“Put everything you have into your habits, as if you were saving your own life – which you are.”
— The Habit Guide, by Leo Babauta
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I take notes on everything I read, with my notes organized by book and by year.
My most important notes from each book get added to one single “master” document and I sell these notes in order to raise money for Doctors Without Borders, the international human rights and disaster relief organization.
I also write about self-discipline, fitness, and other topics related to self-development.
If you don’t have time to read 100+ books every year like I do, then I HIGHLY recommend that you check out Blinkist. Thousands of high-quality non-fiction book summaries all in one place; you really can’t go wrong. Check them out.
If you think about something all day every day, then you just have to write about it. That’s how I feel about books and literature, so here are some of my best notes and meditations on the book, “The Habit Guide”, by Leo Babauta. Enjoy!
FROM AMAZON: This book is for anyone who struggles with habits. It includes:The basic mechanics of forming a habit, the one reason we fail to stick to a habit, a dozen+ effective methods for overcoming that obstacle (tested by Leo and many others), solutions to the most common habit problems, and a whole section on forming the most common habits: exercise, eating healthily, meditation, journaling, writing, sleeping well, beating procrastination and more. Also: The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.
HABITS FORM THE BEGINNING
We are what we repeatedly do, says Aristotle. The virtues of productive habits have been extolled for thousands of years and those who know their true power make up a lot of the people who have done things we’ve heard about. They are those who have used their positive habits and strict self-discipline in order to build something worth talking about. That much is clear.
If it’s true that you become what you think about, then it’s equally true that we are what we repeatedly do.
Anything done consistently over time, again and again, and again and again, will form a major part of who you become and since habits are so critical to the formation of our characters, they deserve an incredible amount of attention and conscious thought.
It’s all too easy to slip into dangerous or self-destructive habits which can take us in the complete opposite direction of where we need to go. That much is clear as well. As Socrates (teacher of Plato, who was then teacher of Aristotle) answered when someone asked him how to get to Mount Olympus (i.e. heaven), you simply have to “make sure that every step you take is in that direction.”
It took you years and years to form the current habits that you have now.
Imagine what, and who, you could become if you did what you knew you needed to do, every single day, for a long enough period of time:
What could you do different today?
What could you change in a year?
Who could you become in 10 years?
Take a realistic long term view of your habit changes and you will be able to accurately gauge whether you are making important progress or stagnating. Put everything you have into your habits, as if you were saving your own life, which you are.
And to those who say that habits are too difficult to form? That they don’t matter too much in the grand scheme of things? That they are an unnecessary burden and a limitation on your essential freedom to do what you please?
Well: Your habits can be a form of meditation and even turn into kind of a “break” throughout your day. If you focus intently enough, and REALLY pay attention to what you are doing, habits are not difficult. On the contrary, they are a completely natural outgrowth of what you do in the present moment, repeatedly.
If you string enough of those moments together and track your progress over time, you will give the lie to the damaging idea that habits don’t matter. Two years ago, my arms measured 13″ around. Today, they are close to 16″ around.
Habits matter, and providing yourself with structure lets you balance out your entire life. You need to be disciplined in order to have fun. Discipline will cause so many wonderful things to become possible for you, if only you put in the effort at the outset.
I cannot overstate the importance of this.
THE STRUCTURE OF HABITS
Simply: Decide on a small habit, decide on a ‘trigger’ after which you’ll do the habit, repeat the habit after the trigger for many days and weeks, and ensure that the habit contributes to a positive feedback loop.
Basically, habits consist of a cue, action, and reward.
Say that the habit you wish to form is to sit in meditation for 10 minutes every single day. It’s a small enough habit to be doable, and fairly uncomplicated; you just sit and monitor your own breathing.
We have our habit, and so now we need a “cue”, or a time and place or situation in which we will be reminded of our habit and where it’ll be easiest to perform it. For many, this will be when we first wake up in the morning. So our “cue” is basically the act of waking. When we wake up in the morning, that will be our cue for engaging in meditation.
Personally, I have a list of my daily habits on the desk in my bedroom, and so seeing “Meditation” listed there every morning helps me to remember.
The trigger is waking up and seeing “Meditation” written down on my list of habits. The action, obviously, is to actually sit down and meditate for 10 minutes. Nothing crazy there. And clearly, the benefits of meditation, of which there are dozens and dozens constitute the “reward” of performing the habit, not to mention the fact that meditation is intrinsically pleasurable.
If you repeat this every single day for however many days (the literature is often contradictory with respect to how long it takes to form a particular habit), you will start to make this behavior automatic. This is what we want.
If the habit is a struggle, it’s harder for it to become automatic. So that’s why you want to create what, in The Power of Habit, is called a positive feedback loop in order to make sure that all your habits are serving some higher purpose and that you’re actually getting something out of them.
TACTICS AND STRATEGIES
Leo Babauta is a very clear writer and so my notes were relatively straightforward. Below I give some of the main ideas from the book that I took personally to heart, and you’ll see that they are actionable and manageable. These are things you can do, and mindsets that you can adopt, that will all make habit formation easier. Here we go:
You’re going to change all your habits eventually, so just take them one at a time and keep it really small
Make every habit smaller and faster so you don’t run into resistance
Make the habit appear smaller than you think you can handle
The best emotional motivation comes from the feeling of love
When you miss a day, perform the habit again as soon as possible
Make the habit small and the motivation strong
If we don’t avoid thinking about our resistance, then we can think of ways to overcome it
Don’t rely on your mood to decide whether or not to do a habit
To be able to do something when you don’t feel like it, don’t even let it become a question
Stay with your urges for just a few moments, instead of immediately giving in to them
Consider whether you are actually too tired to do a habit, or if you’re rationalizing and you can in fact at least do a modified version of the habit
Just get started again, without criticizing yourself for stopping
Put some extra focus, reminders, and accountability on times when you’re likely to slip, like on the weekend etc
Look for gradual improvement instead of immediate success
Review at the end of each day whether you stuck to your habit plan, and even on days when you haven’t, this can be part of the learning process
Think about the first moment of the habit only
At the moment of resistance, you should think deeply about your main motivations
Remove distractions and other options as much as you can, so you don’t have anything easier that you could be doing rather than pushing through the resistance
Make your habits exciting to get to
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THE MENTAL SIDE OF HABIT FORMATION
“Life is filled with goodness, filled with small joys, if we just pay attention. In this way, forming habits is a conscious, intentional way of living, and being mindful is the way of seeing the goodness in life.”
— Leo Babauta
Your emotions and thinking patterns are just as much habits as what you physically do during the day. There are habitual ways of thinking and feeling that you have developed throughout the course of your life that need to be systematically evaluated in order to determine whether or not they are still working for you.
Sometimes, what we think is the problem isn’t even at the root of our issue at all. For example, if you’re constantly late, the real habit that you need to form is leaving on time.
It would be easy to focus on the negative result of failing to plan ahead, instead of pinpointing what you really need to do, which is figure out a way to make sure you leave enough space to get to where you’re going on time.
This is one part of mindfulness, but it also helps to start to notice your basic goodness that underlies all your thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Your bad habits don’t make you a bad person, and they don’t serve as some sort of judgement of your final character. Habits can be changed, and even if you’re not yet where you’d like to be, you’re OK in every moment.
YOUR HABITS WILL MAKE YOU WHAT YOU ARE
Remember that Aristotle said that “we are what we repeatedly do”. When we continue to act in beneficial ways, we slowly develop into the kind of person we were always capable of becoming.
The most important moment of any habit is the moment of starting, but you also have to realize that you’ll never be perfectly consistent with a particular habit. Just keep coming back to it over and over again until you make a little bit of further progress each time.
If it’s important, you can make the time for it, and if it’s important to you, you’ll want to keep coming back to your positive habits and make sure that all of them are serving you. You don’t want to get to the end of your life and realize that you never really tried. That you could have been some other version of yourself but you were too lazy and weak to achieve it. That would be devastating.
As I never get tired of repeating, the price of discipline is ALWAYS less than the price of regret.
All the best,
“The Habit Guide”, by Leo Babauta: Complement it with “Being Comfortable is Actually Killing Your Spirit”, “Be Obsessed or Be Average”, by Grant Cardone, “18 Minutes”, by Peter Bregman, “The Power of Habit”, by Charles Duhigg, and The Greatest Books of All Time.
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Matt Karamazov is a human rights activist, nightclub bouncer, and hardcore reader. He writes about books, self-discipline, and human rights at Godlike Discipline, and you can get his free ebook on how to radically improve your own levels of self-discipline. Between workouts, Matt is trying to read 1,000 books before he turns 30, and start a non-profit that allows volunteers to earn money just by tracking the hours they already spend volunteering. He would be straight-up honored if you would support the life-saving work of Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch. Here he is on a horse.