We have already looked at habit loops: the cue, the routine, the reward and the craving. This article explores how to master the routine.
There are two main points of failure for any habit.
Starting the habit.
Many people start with a desired goal and approach it with all guns blazing. For example, if they wanted to run for 30 minutes a day, they would run for 30 minutes on the first day and try to repeat it over and over. This has a predictable outcome. It doesn’t work. They blame a lack of willpower or a lack of time. It’s neither. It’s a strategy problem.
What’s a better strategy? Start ridiculously small (SRS).
In chemistry, the activation energy is the minimum amount of energy required to activate atoms or molecules into undergoing a chemical reaction. Similarly, each habit has its own activation energy or energy required to start the habit. To get a reaction or habit going, you need to reduce the amount of activation energy required. The greater the amount of energy required to start the habit, the harder it is to start. If you don’t start you don’t have a habit, you have a self funded guilt trip.
Starting ridiculously small requires you to answer the question, “what is the first step I need to take every single time I perform this habit?”.
The answer to this question becomes your Minimum Absolute Must (MAM). The MAM is the absolute minimum you would do if you couldn’t do anything else. A great MAM is always frustratingly small.
Running for 30 minutes a day
Put your running shoes on and stand at the front door
Meditating for 10 minutes a day
Sit on meditation pillow
Gratitude journaling every night
Grab pen, journal and open to the right page
Having a MAM for each of your habits is a superpower for 3 reasons.
It’s easy to do. The activation energy is lowered and so it’s easier to start the habit. This addresses the first point of failure for habits.
It’s easy to do again and again. This allows you to build consistency into the start of the habit. This addresses the second point of failure for habits.
It allows you to keep the habit alive on your “worst day“. This also addresses the insidious nature of the second point of failure. When people get busy, tired, sick or are on holiday, often they let themselves fall out of routine and all their habits fall apart. It takes a lot of time and energy to reintroduce these habits. A MAM for each of your habits is powerful because even if you are exhausted, you can still put your running shoes on. This keeps the habit alive.
Make it a skill
Complete the MAM for 2 weeks in a row. This will ensure a strong foundation where you have built consistency into the start of the habit. Then you can add intensity (i.e. do more) and or frequency (i.e. do more often). Make ridiculously small increments at each step, build consistency into these increments and then make further increments. We are aiming to build a lifelong habit so even if it takes you many months to get to your desired goal, it’s worth it. To paraphrase Bill Gates, “we often overestimate what we can achieve in a few a days and underestimate what we can achieve in a few months or years.”
Feel free to send me through your goals, SRS goals and MAMs to my email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want some feedback.
In the next article I will introduce you to the 3650 rule which uses mathematics to show you why consistency trumps intensity.