Habit Hacking: Creating a System that Works

I am the type of person who is always looking to work smarter, not harder. “Habit Hacking” is one of those things that I know I’ve searched once, twice, a million times every time I get inspired by someone else developing a habit that lead them to success. The question here is can you really hack habits? My answer is yes, but not in the traditional way you might think.

Let’s start with the definition of a habit, google says:

habit (n) a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

“Hard to give up” seems funny to me because I’m mostly interested in creating habits and I have a pretty easy time giving them up. I’ve questioned to myself whether I give up easily because I’m lazy or unmotivated, but I recently realized it’s because I’m setting unrealistic goals for myself that I’m not likely to follow through on. That’s the real key – figuring out how to find your follow through.

My Hack: creating actionable systems to build a habit & trust in yourself

Steps to creating a Habit-Building system:

  1. Find your “why” behind building your habit
  2. Find a motivator that will help combat excuses (not if, but when they come)
  3. Create a schedule focused on the steps that create your habit with the inevitable “off-days” built into it
  4. Commit to a time frame and check in with yourself at the end of that time frame to make sure your system still works and adjust as needed

Maybe your habit that you want to build is waking up at 5am. You’re not going to simply set your alarm for 5am after waking up at 7am every day for the last couple months and magically get up with your alarm. Check in with yourself about a couple of things:

  1. Why do you want to wake up at 5am – what will it do for you?
  2. What will make you excited to get out of bed that early (coffee? Hot yoga? A book?)
  3. What’s the longest time you will allow yourself to slip up before you consider the habit broken?

The Why

Once you know the “why” behind the habit you’re building, you have more accountability for following through. You understand your reasons and you don’t want to let yourself down. You also have an end goal of what building this habit will do for you.

The Driver

Finding a driver, or something that motivates you, will help combat the excuses you make and justify sticking to building your habit. If coffee gets you out of bed in the morning, you can hear your 5am alarm, groan about waking up, then tell yourself that once you get up and make your coffee, you’ll feel much better. Now, you’re not just waking up at 5am, you’re waking up for COFFEE. For me, it works to have a rotating list of drivers in case I get sick of any of them. Once coffee becomes less interesting to me when my 5am alarm goes off, I try to think of what would get me out of bed. Hot yoga? Look up the class times and book yourself a class immediately so there’s no turning back.

The Schedule

I like the two-day rule, borrowed from Youtuber/Minimalism Film Director Matt D’Avella, where you allow yourself two “off days” in a row before you MUST follow through on the habit. This holds you accountable, but also makes this habit more realistic to build. If you set out at the start saying to yourself that you’re going to perfectly wake up at 5am every day for the next month without fail and you miss ONE day, immediately you feel like you failed or broke the habit. Building in the time for you to take off from your habit allows you to still feel motivated even when life happens and to jump right back in without missing a beat.

Trust

Following through with waking up at 5am on almost every day then builds trust with yourself in knowing that you CAN follow through, which causes the slippery slope of habit building. Now you’ve gained the confidence in yourself because you have chosen to show up for yourself almost every day according to the system you set out. Now, you’re likely more willing to take on building more habits because you know you have the follow through. This is like if you asked someone to get lunch and they have rescheduled lunch with you the last three times at the last minute. The fourth time would roll around and you would almost expect them to reschedule, meaning you don’t trust their follow-through and you probably wouldn’t even be asking them to lunch a fifth time. This same rule applies to the schedule you set for yourself.

How have I implemented this in real life?

Working out is my number one habit that comes and goes with the seasons. It seems that every time winter rolls around, my motivation drops significantly and working out becomes a chore that I hate, even though I know that when I’m committed to working out and doing it consistently that I’m much happier and even motivated to do more outside of working out. Why does my motivation drop? The system I had in place that built that habit doesn’t work anymore for my current situation: the cold.

The system that built the habit of working out consistently included rules like:

  • Running outside at least 2-3 times per week
  • Go to the gym and lift 2 times per week on running off days
  • Only can take two days in a row off at once

Once winter hits it’s cold and there’s less daylight, so my system of motivation that includes running outside doesn’t really work anymore (yes that’s an excuse, but I ain’t running in the cold). Once the system fails me, my motivation goes out the window and that habit that I created ends abruptly.

Have a system that combats your inclination to drop habits.

Now that I know winter is my working out downfall, I can plan for it and make actionable steps that will help me keep that habit, or build a new similar habit that works for my situation. By “actionable steps” I don’t exactly mean saying to yourself “Run in the cold anyway,” I mean find an activity that you like and make it easy for you to do that activity, following the system structure I outlined above.

For me, that activity is hot yoga – especially in the cold (lol are you sensing a theme??). Replacing running with hot yoga not only keeps my workout schedule interesting, but hot yoga is something I know I can commit to and get excited about and will motivate me to workout outside of the classes I take. My new system that helped me KEEP my working out habit just consisted of me replacing running with hot yoga and all it took was checking in with myself and adjusting my habit accordingly.

How would you implement a habit building system?

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