Thursday, 22 January 2015

Tiny habits, how to improve their effectiveness, and thoughts on procrastination

Just re-watched a 15 minutes TEDx talk by B. J. Fogg (via I really like his work on changing personal behaviours by the use of tiny habits.

You only have so much will power for each day, and once that is used up you will start making bad choices that you will later regret. For instance, you might force yourself using will power to go to the gym but then end up eating pizza for dinner. This is not because you were tired from the exercise and needed the extra calories, even though you might tell yourself that. No, you probably wanted to work out and loose weight or get healthy. Unfortunately you were just out of will power.

Using tiny habits can help you. However, combining tiny habits with convenience and not-todo mentality greatly increases the effectiveness... at least for me.

The rest of the blog assumes you know what tiny habits are. So please watch the TEDx talk if you don't :)

Let's start by looking at convenience

Let's continue with the exercise example, and we assume that we have set up either a real habit of going to the gym, or are using tiny habits to get there (by starting exercise routines at home, for instance). How can a convenient thing or situtation help you ensure you do not eat pizza for dinner, without having to resort to pure will power? One solution is to make a new tiny habit that ensures you always have a healthy meal in your fridge (or at the office). You will be less likely to go get a pizza if you have a ready-to-eat meal available.

This is my convience principle. I create convenient situations throughout my day, and this is possible, since many things in my day are planned (tiny habits). I don't like strict schedules but I create causalities between events and the first event exists because of a personal goal: For instance, wanting to bench press 100 kg as my standard weight again. Because of this goal I have made a habit of making a bunch of healthy meals each morning. The tiny habit for this is:
When I make my breakfast I will make enough food for at least two more meals.
I have another tiny habit that ensures the convenient situation always is present while at home:
When I take the second to last ready-to-eat meal from the fridge I will make at least two more meals before sitting down to eat.
Note the addition to the basic tiny habit formula. I added an extra condition. This is because I know myself, and I am utterly hedonistic, love food and enjoyment, so I know that my food must be a sign of victory in this situation. If I start by eating I have a tendency of thinking "I will make the other meals later". This is also why the rule triggers on the second to last meal. That gives my some slack, and also if I truly am in a rush I can just eat and simply make more meals later, before eating the last ready-to-eat meal.

That is how convenience can greatly strengthen your good habits and help remove bad habits. Get there by using tiny habits to create the convenient situations.

Not-TODO mentality

This is basically turning tiny habits on their heads. As an example I work a lot from home and when I go to the toilet I pass my washing machine and laundry basket on the way. I had I tendency to always check the amount of dirty laundry in the laundry basket, and if it was getting full, then start the washing machine. Sounds like a good tiny habit, right? No, not if it is office hours! This was in fact nothing but procrastination, that had become a habit. The worst kind of procrastination. I might seem like it only ate a few minutes per day but my mind had shifted its focus so in total I probably lost an hour of productive work.

Some people use not-TODO lists, and I do as well when planning, but for removing procrastination habits I create tiny habits. The tiny habit solving the above problem is:
I will not start the washing machine unless I am putting clothes in to the laundry basket and see it is getting full.
Apart from the highlighted words there is another subtle but very effective thing about this rule: When do you put dirty clothes into the laundry basket? Normally not during office hours! So this rule that prevents me from performing a bad procrastination habit doesn't in any feel restricting. That is, I don't force myself to not do it and thus prevent using a lot of will power.

In my experience fighting procrastination with will power is never a battle you can win. Will power focuses your mind on not procrastinating but you need your focus on your work to actually stop procrastinating.

Hope this information is helpful to some of you. Enjoy :)