Justus: Excellence as a Religion

The Ten Commandments of Good Habit Hacking

Learning to code? Perhaps an aspiring entrepreneur? Maybe you’re just trying to be a healthy, well-rounded individual.

Whatever your deal, you probably spend nearly half your day engaged in totally automatic behaviors. These can range from anything to waking up at a certain time, preparing the same meals, cosmetic rituals, or exercise routines.

Our entire existence on this earth is simply the culmination of mostly repeated behaviors.

At Pavlok, we’re building technology to help you out with the automatic half of your life. We also want to educate people on behavior modification and how they can use it to reach their long-term goals.

Personally, I’m just one web developer on an incredibly diverse and talented team. One thing we all have in common is our commitment to excellence and our commitment to self-creation. We all have our own creeds, but it’s science which informs our methodology.

That said, here’s my list of the ten commandments of good habit-hacking, inscribed upon digital medium, informed by science and experience:

  1. Thou shalt use create clear, measurable goals. No “Do TDD”. Try “Write one integration test for each use case.”
  2. Thou shalt start small. Use “microhabits” to ease into new behaviors. If you don’t refactor enough, commit to refactoring just one method every day.
  3. Speaking of, thou shalt refactor! RED, GREEN, REFACTOR. LIKE A STOP LIGHT. BUT REFACTOR.
  4. Thou shalt identify bad habits and their triggers. Do you, like me, occasionally tend to cowboy code at the end of the day because it feels like time is running out? Try writing all your tests in the morning, and making them green at night.
  5. Speaking of, THOU SHALT WRITE TESTS. (Sorry DHH, TDD isn’t dead. Not even close.)
  6. Thou shalt diversify. Be full-stack. Learn all the things. Nourish your body and soul like you nourish your mind. Take a lot of walks. Do push ups. Call your mother.
  7. Thou shalt leverage “keystone habits” as triggers for other good habits. Try waking up half an hour early and using your alarm as a trigger to do ten push ups, or write down your dreams, or floss!
  8. Thou shalt “trigger flip”! After identifying stimuli that trigger bad habits, use them instead on a good “microhabit”. Do you normally smoke cigarettes after a meal? Try doing three (or less!) push-ups instead. You can even still smoke if you want . But maybe you’ll decide to stick around for more push ups. Or maybe you’ve already programmed yourself to want to code after doing push ups.
  9. Thou shalt take good metrics. Identify what you need to measure and do so diligently. If you’re bad at writing things down, try turning it into a microhabit: Take one note every day! Make a chart! Use any number of different tracking technologies. Or better, write a custom tracking program! Then tweet at me (@justuseapen), cause I want in on the beta!
  10. Thou shalt reward (and punish) thyself. Pre-commit, using a referee or technology like Pavlok, to your goals. If you reach them, reward yourself. If you fail, enact consequences. If I hit my weekly step-count goal, I get myself a pretty luxurious foot massage (don’t hate). When I find myself judging other people, I deliver a shock to my wrist using a Pavlok device.

Nobody’s perfect, me especially. And we all have the capacity for self-improvement. I challenge you to use this list and tell me about it. Tweet at me, or shoot me an email with your habit-hacking story.



P.S. This post was loosely inspired by a short talk I gave at Launch Academy which I’ve posted the notes for here.

P.P.S.(Also, thanks to @maneesh, @enthusiastick, and @dnyecarter for their feedback on drafts of this essay)