How To Mindlessly Create New Habits
What I like to call the Zero-One Mindset.
Since I arrived in California, I’ve stepped into many habits at once.
- I started going to yoga every day.
- I became pescatarian.
- I stopped eating sugar.
- I started a daily journal and a gratitude journal.
- I started meditating 5–10 min every morning.
- I committed to publishing one article a day on Medium.
How many times have I tried to create a habit, only to fail within a few days?
Countless times. Seriously. My usual process is to:
- Think of a few things I want to start
- Make a long checklist
- Go through it in a very conscious way for the first couple of days
- As soon as I miss a day, it’s already over.
That has happened to me with journalling, meditating, working out, you name it.
Then, I met Nigel.
Nigel was my boss. He’s the CEO and founder of ExpenseCheck, and he’s one of the most effective people I’ve ever met. You can tell he has fully digested the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He’s all about execution. He’s awesome.
So as I spent six months working with him, I was on the first stage to observe and absorbe as much as I could. One thing that stroke me was the way he approached life in general.
It’s zero or one.
You either do it, or you don’t.
No middle ground.
Once you make the decision, there’s no more questioning, all that is left is executing. There’s no negotiation with yourself, no excuses either.
This is not to be taken as a military-strict kind of approach. Rather, it’s about stopping to question or over-track your progress.
It’s about being macro-patient and micro-agressive—Dylan Woon.
Indeed, the secret sauce to this might sound contradictory.
If you fall off, don’t sweat it, don’t look back, and get back on track. This binary mindset is not about perfection.
Essentially, it’s about trusting yourself enough to let go and stop looking over your shoulder every second of your day to check if you’re still committed.
So here’s how I have assimilated this mindset.
1. Be more mindless
Remember when I said I would go through a long checklist of new habits very consciously ?
That’s where my failure resided.
First, I would be way too focus on what I was trying to start. It made it feel so forced and difficult. It put all my focus on the massive effort I had to invest in order to get through all of it, rather than the benefit I was looking to get out of the habits.
So, I’ve tried to become mindless.
Yes, mindless, not mindful. Once I’ve decided to start journalling every morning, I stopped thinking about the fact that I had committed to that, and robotically started to do it.
It’s been the same for yoga. I would be so self-conscious about the arbitrary decision of going everyday that I missed all the benefits, and would actually physically hurt myself.
Now, I just go. Funny enough, I feel more and more that I don’t want to miss a day, not because I have to, but because of how good it makes me feel.
2. Think big, start small
Second, I would try to create over five massive habits at the same time. This only amplified how overwhelmed I felt. So, instead of crafting a list like this:
Workout for one hour 5 times a week
Write every single thing that happens to me in journal
Start meditating an hour a day
Drink 2.5 liters of water per day
Eat salad 3 meals per day
I now try to focus on starting light enough that the habit creeps in seamlessly into my routine.
I can then dial it up without feeling overwhelmed.
3. Timing is everything
Third, I try to be honest with myself. Some habits, I’m just not ready for. So I try to be compassionate and wait for the right moment.
A catalytic event might be the perfect time to do so. For example, I knew it would be hard for me to commit to becoming pescatarian and stop eating sugar as I came back home after a year. So, I waited to move to San Francisco and settle here, where I knew it’d be easier for me emotionally, socially and practically.
Similarly, for daily habits, being honest with myself around the time of day I allocate them is really important.
I used to try to force myself to wake up at 5am and do all the things when I could see I was dead tired, and dragging my feet throughout the day. Accepting to wake up when suits me best worked much better in creating sustainable habits.
4. What is your Why ?
Last but not least, it has proven critical for me to know why I decided to start a new habit.
Is it because I will actually benefit from it ? Am I raising my own standards?
Or am I just trying to pull-off something because it sounds cool and trendy or because I think I should be doing it?
You might guess which option is sustainable, and which isn’t. The latter is based on willpower, which is a finite resource — the minute I’ll be tired, or angry, or annoyed, it will eventually fail.
Conversely, having a strong “why” is what makes it relevant and durable. It becomes so good you don’t even think of not doing it.
So, to sum-up, I now create new habits by:
1. Not being too self-conscious about what I’m trying to start, and embrace imperfection
2. Not trying to create overwhelmingly dramatic changes
3. Being aware that timing is important, and showing compassion towards myself
4. Having a strong reason to back my desire to spark the change
What about you — Do you struggle keeping up with your habits? Have you crafted your tricks to get there?