Choosing a Habit

I’ve been asking for feedback on ways to make the first edition of Tiny Habits more useful.

One suggestion I received was to write about the thought process behind choosing a habit.

My original motivation for experimenting with habits back in 2017 was improving my health.

I chose my first habit, pushups, because I believed it would get me started in the right direction. And it did!

But as important as exercise is, the big thing I wasn’t addressing with regards to health was my relationship with food.

See, for a long time I just couldn’t figure out how to form a helpful, momentum-building habit around food. I thought of a few different food related habits I could experiment with and they all just felt wrong.

The whole point for me behind experimenting with tiny habits was to choose things so ridiculously easy that I wouldn’t have any trouble keeping them up.

And that’s worked. I’m coming up on 500 days of pushups soon without missing a single day.

Food, though, I just couldn’t crack.

I kept thinking about it, though, and after a few months I settled on an idea.

I started tracking the following habit: “Take a picture of or record at least one meal”

Why a photo? What’s the point of that?

Well, my thinking went something like this..

Trying to limit what I eat or eat more of something is going to be hard to do, especially without breaking a chain. I might be in good shape for a week and then it’s a special event or we’re eating out all day, etc.

I don’t like the unsustainability of forming habits that restrict me.

What I actually want is to make it easier for me to make better choices.

In order to make better choices I need to know what choices exist and that requires awareness and keeping the subject matter in mind.

Speaking of awareness.

Take a random skill, like juggling, card tricks, calligraphy, playing an instrument, learning a new language, etc.

Now, look back over the past 10 years of your life.

For one of those skills where you don’t currently have any ability, if you had thought about that skill at least once each day, would that have made a difference?

I suggest it would have. When you’re aware of something you’re more likely to take action, however small. You’re more likely to ask a question, given a relevant opportunity. You’re more likely to pay attention a moment longer when you notice something related.

So, while I’m my thoughts and ideas on the matter are still in development, I’d sum it up like this.

Take a big, difficult “goal” (I don’t like the word goal, but that’s a topic for another time) you have in mind like improving health. Break it apart into “sub-goals” like eating better or exercising more, then form rediculously tiny habits that you can start that build momentum towards that goal.

And, if you can’t think of anything tiny enough (e.g. the equivalent of pushups), start by just forming a habit around awareness (e.g. taking a photo).

Jonathan Wold

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Jonathan lives and works in beautiful Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.