Better Than Before

A behavior becomes a habit when it no longer requires a decision from you.

Habits, by definition:

  • Are the invisible architecture of daily life.
  • While it takes self-control to establish good habits, once established, habits themselves eliminate the need for self-control.
  • Require no decision from me, because I’ve already decided, habits free us from decision making.
  • Thus, when we change our habits, we change our lives.

A “habit” is generally defined as a behavior that’s recurrent, is cued by a specific context, often happens without much awareness or conscious intent, and is acquired through frequent repetition.

The freedom from decision making is crucial, because when I have to decide — which often involves resisting temptation or postponing gratification — I tax my self-control.

(Usual) buckets for most people’ habits:

  1. Eat and drink healthier
  2. Exercise
  3. Save, spend and earn wisely
  4. Rest, relax and enjoy
  5. Accomplish more, stop procrastinating
  6. Simplify, clean, clear and organize
  7. Engage more deeply with relationships

If we embrace habits:

  • Life becomes simpler
  • Time speeds up
  • Visible architecture of daily life
  • Create (better) fallback options when everything else fails

📍 The four tendencies framework

We face two kinds of expectations: outer expectations (meet work deadlines, observe traffic regulations) and inner expectations (stop napping, keep a New Year’s resolution).

  • Upholders: respond to both, inner and outer, expectations.
  • Questioners: question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified. They only respond if that makes sense for them.
  • Obligers: respond readily to outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations.
  • Rebels: resist all expectations.

If we’re trying to persuade people to adopt a habit, we have more success if we consider their Tendency.

🖋 Be [YOU]: different solutions for different people.

I don’t like animals, fancy food, travel, movies, games, music, shopping…

The most important thing is to know ourselves, and to choose the strategies that work for us.

The world is divided in:

  • Owls / Larks
  • Marathoners / Sprinters / Procrastinators
  • Under-buyers / Over-buyers
  • Simplicity / Abundance
  • Finisher / Opener
  • Familiarity / Novelty
  • Prevention / Promotion
  • Minor steps / Big steps

🖇 Related to Why We Get Fat:

  • Widely accepted facts about how the body works
  • Observations of large populations
  • Review of the scientific research

Effects of insulin, the hormone that’s the main regulator of blood sugar and the use of storage of fat. High insulin levels cause the body to move glucose into fat cells to be stored, low insulin cause glucose to be burned as fuel. Then, ultimately, what causes insulin level to be high or low are carbs.

📍 Desire, ease and excuses:

  • Abstaining, convenience and inconvenience: shape habits adjusting the amount of effort — abstaining makes things simpler, you don’t have to think or make decisions, since the decision has been already made.
  • Safeguards, loophole-spotting and distracting — they help avoid failure and temptation
  • Reward, treats and pairing — learn to derive pleasure from good habits

Abstainer: it is easier to resist, rather than moderate. “I can’t drink a little”. The only way to resist of a temptation is to yield to it. It is confusing to have “a little”, how much is a little? Is now permitted? Rules are not clear and a binary approach might work better for other people.

Counterintuitively, the less we indulge in something, the less we want it. When we believe a craving will remain unsatisfied, its desire goes away. In other words, cravings are more provoked by possibility rather than by denial.

📍 FFFF: Free From French Fries

Flip the restriction idea on its head by turning it into a positive resolution.

  • Free From potatoes
  • Free From candy
  • …Free From X

Illness of adulthood: flawlessly execute things that you shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

Question your habits: why am I doing this in the first place?

Tomorrow is always a day away

📍 Think of days as quarters: if you get way off track for some reason, don’t think of the day as “lost”. Try to make it back on the next “quarter” and fail small.

📍 The Strategy of Scheduling: habits grow strongest and fastest when they’re repeated in predictable ways, and for most of us, putting an activity on the schedule tends to lock us into doing it.

Scheduling is one of the most effective ways to building better habits.

  • Forces us to confront the natural limits of the day.
  • Makes that time unavailable for anything else. Which is good especially for people who have trouble saying no.
  • Consistency, repetition, no decision — this was the way to develop the ease of a true habit.
  • Restricts the time spent on an activity, it is a powerful weapon against procrastination.

The Strategy of Scheduling helps us make time for the things that are most important to us.

If, then, planning — generate automatic (healthy and predetermined) responses to certain triggers:

  • if I write, then I close email
  • if I’m offered wine, then I say no

A ‘routine’ is a string of habits, and a ‘ritual’ is a habit charged with transcendent meaning.

📍 Loophole spotting:

  • Causal: I eat more because I have exercised before
  • Opposites: I can’t work out because I have too much work, I can’t read because I don’t have time (usually they are not mutually exclusive, but a narrative we place in our mind)

One coin loophole — the coin and the growing heap:

If ten coins are not enough to make a man rich, what if you add one coin, then another… finally you’ll have to say that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him so. So even though a single coin can’t make a man rich, a man only becomes rich adding one coin after another.

The heap grows one coin at a time, but adding one coin has a two sided benefit, first the healthy habit itself, but second it strengths and protects the habit.

The habit of the habit, is more important than the habit itself

📍 Safeguards — Dante’s 9th Circle: using stumbles in ways to protect a habit, don’t see stumbles as signs of weakness, but a consequence of habit formation.

A stumble might prevent a fall

Poetic justice of bad habits, the punishment bewailers to fit the crime. The punishment for a bad habit, is the bad habit.

Do not buy the narrative of “life’s to short not to eat this brownie,” maybe you’re happier by not eating it. Building up the habit of not eating sugar is more rewarding (for you) in the long run than eating this one brownie right now.

Surprisingly, stress doesn’t necessarily make us likely to indulge in bad habits; when we’re anxious or tired, we fall back on our habits, whether bad or good. For this reason, it’s all the more important to try to shape habits mindfully, so that when we fall back on them at times of stress, we’re following activities that make our situation better, not worse.

📍 Habits and identity

Beware of tying habits to who we are of how do you want to be perceived. Do you meditate because you want to, or because you want to be perceived as a meditator? The things we do define and set our identity (for the best and for the worst).

Similarly, if you do something every single time, people will go over it and start respecting your habit, on the contrary, if you place exceptions all the time, the “rest of the world” won’t take you seriously.

The fact is, changing a habit is much more challenging if that new habit means altering or losing an aspect of ourselves.

📍 The book’ takeaway

This is not about breakthrough changes, this is not how habits work at all, not in the slightest. The key is to gradually move to a place that is “Better Than Before”.

First published on April 11, 2018