The Knight of Coins is a workhorse. He’s not afraid to do what he needs to do to make something happen.
My friend Paul Nottoli is an entrepreneur, chiropractic, and nutrition expert who helps normal folks live healthier lives. A couple weeks ago, he invited me on his podcast, Health Geeks Radio to share my journey through the intersecting worlds of health and creativity. And while we didn’t have any particular agenda for the conversation, we did stumble onto an interesting theme—the power of habits—as well as a formula I’ve been using unintentionally to build better habits over the last couple years.
<< Listen to the episode >>
Here’s the formula:
Habits = Experimentation + Layering
I’ll break it down:
Habits are not goals (although they’re often confused for one another).
A goal is something you achieve and complete; the best ones are finite and measurable (e.g. publishing a book, performing a five minute comedy set), but others can be vague (e.g. getting in shape, traveling more). A habit, on the other hand, is ongoing. It has no finite end date or objective. It can be done in service of a goal (e.g. writing 1000 words every day, performing at an open mic every Sunday, working out three times a week), but it can also be done for its own sake.
Goals are easy to make—you just say, “I want to do X” and congrats, you’ve created a goal (completing it is another story). Habits are harder to make. They require huge investments of willpower—you actually have to do the work several times to create the habit. And it can be overwhelming to start something new that has an expiration date of “never.”
That’s where experiments come in handy.
Rarely, if ever, do I commit to doing something for the rest of my life. That’s a setup for failure, which I learned the hard way when I tried to start a podcast in 2015. The amount of work required to create the show was too great. So I got overwhelmed and quit without finishing a single episode.
What could I have done differently? Rather than try to create a podcasting habit from scratch, I should have started with a small experiment.
Like a goal (and unlike a habit), an experiment is finite and achievable—something like “produce three podcasts.” It’s certainly possible I would have quit before finishing a single episode, but it’s more likely I would have just hunkered down and finished my experiment. Three podcasts isn’t that much work. And at the end of that process, even if I decided not to move forward with the project, I could have reframed the experience as a success (I completed the experiment and produced three episodes) rather than a failure (I didn’t produce anything).
Thankfully, I learned my lesson and was able to use an experiment for my next habit—becoming a vegetarian. Rather than vowing to “never eat meat again” (which surely would have been a disastrous failure), my fiance and I decided to just try 30 meatless days. That was easy, and we felt better, so after that month ended, we just kept doing it. We’d unintentionally created a lasting habit.
Once you complete an experiment and turn it into an ongoing habit, you may decide that you want to make the habit bigger. Had my fiance and I wanted to go full vegan, our “no meat” habit meant we’d have a solid foundation on which to build. On the second month of vegetarianism, we could have continued to not eat meat and added a new experiment of “no dairy for 30 days.” Then after that month, we’d continue those two habits while adding a new experiment of, say, “no eggs for 30 days.”
Over time, all of our experiments would layer together to create a vegan habit whereas, had we pledged to become vegans in a day, we surely would have failed.
Your brain does not like change. That’s why people are always failing at resolutions. They decide to “get healthy” in one day—they start working out, stop eating sweets, and throw out their cigarettes. Two days later, they’re binging ice cream, smoking a pack a day, and watching Netflix. Why? Because they tried to do too much at once. They shocked their system, so their system fought back. And won.
Instead of trying to create a huge habit all at once, try out the formula. Start with an experiment, and if that’s successful, layer in another experiment. And another. And soon, you’ll have created a complex habit that’s harder to quit than it is to keep.
If you want to hear more about habits, health, and my creative journey, do listen to the whole Health Geeks Radio episode (~30 minutes).
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