Forming Habits

What have you done in the last year, that had a truly big impact on your life? This is the question I asked myself the other day and after thinking about it for a while I wanted to share the answer with a broader audience. For me, it was the habits I acquired since last year. A little over a year ago I started becoming extremely organized. I started adhering to the Gettings Things Done approach to manage myself and used Omni Focus for all my task management (There are some great resources over at learnomnifocus.com, if there is enough interest i might write a separate post about the exact todo managemnt setup I am using). As a side product I also added some simpler daily tasks to my task list. Things like “plan the next day” or “eat breakfast” (since I would often forget). As I continued completing my tasks day after day, I realized it has become quite rewarding to complete these simple tasks.

habits

Fast-forward to a couple weeks later and I decided to try to learn spanish with Duolingo. Dulingo has a notable “streak” feature that allows you to track how long you have been reaching your daily learning goal in a row. In order to complete I added a simple daily task to my task list and went ahead. Since I had made such a habit out of completing all my daily tasks, I always felt the need to actually complete all of them every day. My goal is to complete all Duolingo exercises and reach a year-long 365-day streak. Initially this was hard since learning spanish for 10-15 minutes each day was not an easy task, but it became easier as time went by. The todo list helps me to divide work into smaller chunks and enables my habits. Doing something just for a short time each and every day can have a more profound impact on your behavior and your life. Now I use both Duolingo and another application called Anki and I hope to write another post on my experience of learning a new language with these applications. In Duolingo i just hit a 300-day streak today.

streak

The important thing is to never miss a day of studying. Of course, there will be times where you cannot make it work, but that should be the rare exception. If you have an important exam the next day? You keep learning. If you still have to run tons of errants before tomorrow? You keep learning. If there is something else on your mind that stops you from staying focused? You keep learning. The learning needs to become a habit like brushing your teeth or sleeping. These few minutes every day help tremendously throughout the learning process. Once you have made it a habit to study every day, it doesn’t bother you anymore, it doesn’t effect any other activities and you become more productive overall.

Habits are powerful. BJ Fogg, PhD, Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University, has studied this phenomen for more than 20 years. He has found that there are three different things that can change human behavior:

  • Option A - Have an epiphany
  • Option B - Change your environment (what surrounds you)
  • Option C - Take baby steps

Option C is the one that you can control the easiest. You can create habits in order to take baby steps and change our own behavior to learn something new. I can only urge you to try the same. What are the areas in your life, where you could use a couple of minutes each day to improve yourself?

By Cecil Wöbker


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