a different burning question that I’ve been asking myself lately. The podcast is produced and instrumentalised by the mighty Henri Victorious. If you’re interested in exploring the topics further, you’ll find useful links, tips, articles, videos and my backstory over at timquithisjob.com. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the show.
When you google, how do to ditch bad habits, or how to build good ones, the first thing you realise is that wow, there’s a lot of advice out there. And most of it is pretty crap. Page after page, article after article, video after video with their own take on the problem. When confronted with such an overload of information, it’s likely that you’ll just click the link that comes up at the top of the search engine, and take all your advice from there. If that’s the case, what’s to say that you’ve not just come across the most clickbait, but least accurate, piece of information out there? Then you’ve pinned all your hopes on something that’s doomed to let you down. Alternatively, seeking to avoid this, you may do a deep dive into all the different streams of advice that are out there, and before long, you’re drowning in an overload of sometimes repetitive, sometimes ridiculous guidance.
It reminds of what I once heard a guy called Naval Ravikant say: ‘All advice cancels to zero’
Or what a guy called Derrick Sivers said: ‘If the problem was a lack of information, then we’d all be billionaires with six-pack abs’
As someone who has watched countless videos and read many books on fitness and business, I can certainly vouch for that insight. My bank account doesn’t have many zeros, and my waistline has few too many inches.
So combing through the mass of misinformation, I decided to stick with sources that I can trust. And instead, take the best bits from what these people had to say. In this instance, I’m combining the advice from three people: Tim Ferris, Seth Godin and James Clear. All these three thinkers say an awful lot on these topics, but they also each have a core takeaway message from most of their writing, a takeaway that I’ll attempt to distil further here.
Mistake *I’ll take one point from each of these different authors, and give an answer to the question that contains three, relatively simple points.
Let’s start with Tim Ferris. He often points out that people’s expectations are too high, and that they are then too hard on themselves. When people are hard on themselves, after they make a mistake they fall right off the wagon and completely give up. His advice? Expect that your good habits will ebb and flow, don’t just give up on developing a better habit because you broke it once.
This is great advice for all of us, but it particularly makes me think of people trying to lose weight and people trying to quit smoking. How many times, after one cigarette, or one unhealthy meal, do we say, that’s it, I caved, I guess I’ll just finish the rest of the pack or eat poorly for the rest of the week, and try again next month. Good and bad habits ebb and flow, don’t beat yourself up when you slip up once or twice, stay on the path, and don’t self-destruct.
For our second piece of advice, let’s move onto Seth Godin. One of his main points is this: “The best way to change long-term behaviour is with short-term feedback.” Think of a bad habit as something that is a short term behaviour, done to satisfy an immediate or present need or desire. You’ve got a spot you want to pick, you can’t be bothered to make your bed. Think of a good habit as something that is actually a long-term behaviour, something that satisfies a long term goal – such as living healthier, improving personal hygiene, doing better in your career. Godin argues that the reason we are so drawn to bad habits, is because they have a short-term pleasure feedback, whereas with good ones, we don’t experience the positive feedback for weeks, or months, or maybe even years! We’ve got no chance! So find a way to give yourself that short-term feedback on the long-term behaviour you are trying to adopt, so that you can give yourself a pat on the back every time you successfully do it. Reward long-term behaviour with short-term feedback.
Now onto James Clear, who literally writes a whole book called ‘Atomic Habits’. I’ve not actually read the book, I’ll admit – sorry James – but I think I’ve seen enough of him online to get some idea of what he’s on about… He advises us to breakdown the habits we want to adopt into small, manageable, easier, ‘atomic’ versions of the full one we want to adopt. He says that a habit must be established before it can be improved, so don’t try and change your life overnight with some kind of radical transformation. Adopt a small change, with slight improvements, over a long enough period of time, and you’ll eventually achieve the big change that you seek. Start small.
So there we have it:
1: If you slip up once or twice, don’t give up
2: Give yourself short-term positive feedback for practising long-term behaviour
3: Start Small
But what do I know? Why listen to my advice? Well, this isn’t advice, it’s me trying to answer the question for myself. Lately I’ve been thinking that in order to be more consistent with my podcast and other writing ventures that I’m currently pursuing outside of my normal business, I need to sack-up and start writing every day. Following my own answers that I’ve found on building good habits I should probably do the following:
First, not to beat myself up if I miss a day, there’s always tomorrow. Consistency is not perfection.
Second, give myself short-term feedback whenever I successfully write. So I’m going to bribe myself, and say that If I do my writing, I’ll have a beer or a can of diet coke as a reward… hey I never claimed to be healthy!
Third, start small. All I need to do in order to get my reward is open my notebook or laptop and write a minimum of one, lousy, sentence. That’s it! Just one sentence and I’m done. Surely even I can manage that…
I figure that adopting these three tips will help me build momentum and push me along the road to becoming the kind of person who writes everyday.
And maybe, just maybe, these three tips could also help you on your journey to adopting a better long-term behaviour. If not, I don’t know, don’t blame me, don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just some random guy who quit his job and bought a microphone, passing on what these guys said to try and get views.
See ya next week.