Community and habits

Yesterday’s post was about the power of community to change culture. A related question I’ve been interested in exploring for a while is – how might we better use the power of community to build better habits?

Three years ago, a couple of friends and I discussed the possibility of building out an app that would help people reflect more and share gratitude. We talked about the possibility of infusing community – but, we were hazy on the specifics.

Even as time passed, the idea lived on. We talked about it in passing. But, for one reason or another, we didn’t get to it.

That changed three months back when we excitedly exchanged notes and realized we’d all appreciate some positivity right now. And, thus, the idea for an experiment in enabling folks to share gratitude was born.

Ergo “The Daily Seed App” alpha test.

As of yesterday, we have ~100 folks testing the web app. And, over the next 30 days, we’re excited to see if infusing community into a daily gratitude habit makes it stick.

If it works well, the next phase will be building out a mobile app.

More to follow on what we learn…

Sharing activity

We’ve seen growing adoption of the Apple Watch amongst our group of friends lately. A big part of the reason to adopt has been sharing fitness activity with each other.

So, we see each other’s daily activity summary and get small haptic nudges when someone in the group finishes a workout. It is a lovely way for us to feel connected and motivated.

So much so that it has transformed the new adopter’s experience. A good friend recently joined the group and, inspired by the rest of the group, he’s hit his activity targets every day since getting the watch.

“People like us do things like this.”

It has changed our behavior by changing our culture. The combination of community and culture are among the most powerful levers we have to effect change.

Ormie the pig and immigration

As we head closer to election day in the United States, changes to immigration rules have been coming thick and fast. Naturally, it is a frequent topic of conversation amongst those of us who are impacted.

One friend described it nicely when he sighed and said – “Let’s add this to our growing list of immigration related things to stress about.”

We then made a few jokes made about the fabled green card – a multi-decade process for most Indian immigrants. Those jokes reminded me of a video of Ormie the Pig trying to get hold of a few cookies on top of a fridge.

It sums it up nicely.

The first time parent advice question

I’ve spoken to many first time parents since we had our first kid four years ago. First time parents, as is their wont, typically ask for advice. I say the same thing to all of them.

When we were expecting our first child, the one idea that helped us the most was – “expect it to suck.” Go in expecting the first couple of years to be a nightmare. No sleep, no rest, no husband-wife time – the works. Definitely avoid any expectation of the fabled “miraculous” bonding experience.

It inevitably ends up being better than that. :-)

Our day-to-day happiness is a function of reality over expectations. Expecting a better reality means saddling your poor new born kid with the pressure of being a good sleeper, healthy eater, etc.

Just lower your expectations and embrace what life presents.

It works. Beyond parenting too.

Things we’re afraid to do

There’s a learning curve involved with habitually doing things we’re afraid to do.

My reflection from taking such plunges in the past is that their value is often misrepresented. When we hear folks speak about this, we only hear the positives.

We hear folks encouraging us to embrace our fear and step into the unknown. They tell us that it is always worth it to take those uncomfortable steps. Fear is overrated, carpe diem, etc..

Interestingly, such narratives implicitly assume that the reward at the other end always makes the discomfort worth it.

However, that is only true some of the time. Many a time, we learn that we were uncomfortable for good reason. And, sometimes, such failures can be costly.

So, if habitually doing things we’re afraid to do doesn’t always pay off, why should we do it? (or should we?)

My learning is that the reason to take such plunges habitually is because they’re good for our soul. By habitually removing any chance of regret, they change how we see ourselves. We go from passive observers to active changemakers. And, we find ourselves embracing more discomfort and, eventually, more growth.

So, it doesn’t always work out in the short run. But, in the long run, the learning and growth it inspires counts for a lot.

Eyes on cars around us

It occurred to me recently that spending time comparing ourselves to others is a lot like driving with our eyes focused on cars around us.

(Aren’t they better than us? Look how fast they’re moving)

Of course, it turns out to be a horrible way to drive because it is both unsafe and unproductive.

We’re always better off a) being clear about where we want to go and b) staying focused on the road ahead.

It is a better and safer way to drive.

It also turns out to be a smarter way to live.

Pete’s white shoes

There’s a great song/rhyme for kids about Pete the cat and his white shoes.

Pete loved his white shoes and sang “I love my white shoes” as he took a walk.

But, he soon stepped on some strawberries and turned his white shoes red.

The narrator then asks the kids – “Did he cry?” To this, the kids say – “Goodness no. He kept walking along and singing his song. I love my red shoes.”

These shoes then turn blue thanks to stepping on some blueberries. Then, they become muddy and wet.

But, Pete the cat rolls on.

At the end, the narrator shares the moral of the story – “No matter what you step in, keep walking along and singing your song.” Just like Pete did.

I thought it was great product management, career, and life advice. :-)

The problem that appears

We’re always better off starting with the assumption that the problem that appears in front of us is not the problem that needs to be solved.

It is almost always just a symptom. And, treating symptoms does little good.

We need to either swim upstream to understand the root cause or do the work to figure out the question behind the question.

Reacting to the problem at hand instead of responding to it by going upstream is what separates the amateur from the professional.

Excuses to reset

The end of a week.

A periodic haircut.

The 2 minutes before shutting down the laptop at the end of a day.

The last day of a quarter.

A random day off to take a break.

It turns out there are plenty of excuses available to reset.

To recommit to the things that matter.

To begin again.

I just need to become more aware of them and seize them more often.