A habit only becomes a habit if you do it every day

When trying to form a new habit, if you don’t do it every day, then it won’t become a habit.

Something you do once a week, or once a month, never becomes a habit. It remains a job. A responsibility. A chore. But not a habit.

The important behaviors are ones that we perform every day.

We wake up groggy and grumpy at 7am. We eat a rushed breakfast. We kiss our spouse goodbye. We head to work and do a business (thanks Bojack). We text our friends, we send emails, we attend meetings. We exercise, we drive home. We eat dinner with our family. We read a book or watch TV. We brush & floss. Eventually we go to bed.

And we do it all over again tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after.

Sure, we take breaks. Sundays for church. Saturdays for naps and hikes. We visit Europe in April. We catch the flu and take two days off.

But these are breaks – small islands – in the vast and surging river of daily routine.

The cornerstones of life are everyday cornerstones. In the same way that a deeply religious person practices her religion every day, sometimes multiple times a day, the deeply successful and fulfilled person should forge habits that he does every day.

If you want to exercise, exercise every day.

If you want to read novels, read every day.

If you want to play the guitar, practice every day.

If you want to stay in touch with distant friends, message them every day.

That’s not to say that weekly or monthly or yearly actions are unimportant. We should attend bikram yoga class on Thursday nights if we’re not tired. We can grab drinks with old friends once a month when we find the time. We manage an annual spring cleaning if we have the willpower.

These actions are all important and valuable and good, IF we can keep them.

But that’s a big IF.

That IF is why there exists a gap between who we want to be and who we are. The Greeks called it akrasia.

But once you do something every day, the IF becomes easier to defeat. The focus shifts from IF to WHEN.

Let’s take a simple habit like eating more fruit.

If the goal is to eat tidy your room once a week, then every day, you’ll wonder IF you should clean that day.

But if the goal is to tidy your room every day, then instead of wondering IF you’ll clean your room, you’re now figuring out WHEN.

With enough repetition and time and patience, the IF will disappear. The WHEN will become consistent and fixed, and the habit becomes expected, even automatic.

Habit driven people don’t rely on IF. They understand they have no more willpower than the next person. They know they’re just as weak, just as busy, just as lazy.

They know that if they don’t do something once a day, they probably won’t do it once a week either.

Daily habits don’t need to be long and overwrought and serious. You can tidy your room for 5 minutes, the length of your favorite song. You can exercise by doing 10 jumping jacks in the morning. You can relax and connect by taking a walk around the block with your wife after dinner. You can pray or meditate before you slip into bed.

Daily habits are faster to form. They build deep, strong, solid roots into our lives. When thinking about what habits to forge, ask yourself first: Can you do it every day?

Because true habits are daily habits. Or they’re not habits at all.

PS. I’m writing on the habit driven life. Thanks for reading!

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

A Personal Bible: how to collect and review life’s most valuable lessons

I read a lot, but I forget even more. Frustrated with the forgetting, I began to save my favorite readings into Evernote: Blog posts. Book excerpts. Forum threads. Poems. But once inside Evernote, all this wisdom was lost in the crowd, rarely to be discovered again. I didn’t have a reliable way to remind myself of what to review and when. Didn’t allow for serendipity or habit.

So I created a Personal Bible.

It’s a Microsoft Word document of my favorite text from over the years. Passages and sentences and excerpts that I want to read and re-read and absorb and marinate in. Whenever I have an aha! moment with text, I add it to my collection. From David Brooks columns to Malcolm Gladwell passages, from bucket lists to the Beatitudes, from writing advice to religious anecdotes. I try to read from it every day. Sometimes just a few sentences.

If we use the computer as an analogy, this document helps me keep life’s important lessons loaded onto my mind’s RAM. Lying just beneath conscious thought, available for quick and ready access.

Here’s the latest version you can download. Feel free to read it, edit it, use it as a template for your own.

I load the Word doc onto my Kindle and update it monthly. You may find some gems that you like. Better yet, I hope you’re inspired to create your own. If you do, please share it with me. I’d love to see what you curate for yourself.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

Good Habits Checklist: June 20 – July 3

Good Habits Checklist

Two good weeks. Were it not for a 14-hour Monday flight to Taipei, I would have reached my target of 80% for both weeks. I don’t expect this kind of performance to continue. There’s usually a boost that comes from travel, from being in a new city. Like the start of a new relationship: extra energy, extra promise. But the grit and grind of reality hits us all.

Singing is my least consistent habit. When I take weekly voice lessons, I can sustain 30 minutes of daily practice. But without that accountability, I soon stop. So, the fix is simple: resume lessons!

Thanks for following along. What are your habits? How do you grade yourself? Email me anytime.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

Daily Habits Checklist: March 7-13

daily habits checklist, march 7-13

  • This was my best week yet (don’t worry, I don’t sustain this pace. March 14-20 is much worse)
  • I’m reminded again of the need to spend at least one hour on an activity if you want to improve your performance and create a habit
  • The daily checklist has improved my performance. Probably common sense…it ups the stakes, it becomes a public commitment, and a continual reminder. Yes, maintaining the checklist takes time and effort and can feel a hassle, but so far has been worth the investment
  • Each of my habits has one reliable trigger. When I fail to setup the trigger, the habit usually fails. For example, my singing trigger is to take a singing lesson. Seems obvious but is quite effective. When I take a lesson that week, I practice a lot more (before and after the lesson). With writing, my trigger is a quiet morning. I also must start to write before working on anything else, like emails. If I create that calm morning environment and begin writing, I can almost always write for an hour. For challenging habits, I need to identify these triggers. For example, how do I reliably wake before 8am??Struggling with that one!

Why do I track all this stuff? Click here. And here’s my performance last week.

Thanks for reading! What are your habits? How do you track them? I’d love to hear from you.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

10 habits I plan to try for 30 days to see if they work and stick

All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits – William James

In addition to an active list of daily habits, I also have some habits I’m trying and a wishlist of habits I’d like to try in the future. For example, some of the experimental habits I’m trying that aren’t shared on the daily checklist:

  • a set of pushups, usually when I awake, that equal my age (I like this one because it will get harder – on its own – with time)
  • writing tomorrow’s goals in the evening (this seems to improve productivity the next day. not a sea change, but still noticeable: a faster start, and less time wasted on switching tasks and questioning priorities)
  • neck lifts (I can suffer neck and back pain that is debilitating when it occurs, and the exercises help me to stay vigilant)

These trial habits are attempted for one month. If they’re valuable and don’t disrupt other habits, I’ll probably add them to the main checklist. The idea of 30 day trials is borrowed from Steve Pavlina. One month – 30 days – seems to work. It’s enough time to build momentum in a habit and increase your comfort and skill at the task. It’s also not so long that it scares or exhausts you. And if it doesn’t stick or doesn’t work or simply isn’t fun, you can remove it.

And here are 10 of the wishlist habits that I’d like to attempt in the future. They are all daily habits (not including weekends, which are used for rest and recovery and inspiration):

  1. expense tracking and budgeting
  2. stretch one hour of singing to two hours
  3. stretch one hour of writing to two hours
  4. a long walk (motivated by Daily Rituals)
  5. a yoga routine or class (which is also good for singing)
  6. publish a blog post
  7. talk to my Mom
  8. stretch meditation to 20 minutes
  9. positive visualization, ideally to build a routine (motivated by Michael Phelps)
  10. see a friend every day (I see my girlfriend almost every day and I do consider that a habit but it’s not necessarily a challenge…yet :)

For now, the ordering and prioritizing – of what’s added to the wishlist, of what’s tried for 30 days – is just done by gut feel and intuition. Eventually, it’d be nice to have a clearer strategy. Maybe that won’t be necessary…

Thanks for reading! Love to hear if you have a habit-driven life, what habits you’re trying, which ones you’d like to eliminate.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.