As I may have mentioned, I’m working on Better Than Before, a book about how we can change our habits. It’s at the copy-editing stage now, so it’s really nearing completion—both thrilling and slightly terrifying.
In each chapter, I identify a strategy we can use to make and break habits.
I was thinking of Lytton Strachey’s observation, “Perhaps the best test of a man’s intelligence is his capacity for making a summary.” So I decided to try to summarize each chapter of Better Than Before in a single sentence. The entire gist of the book, in 21 sentences.
You may think, “Twenty-one strategies! That’s overwhelming.” It may seem like a lot, but it’s actually helpful, because you can choose the ones that work for you. For instance, if you’re a Rebel, you’re not likely to use the Strategy of Scheduling, but the Strategy of Identity would work well. Or if you’re an Obliger, the Strategy of Clarity will be much less important than Accountability.
Many experts suggest one-size-fits-all solutions for habit change—and boy, it would be great if there were one magical answer that helped everyone. But we’re all different, so different strategies work for different people.
In fact, that’s why the first two Strategies relate to Self-Knowledge…
The Four Tendencies: To change your habits, you have to know yourself, and in particular, your Tendency. (Are you an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel?)
Distinctions: Knowing yourself is so important that it’s not enough to know your Tendency, you must also recognize your Distinctions. (For instance, are you a Marathoner or Sprinter? Under-buyer or over-buyer? Finisher or Opener? Novelty-lover or Familiarity-lover?)
Pillars of Habits
Monitoring: You manage what you monitor, so find a way to monitor whatever matters.
Foundation: First things first, so begin by making sure to get enough sleep, eat and drink right, move, and un-clutter.
Scheduling: If it’s on the calendar, it happens.
Accountability: You do better when you know someone’s watching–even if you’re the one doing the watching.
The Best Time to Begin
First Steps: It’s enough to begin; if you’re ready, begin now.
Clean Slate: Temporary becomes permanent, so start the way you want to continue.
Lightning Bolt: A single idea can change the habits of a lifetime, overnight. (Enormously powerful, but hard to invoke on command.)
Desire, Ease, and Excuses
Abstaining: For some of us, moderation is too tough; it’s easier to give up something altogether. (Works very well for some people, and not at all for others.)
Convenience: Make it easy to do right and hard to go wrong.
Inconvenience: Change your surroundings, not yourself.
Safeguards: Plan to fail.
Loophole-Spotting: Don’t kid yourself. (The funniest strategy. I love collecting loopholes.)
Distraction: Wait fifteen minutes.
Reward: The reward for a good habit is the good habit, and that’s the reward to give yourself. (The most misunderstood strategy.)
Treats: It’s easier to ask more of yourself when you’re giving more to yourself. (The most fun strategy.)
Pairing: Only do X when you’re doing Y. (Simple but surprisingly effective.)
Unique, Just like Everyone Else
Clarity: The clearer you are about what you want, the more likely you are to stick to your habits.
Identity: Your habits reflect your identity, so if you struggle to change a particular habit, re-think your identity.
Other People: Your habits rub off on other people, and their habits rub off on you.
Habit-formation is an endlessly fascinating subject. Have I forgotten any strategies? Which ones appeal most to you? I’m an Upholder, so I like just about all the Strategies.