A great (and not-so-great) technique for creating new habits

Once again, I’m tackling a topic that I’m either spectacularly unqualified to speak on – or – exactly the right voice if you happen to be like me. For your viewing pleasure, the video below – or scroll down for the less rambley text version. Highlights:

  • My adventures in succeeding (and failing) to create a new habit
  • A technique for creating habits that WORKS (even for me)
  • Except when it doesn’t – and what to do then

Yesterday, we talked about getting started. Today we’re going to look at keeping going. The best way to do that is to develop good habits.

Habits are awesome because once you establish them, they run on auto-pilot: you continue to do them without giving a lot of conscious thought.

I’m not very good at creating new habits. At least not the good kind. I’m pretty good at picking up the bad ones. 🙂

Habit formation is something I’ve been actively working to get better at over the past few years. One technique that has worked really well for me is often referred to as the Seinfeld Habit.

Don’t break the chain

Why do we only need techniques like this for GOOD habits? “I must not break the chain for 5:00 cocktails” said no one ever.

Urban legend says that Seinfeld once gave this advice to a new comedian:

“Get a big wall calendar. Write a joke every day. Once you’ve written that joke, put a big X on the calendar. That’s your job: write a joke, make an X. After a few days, you’ll see a chain of X’s. Don’t break the chain.”

Although Seinfeld has since denied that this technique originated with him, it’s still good advice.

Daily is the ideal time frame.

You never have to worry if “this” is the day you should do the thing. It’s a day, so you do it.

Measuring by way of X’s is a terrific way to chart progress towards a goal that’s otherwise hard to quantify.

Am I getting funnier? Who knows? But I’m writing a joke every day, so I’m making progress.

It works! (Even on me!)

I’m motivated like a kindergartener: just give me a gold star (or a green bar)

I live in my head. Not a big fan of exercise.

In August of 2014, I decided to start walking. I bought a fitbit to measure my progress.

Best. Idea. Ever.

I like numbers and charts and my fitbit gives me both. The experts said “10,000 steps a day” will give you better health. So that’s where I set my goal.

Every day, I focused on getting 10,000 steps and the reward that is the “green bar of happiness.”

I kept up my daily habit (including long walks on cold, windy, rainy days) until we had some treacherous ice in December and I was unable to walk anywhere.

Fortunately, after 4 months of daily walking, I had built a habit. The ice cleared, I continued to walk and I kept it up for about 3 years.

Then I stopped.

Habits are easier to break than make

When one less trip to the bathroom gives you the blue bar of failure.

To paraphrase an observation from Jim Rohn: “It’s easy to eat an apple a day. It’s also easy to NOT eat an apple a day.”

The habit of walking that I spent 4 months obtaining and 3 years reinforcing became the habit of “not walking” in about a week.

Earlier this year, I decided to begin walking again.

On May 24th I set myself a goal of 10,000 steps and a green bar every day.

I didn’t break the chain until yesterday.

I misread my tracker and missed my goal by 20 measly steps.

Skip “all or nothing” thinking and start again

After sifting through hundreds of happy grinning sunshine pictures in my search for “hot weather” – finally – an image that matches my sentiments.

Today is the danger day.

As someone who tends towards perfection and “all or nothing” thinking, I’m in trouble.

I broke the chain.

The forecast calls for very hot temperatures over the next week or so. I don’t do well in heat, I’d rather walk in the rain and cold.

It would be sooo easy to say “fuck it” and collect a few more blue bars while avoiding the blazing sun.

Except…it’s still July.

There’s a lot of hot weather ahead and it could easily be October before I decide to start walking again (or not.)

So, instead, I’m going to start another chain today.

Because what I’m really after is the habit, not the green bars.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Don’t break the chain is a great technique for building new habits. If you tend towards ‘all or nothing’ thinking, re-starting immediately if you break it is critical.” quote=”Don’t break the chain is a great technique for building new habits. If you tend towards ‘all or nothing’ thinking, re-starting immediately if you break it is critical.”]

Measurements are great! The underlying habits are more important.

Measuring activity can give a sense of progress on things that are hard to measure directly or where results come slowly…like marketing!

Awareness and visibility build up over time and with repetition. Showing up once doesn’t usually result in instant sales.

“There’s a a whole lot of people dressed up like empty seats today!” – announcer at a late-October football game in Winnipeg. The Bombers played anyhow.

Measuring things like number of blog posts written, number of sales calls made, number of networking events attended – can give you a sense of progress and focus while you’re building up visibility, but not yet seeing results.

Right now, I’m committed to doing a Facebook Live, posting a video to youtube and writing a blog post EVERY day.

Last week I drew a record crowd of TWO viewers at one of my live presentations. Today, I had none.

If I was measuring success in terms of audience size, this would be a dismal failure. Instead, I’m measuring based on “Did I show up? Or not?”

I trust that if I continue to do this, I will develop the habit of showing up. The habit of sharing information.

And right now, that habit is far more important than any daily measurement of views or clicks or likes.

Just like how walking every day is good for my health, showing up every day is good for my business. (And yours!)

Want to build a new habit? Or pick up an old one again?

Today would be a great day to (re)start.

I’m going for a walk. 🙂