How to Take Control over Your Habits by Using 6 Creative Perspectives
Habits, analogies, systems, hacks. From cathedrals to boats and beyond.
Habits make or break our life. But we cannot really imagine the results of our habits in time, and most of the time we do not even pay attention to that. We are missing the perspective.
Here is one perspective - think about cathedrals. Those magnificent structures that take years, even centuries to build (Fun fact, the Sagrada Familia construction started in 1882 and is planned to be finished in 2026). They are still constructed piece by piece, brick by brick.
That’s exactly what we need to do, to create the systems that enable us to lay one brick at a time and get the full benefits of compounding.
But this is difficult. Our environment is the number one factor that creates our habits, and we will need to push against that.
What do I mean by environment?
1. The peer pressure
I don’t know about you, but when I was little, my parents used to compare me to other kids. That kid does that, that kid works more, that kid has better grades at school. The purpose of that is to create some kind of pressure on you to push more in certain areas.
But that pressure eventually lays heavy on your shoulders. People’s expectations get bigger and bigger and before you know it, you get overwhelmed.
Sure, school is a pretty artificial environment where you can seem successful, but that could not be the case when you finish.
The problem is that not everybody has the same target. Some have parents with more money, some have parents with more connections, some are just lucky.
Think like this: if you drive your car always looking at how others drive, you will eventually crash. Sure, you need to be aware of your surroundings, but you need to drive your car.
You don’t have the same car as others, you might not even have the same road, so it’s not really practical to compare yourself to others.
Yeah, you will meet others along the way that will either help you or break you. No matter the case, you need to keep in mind is that your major competitor is you. And you have lots of competitors: yesterday you, high school you, 5-years-old you…
People close to you tend to enforce a blueprint on you. Sometimes they don’t see you for who you are, but for who they want you to be. That means that their recommendations might not really apply to you.
We all know those awkward discussions: When will you get a job? When will you marry? When will you have kids?
We need to figure out a way to do our stuff without letting down the close people from our life.
One solution might be to move out, to put some distance between you and them. In that way, you can do your shtick with minimal external interference;
You can also just follow your dream no matter what they say, nobody can force you to do anything;
There’s also the option to let them think that you do as they please, but you actually do what you want to do. This might be more complicated than it seems, as you need to make constant compromises, and it might only work as a temporary solution;
2. The freeze
You know you want to do something with your life, but you don’t know what. You are good at lots of stuff, but you don’t know what is the best thing to start right now. You are basically frozen in place.
There is no easy way to go around this, you need to tackle it head-on.
But fear not! I have prepared some ways you can do this.
Follow your curiosity!
We all have those moments when we seem to teleport ourselves at the end of the day by just navigating some interesting topic on wiki or Reddit. Don’t let that brainstorming and knowledge go to waste. Try to structure it in a way that you can use later, make a mind map out of it. I have written a full article on how to do it.
Don’t directly assume that you might never have any use for that information. Creativity’s about connecting dots that didn’t even seem related.
So the more you know about things, the more dots you have. You never know when the connection “clicks” in your head.
The leap of faith!
Yeah, the idea might be bad. Maybe the implementation is bad. Maybe the market is not ready for you. There are so many variables around, and you cannot really think about all of them.
It’s just easier to start doing it and see how you can handle it.
Do some planning, figure an MVP, and throw it out there on the market. See how people react to it and see how you react to the feedback.
I have written some things related to MVPs in the previous article.
3. The great sea
The best analogy I could find to launching a business is launching a boat in the sea.
You have a poorly constructed boat out of tutorials from the Internet. You worked on it while being on land, but you cannot really imagine how it will behave until you push it into the water.
You are not alone in the sea, and the sharks are the least of your problems. There are other ships around there. Some of them make waves that help you navigate faster, and some of them make waves that will make your boat take in water.
Besides that, your boat is taking water, anyway. You constantly need to patch it while also rowing in order to get somewhere.
The process of patching and rowing will need to be automatic. If it’s not a habit, you will sink.
You will probably don’t die if you sink it, just be sure you don’t run into deep waters (deep debt).
There are risks, but you can minimize them. Here’s how:
Test your boat in a lake (a very specific niche);
Find a crew that can help you (a co-founder, friends, family);
Don’t lose time creating a galleon alone. By the time you finish it, you might find out that everybody moved nuclear-powered battleships;
4. The daily brick
From cathedrals to cars, to boats, all of them are complex constructs that need time, a plan, and a blueprint.
You can easily get overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done in order to finish it. But it’s also incredibly easy to underestimate how much you can achieve in 10 years.
That’s why you create systems, incredibly basic habits that will enable you to achieve your goals without actively thinking about them.
I like to think about willpower as a finite resource that we all have. The daily allowance is pretty low, so don't you try to lose weight while quitting smoking and starting a new business. You will only feel miserable, fast.
Choose one target. Think about the minimal amount of willpower that you can allocate for that activity, and how you can seamlessly fit it into your life.
For example, you want to write a blog. Most people automatically create big expectations and complicated schedules: I post once per day, each day, blah blah. Don’t!
Start small, one article/week. I will write it on weekends, I will constantly think about it. Saturday and Sunday I will put myself in front of a white paper/blank document on a screen, whatever. Yeah, it sounds crazy. The target is just to sit in front of a blank document.
You want to start working out, set a date, set an alarm, set an incredibly low target. Saturday at 12 AM I will put on my workout shoes. That’s it. Do you have enough willpower to do that? Maybe you have more willpower available and you start a short 30 minutes jog. But that’s a bonus. The target is to put on the shoes.
5. Measures against yourself
Sometimes is not only about managing the daily allowance of willpower, sometimes is about hacking your already established habits.
You find out that the first thing you do in the morning after waking up is tapping the Facebook icon. Well, you already have the habit of tapping, but you are sleepy, so you probably do it by muscle memory at this point.
Now, this is the easiest thing to hack. Just put another app in that spot. It’s usually a good idea to be output-only the first thing in the morning.
Most people are input-only the first thing in the morning. They get lots of info from Facebook/Instagram, whatever.
So, change the Facebook link with a note-keeping application (I use Google Keep) and start outputting whatever comes to your mind. It’s good to start with recalling your dreams.
Fun fact: Most people remember how they dream, but they forget because the first thing they do in the morning is inputting stuff into their brains.
If you want to quit eating after 8 PM, just replace the food with something else. The easiest thing is tea. Just buy an electric kettle, buy some fruit tea (or Roiibos tea with fruits) and when you feel the need for a snack after 8 PM, make a fruity tea. Don’t put sugar or milk or anything else in it, just enjoy it like that.
You basically hack your habits the programmer’s way. You keep the trigger but change the function call.
For sure, you need to invest a lot of time in self-awareness. You need to identify the triggers and the function calls, and then you need to figure out how you can seamlessly trick yourself into calling a different function.
The more I write about this, the more I think that people are just more complex computers that have poorly written documentation.
6. You are not alone
We are social creatures. Use that to your own advantage! Find people that keep you accountable for stuff.
Want to start a new business, find a co-founder that will keep you accountable, and will work with you to achieve your common goals.
Want to start a diet, find a friend, a group, a community that does that, join in the discussions, and share your experience.
It’s so easy to be read-only on the Internet, to just lurk around forums and communities. The real magic happens when you join in the discussion.
Yeah, the internet is a scary place, but you can also find incredibly friendly people that want to help you.
There are also local communities that do the same thing, they usually have Facebook groups. See where the people with your interest/problems are and join in.
You don’t even need to present yourself, just throw yourself out there and then you can figure it out, I’m sure of it.
People fear that they will be laughed at and that they will get hate. There’s a big chance for that to happen, but it doesn’t matter. It feels bad, but it’s for the better.
Would you rather go alone in the woods, or with somebody by your side?
Never underestimate the power of the community. Leverage that, you are natively good at it. You probably just need some practice.
The grand conclusion
Habits are everything. They are the small little cogs that make the machine work.
The peer pressure - Most of our habits are not created by us, they result from our environment.
The freeze - The conflict between our dreams and our habits makes us unable to chase our dreams.
The great sea - Habits are incredibly important in business.
The daily brick - There are simple steps you can follow to create new habits.
Measures against yourself - There are ways to hack your current habits.
You are not alone - Other people have the same struggles as you, use that to your advantage.
You have lots of homework now!
Change your most clicked icon from your smartphone that is input-only with an output-only app. (For example, change Facebook with Google Keep)
Monitor if you go back to Facebook after a couple of days. If it happens, try to think about why you do it. Do you have a hard time writing something? If you can’t remember your dream, just write what you want to do today.
Find the minimum effort task you can set for yourself in order to achieve your target. Set an alarm/memento and the occurrence (daily, weekly).
This should be enough for now, as more homework will just make you ignore them.
From this homework, you get to:
hack one habit (change it);
create a new habit;
P.S. I decided to promote some cool artists that share their artwork with the world, I really hope you enjoy them!
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