If you're trying to form a habit, the first -- and most important -- thing to do is to know yourself. What works for you?
Many discussions of habit argue for one particular method -- with the unspoken assumption that everyone forms habits in the same way, everyone wants habits equally, and if a strategy works for one person, it will work for everyone. But that's just not true, as is obvious from everyday life. We have to know ourselves, and suit our habits to our nature.
You might think it would be easy to know yourself, but in fact, it's very difficult. As novelist John Updike observed, “Surprisingly few clues are ever offered us as to what kind of people we are.”
In my habits book, I explore the many strategies that people can use to change their habits. One is the Strategy of Distinctions, in which I outline different categories of people. Often, getting a glimpse of some aspect of yourself that you've never before recognized, or just having a word for it, is surprisingly helpful.
Are you an under-buyer or an over-buyer? I’m an under-buyer.
Are you an abstainer or a moderator? I’m an abstainer, 100%. This was a HUGE revelation for me.
Are you a finisher or an opener? I’m a finisher.
Are you more drawn to simplicity or to abundance? I’m more drawn to simplicity.
Are you a Tigger or an Eeyore? I’m a bit of both, but writing about happiness has definitely brought out my Tigger qualities. (I write a lot about the conflict between these two categories in Happier at Home.)
Are you a marathoner or a sprinter? (categories formerly known as “tortoises and hares,” but I changed the terms). I’m a marathoner.
And here's a new one: Are you a Familiarity-lover or a Novelty-lover?
Some people love familiarity; some love novelty. I’m definitely in the familiarity camp. I love to re-read my favorite books and to watch movies over and over. I eat the same foods, more or less, every day. I like returning to places I’ve visited before. Other people thrive on doing new things.
For familiarity-lovers, a habit becomes easier as it becomes familiar. When I felt intimidated by the library when I started law school, I made myself walk through it a few times each day, until I felt comfortable enough to work there. When I started blogging, my unfamiliarity with the mechanics of posting made me dread to attempt it. But I forced myself to post every day, so that the foreign became familiar, and the difficult became automatic.
Novelty-lovers may embrace habits more readily when they seem less…habit-like. A guy told me, “I feel stale when I go to work every day and see the same faces all the time, so once a week, I work in a different satellite office, to shake thing up.”
How about you? Are you more attracted to familiarity or novelty? How does that preference affect your habits?