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).

Wold Family Currency

I started an experiment with my kids recently that might inspire you with an idea for your own kids.

I wrote Tiny Habits for my kids, to encourage them to form tiny habits of their own. This last weekend, I helped them each setup their first tiny habit: 5 minutes of cleaning.

Once they’ve completed their habits for the day, I give them a “Wold Coin”. I bought the coins from a craft store along with a wood burner and made them myself. I’m happy with how they turned out!

My kids can then spend those coins in the “Wold Store”.

So far, my store offers two items for purchase:

  1. Video production – I’ll film and produce one 2-3 minute video for a coin.
  2. Website development – I’ll setup a new website for 10 coins.

My daughter (5) is having me produce YouTube videos for a private channel.

My son (8) is saving up for his first website. (Which will be on WordPress, of course!).

The experiment is in it’s early days and I’m curious to see where it goes.

A year of cold showers

The running water in North Idaho is always cold, but especially in Winter. I hesitated this morning, as I usually do – then I stepped in.

Just over a year ago, I decided to start taking straight cold showers every day. Inspired by a close friend and encouraged by some YouTube videos of Wim “The Iceman” Hoff, I jumped in.

It was rough.

For over a decade now I’ve ended nearly all of my showers on cold water. It’s good for your circulation and takes away the cold feeling you often get otherwise when you step out of the shower (I know, it seems ironic, but it works).

Starting on cold and staying cold is a whole different story, though. There’s something about cold water in the morning that just isn’t the same as a nice hot shower.

My secret for the first few months was deep breathing. I loosely followed the Wim Hoff method and practiced several rounds of breathing in the morning before I took the shower. That made a noticeable difference in my tests. Deep breathing charges the body with oxygen and, for some reason, takes the edge off the cold.

After awhile, though, I adjusted.

I still do deep breathing every day, but often not right before the shower (the affect of blocking cold wears off within minutes). And as the water gets colder here in Winter, I face that daily question.. “Hey Jonathan, are you sure you want to do this?”

Beyond the question, though, I don’t really think about it anymore. This week marks an entire year of taking a cold shower every day. It’s a well engrained habit that I don’t plan to change.

So, why not? Why would I do this to myself?

Well, a few reasons.

It’s good for me. Call it a placebo or not, I don’t get sick as much as I used to. (Here’s an article on Healthline that lists some of the benefits of cold water)

Even more than that, though.. in a world where the luxury of hot water is often readily available, a cold shower is a choice, a self-imposed obstacle. And by choosing to embrace that obstacle, especially at the start of the day, I’m giving myself the gift of a sense of accomplishment. On some days, it’s no big deal. On other days, though, especially difficult ones, knowing that I can get up and do something and that even if the day is falling apart I can complete my tiny habits, is just what I’ve needed to keep momentum going.

It’s still not easy, cold water is cold water. But I’ve grown to love it.

If you want to try it for yourself, I suggest you either start by ending on cold for awhile while you get used to the idea (that’s a great first habit!). If you want to jump in, start with Wim Hoff’s breathing technique. You’ll get the benefits of better breathing and a cold shower together!

P.S. The first edition of the Tiny Habits book is in print and ready to order! Buy your copy today for $10 (with free shipping!) and I’ll send you a personally autographed copy. I’ll also send you a free digital copy as well!

400 days of pushups

I’m excited! 400 days ago I decided that I would do at least 4 sets of pushups a day. And I’ve done it! I haven’t missed a single day since. 

I’ve also gone from being able to barely complete a total of 4 pushups per day (1 pushup for each “set”) to, starting last week, a minimum of 100 pushups per day. 

If that’s all that I’d done, I’d be happy.. but it turned out that pushups were just the beginning.

As I shared in my tiny habits story, pushups became a catalyst for a wide range of habit experiments that, today, culminate in more than 20 different habits I track. 

For example, today was day 324 of taking a cold shower. 

It’s also (work) day 54 of spending 5 minutes or more processing Slack.

That’s great. There’s more, though. I’ve experienced a benefit I didn’t expect. 

See, I had a difficult week last week. I had some strong “down” moments where I really didn’t feel like doing much of anything. There were good things happening, but it just wasn’t clicking for me.

I wanted to stay in bed, do nothing.

I felt overwhelmed on multiple fronts and I was feeling “all done”. 

So I turned to my habits.

See, they’re all tiny, ridiculously so.

On one particularly difficult day last week I decided to embrace how I was feeling. I made myself a deal. “Just finish off the habits left on your list and you can call it a day.”

Boom.

So I got to work, spending 5 minutes here, 2 minutes there, working through my list.

Two things happened:

  1. I got through the list and felt accomplished
  2. I spent more time on several of the items that I needed to, and didn’t mind. 

Whereas in the past I might have just called the day a loss or fumbled awkwardly (and unproductively) through it I was able to use tiny habits to propel me towards progress and maintain momentum, without relying on feeling motivated to do so.

And that’s all!

Oh, today is also day 33 of working on my Tiny Habits book! If you’d like to get a copy when it ships in December, pre-order today.

Tiny Habits

I’d been struggling with my exercise routine for awhile now. The problem with my routine was that it didn’t exist. My hours in front of a computer each day were broken up by the occasional walk to the bathroom or kitchen. I’d long been convinced of the benefits of consistent exercise, but being convinced just wasn’t enough.

During a flight home I sat next to a woman who appeared to be in her mid to late forties. Over the course of our conversation the topic of health came up. She was older than she looked and seemed healthier than most folks far younger, myself included. We talked about exercise and the importance of doing something, which was much better than doing nothing.

That conversation stuck with me.

A few days later, I came across several “30 Day Pushup Challenge” videos on YouTube based on the idea of doing 100 pushups per day. I felt inspired to try the challenge – after all, I could see results in as early as 30 days!

There was a problem, though. I could barely complete a single pushup. 100 per day wasn’t going to happen.

I was still inspired, though, so I decided I’d try something else. I decided I would do 4 sets of pushups per day, starting with just 1 pushup at a time.

And so I began.

I used an app called Productive to track my progress and got to work. I set reminders on my phone and completed my 4 sets throughout the day.

I started on October 2, 2017. I haven’t missed a single day since.

In the beginning, my friends laughed. After all, what difference would 4 pushups a day make?

After a few weeks, though, the number of pushups per set began to increase. Soon, I was at 3, then 5.

As of this writing, over a year later, I’m averaging 100+ pushups per day.

This story would have been a great personal success if that’s all that had happened. But it turned out pushups were just the beginning.

Inspired by the progress I’d made after a few weeks I started to experiment with different habits. At first, I tried too hard. I chose habits like “Write for an hour a day” that I just wasn’t able to keep up. Then I reminded myself why the pushup habit had worked – I had started ridiculously small. I stopped the habits that weren’t working and tried smaller ones.

Over time, I expanded and refined my list of habits to over 20, moving beyond health to family, work, and personal growth.

While some habits made a big difference quickly, most changes were imperceptibly small. It’s only as I look back months and years later that I notice the compounded effects

I’ve learned that tiny habits, laughably or even embarrassingly tiny habits, can make a big difference over time.

Now, every chance I get I encourage the folks I meet to start a tiny habit. Tiny habits have made a big difference in my life and I know they can in yours too.

If you’re ready for an exercise habit, start with pushups! Download the Productive app, and add four habits: “Pushup set #1″, “Pushup set #2″, “Pushup set #3″, and “Pushup set #4″. Here’s a link to the video I used to learn pushups form.

If you’re interested in more on habits, you can now order a copy of my first book, Tiny Habits.

Did you find this useful? Send me an email or let me know on twitter!