I have never enjoyed habits. Even though I picture myself to be methodical in most aspects of life, habits and rituals have never appealed to me. On the flip-side, self-introspection and self-improvement do.

Alarm clock

My self-improvement strategy have never been systemised in the sense that I have a process for how to get from A to B. If for instance I would convince myself that running is something I’d like to see myself doing 4 times a week, I’d commit to that on the spot and simply follow through.

Questioning past wisdom

Lately however, this pragmatic approach has started to crumble as I instead of just doing what I set out to do, instead find myself postponing and procrastinating around seemingly straightforward tasks. The main reason I can come up with, as to why this is happening now – is the fact that I started my own business about a year ago.

Waking up and going to work suddenly appears on the list of habits that I have taken more or less for granted all these years. Not the actual “having a job” part, but the mental process of actively being sought after and needed within a bounded context.

So, I am in the process of establishing a new habit of “having a job”, as self-employed.

As a result it dawned on me that self-improvement could be greatly accelerated in the form of habits. Although it seems obvious thinking about it, I have never thought of habits as a tool to accomplish change, merely as a result.

This also ties nicely into a quote/motto that I have started toying around with, that although somewhat cheesy sets me up for actual change.

“Progress, Not Perfection” — unknown

Most literature on habit change presents the process as a steep ladder of personality transformation. In one way or another, over a significant period of time, you have to turn yourself into the person whom better habits come as second nature.

I have always had that naturally, but out of nowhere it seems to have vanished, or at left on a much needed vacation.

Habit stacking

I got introduced to the concept of Habit Stacking, presented in the book Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less by S.J Scott that appealed to my otherwise skeptical attitude towards habits.

The basic idea is to pick something you can easily motivate yourself to do – brew your morning coffee – then link it to some habit you want to acquire, e.g. meditate for one minute. Then make a list of other habits that you like to acquire and stack them on top of existing habits you already have.

Scott suggests to keep your habits to no more than five minutes each and an entire “stack” to no more than 30 minutes.

What this does is to introduce your brain to a new activity, even though it may only be for a few minutes. The activity may grow over time as you feel you want to expand and improve even further. The whole point is to actually get started, not necessarily to become a master.

Another good reason for latching habits on to other habits is the fact that, even though we see no obstacles with acting the way we would like, actually remembering what to do might be a problem.

This is one reason that e.g. pilots and surgeons are increasingly encouraged to follow checklists. It has been shown that following surgical checklists can cut surgery death by 40%.

Progress and easy wins

One thing I have had on my list that I previously never quite managed to fulfil, was to go running every day. Nothing there mentioned on how far and under what conditions. Just get outside and run, every day.

Physical wellbeing has always been a top priority with me. However this habit has never latched on completely. Sure, I exercise 4-6 times (not only running) any given week – but what I want is to have running as a part of my daily routine, not only when I feel that I can spare the time.

I have started to experiment with establishing this routine by means of a tiny habit that consists of getting my running gear on and go outside. That’s it. Nothing in the habit of actually running. However, as you can imagine this simple habit has thus far always resulted in at the very least a short run.

It has only been a couple of weeks but so far I am truly impressed with the power of tiny incremental habits and easy wins to nudge myself in the right direction.

Over to you

How does your morning routine look like right now? How would your optimal morning routine look like if you were allowed to choose? Think of one simple change to that routine that you can implement tomorrow, what would that be?

Let me know how your habits dictate how you go about your day! @simonnordberg

UPDATE: After publishing the post I found a TEDx (Freemont) session called Forget big change, start with a tiny habit by BJ Fogg that resonated well with me. Go and check it out.