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Habit Design

After 3 weeks of testing a new habit tracking system, it's time to tweak and improve my approach.

I've been reading BJ Fogg's Tiny Habits, and his model is that any behavior is driven by three factors: Motivation, Ability and Trigger.

  • Motivation: Do you actually want to do it or is it a struggle?

  • Ability: How easy is it to do?

  • Trigger: What prompts you to do it?


A few learnings to incorporate:

  • I'm trying to track too many habits; this makes me feel like I'm losing when I look at my habit tracking stats

  • The habits need to be in smaller increments; 15min of yoga needs to come down to 5min

  • I need to define specific triggers in space and time; currently it's just "exercise for 45 minutes a week" floating around, unmoored, at the mercy of the waves of emotional whims

  • Habits can be chained together, whereby one habit is the trigger for the next, forming a rhythm and routine that you can follow on autopilot without burning valuable willpower

  • Morning routine is the beachhead; you have more willpower, a fresh brain and personally, an uninterrupted period of time

My next iteration of Habit Design:

I'm only going to focus on 3 simple habits, and put more design into the triggers:

  • Saying something positive as I get out of bed

  • Drinking 16oz of water from my water bottle 8 times a day

  • Doing yoga for 5 minutes twice per day

I am actually going to continue tracking my other habits loosely because I'm actually doing a pretty good job with all of this and I want to have longitudinal data. But for the next few weeks I'm going to deep dive on the precise dynamics of how I drink water and do yoga.

For the past few weeks, I've done 15m of yoga in the mornings about 70% of days. I've very rarely done a second session of yoga later in the day, maybe 5% of days.

Right now it's less about the performance or results of the behavior, and more about getting good at the underlying skill of habit formation itself.

Designing for Triggers

BJ Fogg says triggers are the low-hanging-fruit. They are the easiest part of the equation to change. Ability is the second-easiest, and Motivation the hardest.

Fogg breaks down 3 classes of triggers (or prompts):

James Clear of Atomic Habits outlines 5 types of triggers (or cues):

  1. Time

  2. Location

  3. Preceding Event

  4. Emotional State

  5. Social - other people

Habit Design, v2.0

I am designing my 3 habits as a single stack or chain, with the very first thing I do each day being the full completion of a very simple habit, so I start the day out winning: saying "today is going to be great" as I pivot my legs over the edge of the bed.

Then, I'm going to peg my yoga practice to drinking water. Drinking water is easy (high ability) and I'm highly motivated to do because I've felt the visceral physical and psychological benefits of being well hydrated, so I'm very bought in.

So most of the design is all based around triggering drinking water, and that is all encapsulated in the water bottle itself as a visual cue, a physical embodiment of the habit routine.

Wakeup Routine

  • Wake up (preceding event) -->

  • say "Today is going to be great" (preceding event) -->

  • drink 16oz from my blue water bottle (preceding event) -->

  • Log this in my habit tracker (preceding event) --->

  • (yoga mat is left on floor in bedroom, location) -->

  • Do 5min yoga (preceding event)-->

  • Do a fist pump (preceding event)-->

  • Log yoga in habit tracker -->

((Then I will do the rest of my morning routine, but I am now considering bonus points.))

Mid-Day Triggers

The "WTF am I doing" Cycle:

  • "I don't know what to do next" or "I just finished something" (emotional state) -->

  • Drink 16oz (preceding event)-->

  • Step onto yoga mat (location) -->

  • Do 5min yoga -->

  • Choose what I'm going to do next

The "oh, there's my water bottle" Cycle:

  • Look at water bottle (location / object) -->

  • Drink 16oz water -->

  • Choose what I'm going to do next

The "It's Five O'clock Somewhere" Cycle:

  • Reminder goes off at 5pm to drink water and do yoga (time) -->

  • Drink 16oz water (preceding event -->

  • Do 5min yoga

The Bedtime Ritual

This one has been the hardest for me because I'm usually tapped out of willpower and more readily fall for dopaminergic quickies, doomscrolling, eating random food, having a beer, etc.

The "It's time to get ready for bed, sweetie" Cycle:

  • Reminder goes off at 8:30pm (time) -->

  • Drink 16oz water (preceding event) -->

  • Do 5m yoga -->

  • Stare into the abyss and contemplate the futility of existence -->

  • This is where I short circuit many days, but will have to leave this for future consideration

That's it! We'll see how this method goes for the next few weeks

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