Building sustainable habits that last a lifetime. Not a day.

Do you get excited to building 10 habits in a one day and find yourself tired and unmotivated the next day?

Habits are what makes a person great and what makes a person a loser. If you think about it the only difference between the greats and the average is that they only have a different view and lifestyle and continues to grow in their lives.

Successful people are not special people who have high level will-power all the time. They’re just like any other people who ingrained and practiced high leverage habits and integrated them into their life to make it sustainable.

I think a lot of us are prone to be hyped at times. When we watch an inspiring talk or music video. We get motivated — our will power jumps to 3000%, high-up to the ceiling. We apply all the habits all at the same time in a span of a day. Then after “giving your all” we get tired. Suddenly we miss one habit, and now we get to downward spiral momentum, we get frustrated. “Oh nooo, I lost my streak… I ruined it” In a span of 3 days we burnt ourselves, lost motivation and now we are back to our initial default state.

You see, we gave our very best in a very intense state and yet that didn’t get us anywhere. What if I told you that building habits isn’t like those overblown motivational speeches that say you need to have 110% will-power no matter what.

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

Willpower is an ability to go against yourself, your impulses, temptation and instead operate accordingly to your long term goals. Willpower is actually a finite source of supply. It is like Fuel, we need to renew it day by day by resting. Everytime we restrain ourselves from our own impulses, we diminish our finite source of willpower,until there comes a time that you are out of willpower, you have no more motivation — then you give in to temptation.

There are certain ways to expand our fuel tank of will-power and strategies to exercise it but we’ll talk about that in a different article.

Knowing that willpower is actually finite, we need to build systems that runs without our willpower. Integrating our environment to run according to our plan without “You” in the equation. Our environment is more powerful than our willpower, so in a sense you need to find a way to make it easier for yourself. If you need to quit smoking, restrict your access from smoking, lessen going out with smoker friends, find a smoke free environment. So you don’t get tempted and tempted, depleting your willpower fuel tank.

It is harder to build habits if you keep exposing yourself with the same stimulants, we are after all humans. We get influenced by our environment especially if you haven’t build that proactive habit.

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Automaticity is a state where you don’t even have to think about the habit but it automatically runs by its own. Its like balancing a bike when we were youngsters, on the first few tries we were cautious of everything, we think about everything but as we build our muscle memory of cycling progressively there comes a time that we don’t even have to think of it. The same way with our habits, as we grow and practice our habits continuously, there will come a time that you don’t even have to think about it.

It is rumored in the self help community that building automaticity takes an average of 21 days, but really it depends on how you use strategic integration, or if you are removing an old habit, it really depends how deep rooted it is into you.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Sometimes we struggle too much changing our bad habits, not knowing that those habits are actually just manifestations of the seeds we planted. We might be thinking of changing the fruit (Which is the habit) but it wouldn’t really last long because we haven’t looked deeper to see how those fruits are being created.

“The solution to a problem may not have anything to do with the problem!”

One of the most powerful things that I’ve learned from Charles Duhigg’s book — The power of habit. Is that habit runs in a basic three part model.

The Cue: This is the trigger to your habit.
Let’s use smoking for this example. Your cues may be: When you feel tired, when you feel stressed, when you are seeking to socialize and chill. When you get certain triggers of sensation, you get to a state of craving a routine & reward.

The Routine: This is the habit itself.
You felt stressed, you wanted to take a break, and you integrated the habit of smoking into your routine. You used the habit of smoking to escape out of the stress.

The Reward: This is the reward of doing the habit.
After smoking, you now feel the rush of nicotine and dopamine running to your system, you are now relieved of all the stress you we’re handling.

Now with that said, we need to be aware and watch out which triggers we get into and do our best to mitigate them.

Ever felt those times when you hear a certain song you are suddenly flashed with memories attached to that song, you suddenly remember the feeling, the emotion in the past. It can be, love, pain or whatever that may be.

Or when you smell a certain perfume. You suddenly remember someone wearing that scent.

In a sense, we should watch out how our senses pickup triggers in our environment. Because we are primed with different stimulants against our environment.

This is actually a principle derived from physics & engineering that I’ve learned and integrated to psychology.

If you think about a paper clip, when we try to bend it just slightly it will only come back to its initial position. That’s called elasticity. But when we try hard enough pushing it to a certain threshold, it becomes bent and stays to the position you intended to. That’s called plasticity, the ability to change — in neuroscience this is called “Neuro-plasticity”.

In a sense we have to reach that certain threshold to modify our existing habits and grow a new set of neurons. If we don’t run it persistently we will definitely go back to our initial default state.

In the beginning of this article I’ve talked about how putting your habits all out in one go doesn’t get you anywhere. And we can clearly illustrate that into this chart and we have to put these three into equation.

Depletion of willpower: We have a finite supply of willpower.
Automaticity: The threshold for building automated habits.
Elasticity: Is the nature of bouncing back to its initial state.

As you can see, the intense all out person depletes his willpower without even reaching the threshold of automaticity. He gets trapped with the elastic protesting nature of our brain and bounces back very closely to the initial default state. Compared to the consistent small wins chart, it runs exponentially building from small wins.

“Consistency beats Intensity.”

There is no way around this, building habits is all about doing it in the long run. Its better to start small, start slow, in micro pieces but exponentially leading up into big success rather than hogging all habits into a day. Then finding yourself tired sustaining it for the long run.

I think the biggest conclusion here, is to keep in mind that building anything in life takes time and nothing can be rushed. We can do it with less time, IF we can do it efficiently (Although efficiency requires a level of mastery) but in all sense, we need to focus on the quality and the sustainability in everything we do just like building muscles, you can’t build it in a day, it takes time, it takes effort, it takes patience.

Just keep remembering the Tortoise and the Hare’s story.

What habits do you want build that lasts a lifetime? and what strategies do you implement to sustain them? Comment down below.

Life, Design & Entrepreneurship. — Live life by design not by default.

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