I’ve always really thought that habits were important and have spent much of the past few years reading about and working on changing habits.
I’ve even given a few presentations where the central theme was that if you create good learning habits, then you will learn well. The only issue is that despite all of this, I’ve been terrible at actually following through and creating good habits.
Sure, I’ve had some success. For instance, one of the key learning habits that I’ve used over the past 6 months has been reading technical books on the subway to and from work. No fiction, or fun books, just books that help me be a better programmer. The habit is deeply ingrained, as soon as I get on the subway, I reach for my Kindle and start reading a technical book.
Everything changed though, when I committed to making daily reflection a habit. Not only have I been able to make reflection an incredibly strong habit (I instinctually do it before bed each night), but it’s proved to be a keystone habit.
A keystone habit according to Charles Duhigg in “the Power of Habit” (a great book) is the following:
Some habits, say researchers, are more important than others because they have the power to start a chain reaction, shifting other patterns as they move through our lives. Keystone habits influence how we work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything.
In the book, he talks about how this habit is different for everyone, but I think that the act of daily reflection is a keystone habit that by its very nature makes it a good keystone habit for many people. This is because what it does is it carves out a part of your day where you can reflect on what is most important. Once the reflection habit is in place, it will bring your goals to your attention at least once a day, thereby slowly making you more and more aware of your daily actions. This means that when you decide to change other habits, the daily reflection becomes a space in your day where you can contemplate your progress on the habit that you are changing and make adjustments in order to ensure that it works.
But how to go about starting the reflection habit? You can certainly do it wrong, as I have in the past. However, I think applying the “Seinfeld” method was the big breakthrough for me.
Simply create a table somewhere (I use Evernote) with one line for every day. I then make columns for the things that I want to note about my day. I started with just “Learning” and “Shortcuts” (as detailed here), but very soon added other stuff that I wanted to know (inspired by Andrei’s post ). I have quite a few boolean (yes/no) columns for things like “went to Taekwondo”, or “completed day’s most important task”.
With that table, the habit is “complete” if you have filled in at least something for at least 30 days in a row. You don’t have to do every column, but choose at least one column that is required (I did learning). From there it should be effortless and you can start concentrating your efforts in improving any of the columns in your table.