There is a huge amount about the topic of habits and I don’t want to regurgitate what is already out there. So in this week’s podcast, I want to look at them through the lens of gentleness, sensitivity, and slow growth.
How can we use gentle habits to build a sustainable relationship with our temperaments and natural preferences? And what are some of the challenges we might face when building a life around what matters most to us?
At their core, habits are automatic behaviours. They are the things we do with little or no conscious thought when prompted by a situational trigger or cue.
But we can also have an influence on them. And we can choose to build habits that serve our broader goals, intentions, and visions.
This topic comes from our Tranquility theme in The Haven. Where we’ve been exploring conditions like our environments, routines, and boundaries. And thinking about how they can help give rise to more of what we want life to look, feel, smell, taste, and sound like.
- Life on Autopilot | 9.35
- Building Small and Effective Habits | 11.22
- Obstacles to Motivation | 21.05
- Build Habits With Celebration and Shine | 45.24
- Conclusions | 57.24
Life on Autopilot | 9.35
We sometimes talk about habits as being like running on autopilot. They free us up to think about and pay attention to other things that might require willpower and energy.
But when we leave autopilot running it is easy to slip into ruts and just go through the motions. This might cause a creeping sense of drift and degradation to our sense of purpose.
It Takes Courage To Acknowledge When Something Needs to Change | 10.06
We require courage to acknowledge and face up to these ruts our undesirable habits might leave us in. And when we engage with it, our courage can bring us face to face with new and exciting horizons of possibility.
It shows us the direction we need to move in if we really want things to change. It shines a light on the unhelpful habits we need to replace. And helps us identify the gentle actions we could take in order to recalibrate certain areas of life.
Building Small and Effective Habits | 11.22
Habits are only as effective as the vision they serve. It does little good to have a strategy if we don’t have an aim. Otherwise, we end up at the mercy of the latest shiny fad or fashion.
Gentleness is about rooting ourselves in a deeper sense of vision. We cannot rush this. It requires us to slow down and observe what we are feeling. So gentle habits are things we build from the inside out.
Tiny Habits are Built on Gentle Foundations | 16.30
BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits model sits on gentle foundations. It encourages us to be gentle with ourselves, our aspirations, and the approach we take to making meaningful change happen over time.
There is an awful lot of ungentleness around when it comes to personal growth. The demand for endless growth and instant results. But with tiny habits, it’s all about trusting the process and understanding that big things come faith in small, slow, and deep action.
Fogg says that Tiny Habits require you to do three things:
Stop Judging Yourself | 17.07
It’s easier said than done and rather than being a pre-requisite for tiny habits, it’s actually a product of it. With the tiny habits approach that there is less room for self-criticism.
Take Aspirations and Break Them Into Tiny Behaviours | 17.30
What do we want things to look like? What would we love to change?
Tiny habits break down these big-picture aspirations into ridiculously small actions. So that we don’t have to rely on willpower to do what we’d love to do.
Embrace Mistakes as Discoveries and Use Them to Move Forward | 18.31
Mistakes are not bad. In fact, most of the greatest discoveries, artworks, and developments made by humans have mistakes built into their core. When we make mistakes we are able to raise awareness and discover all sorts of things about ourselves and the world.
While a lot of people pay lip service to the value of failure, we still have a deep-rooted fear of being wrong or messing up baked into society.
Gentleness offers us the space to embrace our mistakes and to use them as catalysts for growth.
Obstacles to Motivation | 21.05
We often talk about self-motivation when it comes to developing habits or making changes in our lives. But we are motivated by many things, some of which contradict each other. Motivation means “to stimulate something toward action”.
If you’re like me you will find yourself being moved to act by all kinds of things that don’t serve that deeper vision. There is sometimes a difference between our response to the question ‘what matters now?’ and ‘what matters most?’
The thing that matters right now might actually be an obstacle to our big-picture aspiration. It needs us to react now. And to serve something or someone’s urgent need. But if we can anchor ourselves into “what matters most”, we can make intentional decisions and hold requests up to the light we’ve chosen to follow.
Motivation, Ability, Prompt/Trigger | 23.18
BJ Fogg looks at the three components present in the formation of any habit:
- Motivation (a compelling reason for doing it)
- Ability (how easy it is to do – if you can’t do it you won’t)
- Prompt/trigger (something that compels or subconsciously reminds you to act)
Fogg debunks the popular myth that a habit is established through repetition for 21, 30, or 60 days. He points to research that indicates how habits can actually be ingrained much more quickly than that (and they also might take a lot longer).
Undesirable vs Desirable Habits | 28.38
Rather than “good” or “bad”, I like to view habits on a spectrum of desirable to undesirable. I ask whether a habit is expanding or contracting, serving or detracting when it comes to supporting my vision or aspiration.
This makes it easier to identify what needs to change and to filter potential options as I consider what I might want to do instead.
What Derails Our Habits? | 31.30
There are a number of potential obstacles that can derail our desirable habits. It’s worth thinking about them so we can choose how we want to respond.
People | 31.38
“How to kill an introvert: starve them to death by putting a stranger in the kitchen”. This was part of a meme that did the rounds a few years ago. It made me laugh and felt close to home.
I have derailed a whole bunch of desirable habits because of people. Sometimes there are specific people who say or do things to derail me. But many instances grow out of the story I tell myself about what people will think, do, or say…or in anticipation of encounters I don’t have the desire or energy for.
People-pleasing can stop us from nurturing habits too. Not wanting to be in the way, make a fuss, or rock the boat. Or serving someone else’s aspirations at the expense of our own.
Rabbit Holes and Distractions | 35.12
I’m very grateful that I can enter creative flow very easily. It doesn’t take me long to lose myself in work, play, or some kind of project. This obviously has great benefits. But it can also derail routines and habits.
Not only does it take away from other desirable habits, but it can also make quick and simple actions seem overwhelming, draining, and complex.
Disconnection From Why | 37.51
We might also get derailed from developing and nurturing desirable habits when we lose connection with our sense of why we’re doing it. If we’re not personally motivated or compelled toward particular habits, we can quickly lose interest in it.
This can also tell us important things, such as whether or not the habit is really desirable. Or whether we’re doing it because we believe we should.
Habits as Symptoms | 38.30
When an undesirable habit seems impossible to shift, it’s worth considering it as a symptom rather than a cause. We might think about how things further up the river set this result in motion (and perhaps made it all but inevitable).
It can be useful to step back and look at where habits sit in the overall stack of actions and prompts. One thing can lead to another and before we know it we’re doing the thing we didn’t want to be doing…yet again.
By the time we get to the thing itself it is almost impossible to stop ourselves. And it puts an unnecessarily big burden on us to say no to ourselves.
Magical Thinking | 40.33
We might look at other peoples’ habits and believe that emulating them is the key to our own success. A few years ago I remember seeing a lot of people sharing their morning routines, and I noticed this kind of magical thinking attitude to be common among readers.
There is nothing wrong with getting inspired by what other people do. That’s very natural. And it’s great to have role models who can give us ideas to test out. But this is different from believing if we copy what they do we will arrive in some utopian dream world.
Scary Labels | 43.15
Impostor syndrome and self-doubt can kick in when we’re building new habits. Especially if we think about it in terms of identity. Being described as a writer, a runner, a creative, an entrepreneur etc can be scary. When we compare ourselves to people who really are those things it might put us off our desired pursuits.
Sometimes it’s helpful to break identity down into the language of habits. Detaching all judgement language from it or qualifying criteria. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or how good people might say you are, in simple terms:
- a writer is a person in the habit of writing
- a hard worker is in the habit of working hard
- a waiter is someone who works in a restaurant or cafe
- a musician is someone in the habit of playing music
This is empowering if we feel unworthy of doing something because it gives us simple objective steps to take. It takes our value judgement out of it.
Build Habits With Celebration and Shine | 45.24
Fogg says a core part of the tiny habits approach is about making ourselves FEEL successful rather than on BEING successful. He writes that:
“In English we do not have a perfect word to describe the positive feeling we get from experiencing success. I’ve read piles of scientific literature on related topics, and I’ve done my own research in this area, and I am convinced that we are lacking a good word. (The closest label is “authentic pride,” but that’s not an exact match.) So, with the encouragement of three of the world’s experts on human emotion, I decided to create a new word for this feeling of success: shine.”BJ Fogg (Tiny Habits)
Rewards are Not The Same as Incentives | 46.07
He also says that “many so-called habit experts have pumped up the idea of motivating a new habit with a reward…As with many words that have migrated from academia to pop-science, the meaning of “reward” has become muddied to the point of being unhelpful in some cases and downright misleading in others.
Let’s say that you have committed to running every day for two weeks, and at the end of those two weeks, you “reward” yourself with a massage. I would say, “Good for you!” because we all could benefit from more massages. But I would also say that your massage wasn’t a reward. It was an incentive.
Incentives like a sales bonus or a monthly massage can motivate you, but they don’t rewire your brain. Incentives are way too far in the future to give you that all-important shot of dopamine that encodes the new habit.
A real reward — something that will actually create a habit — is a much narrower target to hit than most people think.”
He points out that the official meaning of “reward” as it applies to habit formation is a celebration that comes IMMEDIATELY before, during, and after a habit.
How Does Shine Feel For You? | 48.49
“You know this feeling already: You feel Shine when you ace an exam. You feel Shine when you give a great presentation and people clap at the end. You feel Shine when you smell something delicious that you cooked for the first time…By skillfully celebrating, you create a feeling of Shine, which in turn causes your brain to encode the new habit.”BJ Fogg (Tiny Habits)
Can you think of what shine feels like to you? Maybe a particular experience comes to mind.
It’s the feeling we get after a particularly satisfying experience. We can break down desirable habits and imagine or envisage the points that feel good.
How To Celebrate With Freedom and Authenticity | 51.28
Fogg provides some scenarios that might tell us how we naturally celebrate moments of shine. He suggests we can use these celebrations to help solidify the formation of new habits.
One of these scenarios says:
You decide to apply for your dream job with a company you love. You make it through the process all the way to the final interview. The hiring manager says, “We’ll send an e-mail with our decision.” The next morning the manager’s e-mail is waiting for you. You open it, and this is the first word you read: “Congratulations!”
What do you do at that moment?
We can use “what we do at that moment” to rewire our brains in favour of the actions we want more of in our lives.
Stacking Joy Into Hard Habits | 53.38
Another way to infuse new habits or difficult actions with positivity is through ‘joy stacking‘.
This article on Focus to Evolve talks about infusing joy into everyday chores. Stacking joy into things we might not otherwise enjoy doing.
This is not quite the same as celebration, but there is something nice about injecting enjoyable aspects into habits to make them more appealing (e.g. listening to podcasts, eating cake, making it social).
What I like about this idea is that it ensures the habit feels like a PART of life. Rather than something that we’re doing FOR our future. Exercise that feels joyful now is easier to maintain than the exercise you do for the abstract stranger who is your future self.
Conclusions | 57.24
Does any of this speak to you right now? I’d love to hear your experience with developing habits and making intentional changes in meaningful directions. Please leave a comment below or send me a message!
The Haven | 59.14
It’s the Summer season in The Haven and we look at the themes of Creativity, Tranquility, and Inspiration. We are diving into these areas and asking how we can build healthier, happier, and more connected lives in sync with our natural gentle rhythms as quietly creative misfits.