Signing up for good habits

It’s that time of the year when we make commitments to sign up for good habits. So, we commit to eat healthier, exercise more, read more. And, we do these things to get smarter, fitter and better.

It is important to think of these outcomes when we sign up and plan to do these things. Research on motivation has shown that extrinsic rewards matter when we plan to do things. So, when we’re about to sign up for a job, we think we care about the pay package and the prestige of the job.

However, extrinsic motivators are an illusion. Once we’re in the job, all that matters are the intrinsic motivators – who we work with and what we do. The job isn’t just a route to getting the paycheck. It is what we do – 12 hours a day. And, we better make it good.

Similarly, it is fine to begin signing up for good habits with the smarter, fitter and better outcomes. But, the outcomes are just a side show. For, once we get started, it matters that we re-focus on the process of doing these. And, what we always find is that, virtues aside, eating healthier, exercising and reading more add a tremendous amount of energy and happiness to our day.

It turns out that that good habits are worth doing simply because they’re good.

Training wheel systems

I started blogging here because I felt I was reacting very badly to failure. I wanted to build my confidence brick by brick and thought I’d do so by disciplining myself to write a learning every day.

That was easier said than done, of course. I simply lacked the discipline to do it consistently. Here’s how the process really unfolded –

Phase 1 – The struggle. In the first few months, the biggest challenge was just remembering to write a learning. Some days, all I would manage would be a quote.

Phase 2 – Training wheels. A year or so later, I came upon an idea – why not post a quote every day at the minimum and add something else if I could? So, I started posting a quote every morning on weekdays and also sent the “Good Morning Quote” to  a few friends, family and subscribers. Then, on Sundays, I began posting a “book learning” – simply a learning from a book I was reading. These structures were my blogger training wheels.

Phase 3 – Ready to bike. 3 years in, I moved the quotes out of the blog as I knew I was finally disciplined enough to write a long form post every day. Over time, I consolidated all the additional ideas (quotes, book learnings) to the 200 words project. The 200 words project is no longer a training wheel. I am well into biking solo now.

Call it training wheels, systems, process, or structure – it doesn’t really matter. The principle is, as we think of new year resolutions, we’re best served if we take the time to structure habits and systems that will help us get there.