The Difference Between Forming and Keeping a Habit

I’ve journaled for 5 years.

Well, sort of.

 

Although I’ve journaled “for 5 years,” I only journaled in 35 of those 60 months.*

Although I’ve journaled for 35 months, I only journaled in 91 of those 140 weeks.*

Although I’ve journaled for 140 weeks, I only journaled on 750 of those 980 days.*

In sum: Although I journaled for 5 years, I only journaled on 41% of those days.*

The above probably doesn’t fit your definition of “consistent.”

However:

More important than consistency is the willingness to return to a practice after an absence. Grit.

Consistency is both necessary and sufficient for forming a habit; however, it is neither necessary nor sufficient for keeping a habit.

When you miss doing Habit X for a day, week, month, or even a year, the Resistance emerges and says something like:

”It’s all ruined now! Might as well accept defeat.”

That’s why one day turns into two days, one week into two, one month to two; it’s why so many habits are start-stop, start-stop for our entire lives.

But if you accept that you’ll drop the ball and neglect habits, and if you expect that the Resistance will seize the opportunity to deflate our ambitions, you’ll be prepared to soldier on anyways.

Don’t let the Resistance convince you that you’ve lost the war when you’ve only lost one measly battle.

*Estimated numbers because I am a qualitative, not a quantitative, reviewer.

You can learn more about keeping habits in my book and on my blog.

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A Very Short Post: Why Efficiency Makes Me Eat My Lunch For Breakfast

I’m big into efficiency, so it’s not surprising that, when I made my wife a paper-bagged sandwich for lunch yesterday morning, I made myself one too.

Saving time! Efficiency!

But all it did was give me a ready-made, right-there, on-demand, how-can-I-possibly-ignore-this sandwich right there next to the Brita pitcher… all morning.

The sandwich made it until about 10. Because double digits or something — close enough to lunch, right?

No, not really.

Come 12, I made another sandwich. 

Takeaway

Efficiency, for its own sake, isn’t enough.

 

(NOTE: My book, Long Term Person, Short Term World, is $1 for the next few weeks and free on Thursday, August 3 and Friday, August 4. If you already own it or have already read it, would you mind encouraging others to check it out? Thank you!)

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Lessons from Stoic Philosophy That Challenge How We Set Goals

Of the additions I make to the SMART Method (using the not-so-clever name of ‘SMARTEST Method’), Epictetus (the 'E' in 'SMARTEST) is probably most popular. Actually, it’s probably the part I’ve received the most positive feedback about. 

Basic Premise

According to most, “accomplishment” of a goal is:

Person sought X.

Person did Y.

Person got X because of doing Y.

This conception ignores the role of other people and circumstances that we have little, if any, control over. As a result of this widespread misbelief, society judges our actions by the outcome.

This is wrong. Here’s why:

  1. Our lives are governed by uncertainty — and there’s little we can do about it. We like to pretend otherwise — it makes us feel safer.
  2. We commit errors of logic by presuming that getting X means Y was effective, and conversely, that not getting X means Y was ineffective.
epictetus.jpg

According to Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher, there are three types of “things” in this world:

  • those entirely in our control (the few);
  • those outside our control (the many); and
  • those we have some control over (where the important action is.)

Applied to Goals

It does us no good to define goals that can only be accomplished if other people and events happen to go our way. Instead, define your goals based on what you have at least some control over.

For example, consider the goal of “winning a poker tournament.” Poker, like life and everything in it, is affected by other people’s actions and general uncertainty. You may or may not get the cards you need; you have little control over other players’ actions, etc. You could play the best poker of your life and still lose the tournament — it happens to poker professionals all the time.

If, instead, you turn this goal into “play the best poker of my life in the tournament,” then this goal can be accomplished. It is entirely within your control.

Other Examples

  • “Be a professional writer” requires other people to buy your book. “Self — publish a book”, however, is almost entirely within your control.
  • “Get a promotion” depends upon your supervisors, company profits, office politics, bias, etc. “Make 1,000 sales calls”, on the other hand, is a goal because it is in your control. It puts you in position to receive a promotion, but the goal is achieved whether you receive the promotion or not.

Takeaway

Define your goals so you — and no one else — is in the driver’s seat. Then you can learn from your actions, not your outcomes.

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For more on Epictetus and goal management, check out my book.

 

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