How do we make habits stick?
Tony Stubblebine the co-founder and CEO of Coach.me, the company that aims to help people “achieve any goal,” was transfixed by the idea of discovering what will really change an individual’s life. He conducted research in the vast community of Coach.me users.
The answer he got to his question was “streaks.” A streak is a chain of single instances of key activities. A streak in this context, therefore, is another word for habit: key activities repeated. That repetition provides the streak with its strength. Inconsistent activities — ones you do sporadically — aren’t habits.
The value of streaks lies in motivation. In Tony’s own words:
You can’t change what you don’t measure.
That’s the fundamental reason tracking results is an integral part of every training plan, diet, etc. Having an accurate history boosts your motivation because you can’t help but think, “Can I do this 5 times? Can I get a ten day streak? Can I do this one more time than last week?”
People think the quantified self is for geeks, but it’s really for your own motivation.
Build a chain
A chain metaphor illustrates the power of streaks. By repeating your habit regularly, you build a chain. But if you build a good habit, it’s not a chain that restricts you. Rather, it is a chain that frees you.
It binds you to the good values you want to maintain. The more frequently you add a link to the chain, the stronger it becomes. After a time, the streak you’ve built enchains you to your values — love, courage, perseverance, or humility. Your habit is now part of your constitution.
When you practice a discipline inconsistently, this effect is much harder to achieve. How can you become enchained when the chain consists of just a few links? Or when there are breaks in it?
It’s consistency, not a size of your actions that makes the difference
When building a habit, consistency is more important than the scale of action. You don’t need to make monstrous links in your chain for it to be effective. Huge steps require huge labor input and are very hard to continue consistently.
Imagine weightlifting for hours because you have a goal to get super-fit. It is certainly possible, and there are people who do this, but most of them are professionals. This level of action in any activity is very hard to continue long enough that it becomes a habit. Daily exercise for twenty minutes, in contrast, is an almost effortless habit to build.
Go for length
The size of the links is less important than the length of the chain. Even if you compose a delicate chain of tiny activities, these will add up to a lot if continued. The effect on your mind of such chains of activities, measured over years and decades, will bring great strength to your life, even if each link in the chain is a tiny step. Imagine real chain: many small chains together will be as strong — or stronger — than a ship’s thick anchor chain.
Consistency is not exciting. In real life, it’s often boring, mundane, tedious, and monotonous. Habits are semi-automatic activities, and there is nothing exciting in doing them. The exciting thing here is that habits free your mind, body, and time for all the exciting things that you dream of doing.
-Start small: check out the definition of a tiny habit
-Prepare for a long haul: if you don’t intend to keep your habit for a year, don’t even bother
-Do it every day: That’s the easiest way to keep motivation alive