How I Found My Way Back

“But a man soon discovers that everything depends upon his being useful, not in his own opinion, but in the opinion of others; and so he tries his best to make that favorable impression upon the world, to which he attaches such a high value.”

Arthur Schopenhauer (The Wisdom of Life)

Writing about this idea was taken from Cheryl Strayed’s List of Writing Prompts that I found while reading Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans, which is on my Must Read Book List. I love the open endedness of this prompt because it allows me to take this wherever I want. This post is going to be more personal than my other posts, but I think the lessons are solid and should be shared.

So if I’m going to write about how I found my way back, then I need to write about where I was and how I got lost in the first place.

A few days ago, I was cleaning out some old drawers in my childhood room that haven’t been opened for years. I found a little certificate that said “Congratulations on reading 143 books in one year!”

I was immediately thrown back to my childhood. Images of little Chris just reading like mad. I remember my mom bringing me to the library every week with a laundry basket that we would fill up with books. I loved reading so much, but somewhere between kindergarten and senior year, I lost it. I actually hated it. I hated it so much that I would do anything to avoid reading. I carried this with me to college and I even majored in engineering just so I could read the minimum number of books to get a degree. (That wasn’t the only reason, but it was a big one).

Flashforward to today. I love reading again. I read every day and it’s always the highlight of my day. Part of my personality is creating my own version of whatever I’m consuming and now I read so much that I want to write a book of my own one day. Actually multiple books! Now, I have a blog and I’m taking steps every single day to make my books a reality.

The best part, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, is that I feel connected to who I authentically am and an inner peace that could not be found anywhere else. The ability to exercise my highest faculties and dedicate my will and time to projects that reflect the parts of me that I make me proud is, for lack of a better term, God’s work.

This doesn’t just stop with writing. This also goes for making music! I used to make music every single day. Every chance I had to strum my guitar I would take. I completely identified with it, but somewhere in college I lost that too. I felt like making music was taking me away from the things I “should” be doing and that the talents and passion for music was a distraction and a burden to wrestle with. I felt guilty making music and wrong for wanting to make it a huge part of my life. But today, I am back. I make more music than ever and it sounds way better too! Now, I put most of my stuff on my YouTube channel!

I lost myself. I lost who I was. I rejected who I wanted to be.

I took a step back. I found him again. I love this person and can see what he has to bring to the table.

I had to take a step back for about a year to sift through and separate the wheat from the chaff. I had to accept that there are ways of being and knowledge I couldn’t ignore.

I lost my way because I was tired of doing “what was right” and I wanted to do “whatever I wanted.” My dumbass at the time couldn’t even clearly articulate what it was that I wanted.

I ignored the knowledge of good and evil. I completely subscribed to nihilism and hedonism. (While they are formidable philosophies, they are not comprehensive enough to lead a healthy life). I had my head so far up my ass I couldn’t recognize sunlight.

But then, I saw how it affected the people who looked up to me. I saw my students started thinking along the same lines as me. I saw the ones who look up to me copy what I said and did and how much damage they would create with those ways of thinking. It was disheartening, but it didn’t really get to me until I saw it in my sister. I saw how much she was copying what I did and how I think, and it scared the living daylights out of me. All the damage she created for herself (while less than the damage I caused) casted a bright light on the weight of my actions. I saw an iota of the impact that we have and how we truly cannot image the actual effects of our actions. I saw that everything I did mattered because they affect everyone else around me. My sins were not kept in a vacuum, but were observed, studied, and duplicated by others around me.

The heartbreak when I see my loved ones destroy the beauty of life shows me how it really does start with myself. As Schopenhauer said, people either act through traditions, customs, or imitation. If I don’t pay attention to my own actions and walk a path that I could be proud of, then the people who look up to me that I care will not either. The path I walk will be the path of others, but more importantly, I will be the path of others that I care for.

People don’t pay enough attention to how they act because we think that our actions only affect ourselves, but there’s a huge domino effect at play. I found my way back because I saw that we are all connected and took responsibility for it. Everything all of us does all the time matters because we affect other people.

When I think of the word “successful,” who’s the first person who comes to mind and why? (2020)

“On hearing of the interesting events which have happened in the course of a man’s experience, many people will wish that similar things had happened in their lives too, completely forgetting that they should be envious rather of the mental aptitude which lent those events the significance they possess when he describes them; to a man of genius they were interesting adventures”

Arthur Schopenhauer (The Wisdom of Life)

This question was originally pulled from Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans and I thought it would be fun to answer it for myself. However, instead of just naming one person and analyzing that answer I wrote a list down. Partially because Tim Ferriss was the first name that came up, and I’m pretty sure it priming has something to do with that. Partially because I like reflecting on people that I admire.

When I think of the word successful when it comes to people many different kinds of people come to mind. Honestly, I could go on all day writing people’s names down. I originally was just doing to write 1, then I said I’ll just do 5, but I’ve managed to stop myself at 15.

Successful to me at least

They are all kind of random, but I think the aspects that I admire of each of these people’s lives are an indication of what success looks like for me.

From what I can tell, I believe each of these people are successful because of a few reasons:

They’re known as people who have made a positive influence in the world.

That positive influence was brought out in a way that can out live them and will exist long after they die.

They’re all financially well off.

They all took the attention people gave them and created something incredible out of it.

They all have a certain kind of freedom that I don’t quite have the words to explain. (It’s now my job to figure that out.)

They all have embraced the miracle that life is and live in a way that does it justice.

I could go A LOT deeper with these ideas and perhaps someday I ought to, but I’ll leave that here for now. I didn’t have as much time to write this week, and I spent most of my allocated writing time to research for a behemoth of a blog post I’m working on.

In the future, I think it would be fun to make a list of people who are considered conventionally successful, but for one reason or another I personally don’t consider them successful. Comparing what this second group has in common will give me a clearer picture of what unsuccessful will look like for me.

Defining success for ourselves is crucial for our mental health. The higher the level of articulation, the less we find ourselves needlessly suffering on a hedonic treadmill or chasing phantom pleasures. We can level up our articulation through analyzing our personalities and inclinations as well. Discovering what we are and what we like helps us recognize success if we are fortunate enough to meet her.

Recall the Kindness of Strangers

“Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.”

― Buddha Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni

This idea was taken from Cheryl Strayed’s List of Writing Prompts. I found her list way before I started my blog, but I saved them for later for reasons that I do not have the vocabulary to express. I guess my best attempt would be to say that I followed my inclinations, God told me to, or the transcendence revealed itself to me in keeping the list. Part of me knew I was going to want to reference it later, and here we are.

I love the idea of prompts. I used to hate them, but over the past year I’ve learned the tremendous value in meditating on one idea for a while and writing it down.

I used to think this prompt was extra difficult because at the time when I found Cheryl Strayed’s prompt list, I could not think of scenario in which I can recall The Kindness of Strangers. Perhaps I was too cynical, but after reflecting upon the idea now, I have no trouble recalling an instance in which strangers were kind. Ha.

When I first found the prompt, I was wrestling with the idea that people could be kind, but that kindness was expensive in both energy and attention. So if people didn’t have to be kind, then they won’t. I foolishly concluded that kindness was a difficult and high achievement only to be obtained through righteous action and intense dedication. This was a issue because I believed that most people won’t voluntarily push themselves in this way and thus are not capable of kindness. This kind of thinking not only made it difficult to answer the prompt, but hung a slightly dark filter over my life.

So as a fun challenge to myself (and as a way to repent for my sins, so to speak), I’m going to recall a moment in which the kindness of strangers was obvious, but it will have to be during the time when I thought people were incapable of genuine kindness.

Before COVID-19 I was an event bag EMT, meaning I was the medical personnel on scene for various public or private events. I operated from my BLS (Basic Life Support) bag and would help patients in whatever limited way I could.

One day, I was an EMT for a motocross racing competition. It was one of my first events and I was nervous so I constantly ran through potential injuries and how to treat them in my head. The racetrack wasn’t that organized, so I had trouble finding the lady I needed to report to. After about 30 minutes of aimlessly wandering around, I encountered a lady who was frantically running around moving from one unfinished task to the next. I forgot her name, but for the sake of the story we’ll call her Peggy. She ended up being “in charge” of coordinating the competition.

I could tell she didn’t feel like he had an iota of control over anything. People who move quick and frantically do so because they typically feel out of control and beholden to everything and everybody around them. It’s subconscious and not something I would typically fault anyone for, but I like to keep that in mind when I’m helping patients in an emergency situation. I keep calm and try to make my movements as intentional and slow as possible without compromising the situation. It helps the patient feel like I have the situation under control, even if I don’t. Anyways, I digress.

She saw my uniform and instantly dropped what she was doing, ran up to me and asked “Are you my EMT?” I say yes and she gives me the biggest hug ever and quickly introduces me to everyone involved with the race competition for the day. Everyone was extremely nice to me. One lady offered me drinks and another gentleman offered to carry my bag and brought me a chair. Another lady even thanked me for my service; I said thank you, but I really I wanted to say that people should save those for the ones who actually put themselves in danger. It’s easier to just accept the gratitude in situations like these.

Talk about an overload of kindness. These people didn’t have to do any of that. But those aren’t the acts of kindness that make me remember this particular memory.

During the briefing, Peggy tells me that the day should be pretty easy, unless I see her running and screaming for an EMT. I was hoping it would be a smooth day and I could get paid just watching the races with my VIP treatment. Then, she asked me if I’ve ever driven a stick shift ATV. I kind of knew how to drive one, my friend and I drove a stick shift ATV one weekend in high school and I did alright. I let her know my experience and she seemed excited. I guess most EMTs who came through there didn’t know how to drive one, which makes a lot of sense. Peggy said that the EMTs get their own ATV so we can ride out to downed racers on the course.

For the first few hours the day was relaxed as I could wish for, I have never been to a racetrack like this so I had a good time watching the races and recording the racers start their vehicles. There was a point when I honestly forgot I was the EMT on duty, but then I see her.

Peggy running full speed towards me, screaming “I NEED AN EMT!” My little fantasy shatters and I suddenly remember, “I’m at work. Someone needs help.” I instantly start recalling potential injuries and treatments, grab my bag, and hoped on the ATV. Turning the key took a couple tries, but I got the ATV started and drove it over to the cash site. Not gonna lie, I felt like a real badass riding the ATV with my BLS bag going to help someone.

The patient ended up being a man in his mid-fifties who broke his collarbone. I handled that situation and after I send him to the hospital, I had to go back to the racetrack to bring my ATV back to the starting line where I was originally posted.

I hopped the fence of the racetrack, got back on the ATV, but this time I couldn’t get it to start.

I kept turning the key in the ignition and after a few tries, it broke in the ignition!

This ATV was not going anywhere. It was in the middle of racetrack and I had to get it out of the way for the next race. I really didn’t want to be the reason why we fall behind schedule. So I got behind the ATV and started pushing. This thing was heavy and I had to push it up a few hills to get it back to the starting line. I got it up the first one, but the second one was another story.

I’m halfway up the second hill and my arms give in, the ATV starts sliding back down, and I’m facing the reality that I’m going to have to work even harder to make this happen. At this point, I’m extremely embarrassed. I’m in the center of the arena and everyone is watching me having a really tough time. I remember wishing I could just be relieved of this problem.

Suddenly, some guy jumps the fence and rushes to help me push the ATV up. Both of us together get it over the hill and back to the starting line. As we were pushing, we exchange glances and I could tell he saw the appreciation in my eyes. I would not have been able to do that without him, and he knew that.

That man was kind. He saw me struggle, and he would not let me needlessly struggle alone. He lent a hand not to demonstrate power or moral superiority, he lend it because he was kind and reflecting back on that reminds me that strangers can be kind if we let them. Perhaps strangers have to capacity to act as the saving hand of God if they are called. People may not typically voluntarily push themselves to reach demanding and difficult standards, but sometimes they do, and when they do we ought to pause and reflect at the awe of the miracle this person chose to create.

The terrible part of all of this is that it didn’t take place long before I found the prompt list. This guy saved my ass and chose to create a miracle right before my eyes, but I could not see it because of my bias and unfounded belief that people didn’t have it in them to be kind.

The world I know is bigger than the world I can see. Intellectually, I know the world is more than what I can perceive, but it is truly breathtaking to see it actualized in my life.

What purchase of $100 of less has most positively impacted my life in the last year? (2020)

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”

Pierre-Marc-Gaston (1764 – 1830)

This question was originally pulled from Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans in the Rapid-Fire Questions section. I thought it would be fun to answer it for myself, plus it’s an opportunity for me to take a break from writing research heavy content. I’ve noticed I’ve been feeling a little burnt, so I’m going to take the foot off the gas and change gears, at least just for this week.

When I first pondered this question I was thinking of just putting one item, but I couldn’t pick just one item and say this provided move value than anything else I bought (less than a $100). So I’m going to answer this question with a few different things simply because they gave me value in different and incomparable ways. This list isn’t going to include books, otherwise I’d never get this post finished!

The first purchase I’m going to name is going to have to be my Yoga Mat. I started doing yoga consistently at the beginning of 2019 and I’m so glad I did. I’m more flexible and I feel like I have more physical control over my body in a way I didn’t realize I could. It has been a way for me to practice holding my body in between chaos and order – to practice cultivating myself as an individual.

Someone once told me “You should never let my body figure out it’s dying” referring to working out consistently to slow the aging process. Stretching and practicing yoga has given me a whole new relationship to my body. I used to just feel generally okay/kinda shitty all the time, but now that my body knows what it’s like to not be tight, I actually notice when my body isn’t feeling right. One of my favorite things to do at the end of a long day is some yoga to stretch out all the stress and tension of the day. Most days I can’t believe how good it feels. Sometimes I think about people who haven’t stretched their muscles for decades and how stiff and rigid they must feel – their bodies definitely know they’re dying. Anyways, the yoga mat has been an invaluable purchase. I invested in a pretty pricey one so I had incentive to take it seriously at the beginning and it worked!

The next thing on the list would have to be my Kettlebell. I bought a 25-lbs one sometime last year to start doing some kettlebell swings because I read they are some of the most efficient and effective workouts. I have found this to be true! I love my kettlebell, it’s inexpensive and incredibly versatile. I can get a great cardio workout in if I do high reps, but I can also do slow and controlled swings for a more strength focused work out. I also use it to make my crunches more interesting as well as a free weight to target other muscle groups. I definitely want to get more once COVID-19 blows over.

The next purchase isn’t a physical product, but a digital one. Notability has been my personal #1 app purchase in the last year. It is a note-taking app made for tablets and it is phenomenal! I use it for organizing all of my tutoring sessions as well as a portable whiteboard and a sketch pad. I never buy paper anymore and I never lose any of my student’s work. It also makes online tutoring seamless! If you are someone who needs notebooks all the time, invest in a good tablet with a high quality stylus and get notability. I can go on for a while about it, but purchasing Notability has opened the floodgates (so to speak) to spending money on other digital products.

My Splice Subscription is going to be my next extremely valuable purchase. Splice is a website that has thousands and thousands of high-quality royalty-free sounds that are excellent for music production. For many years I was producing songs with whatever free sounds I could find online or from other producers I’d meet, but that limited me in ways that I couldn’t imagine. I had the toughest time trying to mix songs perfectly. I spent so many hours trying to become a better music producer by learning technique after technique, but I never could get them to sound professional. Finally last year, I found out why I could never get that professional sound. It was all because

garbage in, garbage out.

The sounds I was trying to work with could only sound so good, I needed to get better music quality at the source. Investing in splice gave me tons of high quality samples and just in a few short weeks, I was making mixes that sounded better than anything I could have made before. I was being cheap, but honestly for less than 10 bucks a month, I have been able to make my best music yet. Can’t put a price on that.

Honestly, I can go on forever, but I’ll cut it short here. Those 4 purchases we’re probably some of the best I made in the last year. They all give me something different and if I didn’t make any of these purchases, then my life would be in a very different place. The biggest changes in our lives don’t need to come from high ticket purchases or grandiose gestures, sometimes they can be a simple as a yoga mat or an app.

Something interesting happens when we are asked questions – we come up with answers. So I ask you now, what purchase of $100 of less has most positively impacted your life in the last year?

Types of Habits and Designing Our Lives

“Most habits take on one of four common forms: things you want to start doing, things you want to stop doing, things you want to do more, and things you want to do less.”

Josh Kaufman (The Personal MBA)
My habits in their natural habitat

Before I dive into this post, I have to make a few honorable necessary mentions. Most of this information is from James Clear’s amazing book Atomic Habits, which I highly recommend. He explains the importance of developing systems and focusing our attention at the level of the habit in a seemingly effortless and powerful way. I also have to mention Josh Kaufman’s The Personal MBA, a must read book for entrepreneurs looking for well packaged high quality information. I think my must read book list needs some updating. Kaufman goes over more than just business, he also lays out a wealth of knowledge regarding habit formation and lifestyle design.

Intentionally creating our own lives starts with understanding our every day actions and how they develop into habits. I like to think of habits as belonging to the four categories mentioned above – Things We Should Start Doing, Things We Should Stop Doing, Things We Should Do Less, and Things We Should Do More. Meditating on these categories and articulating which habits fall into each category is a fantastic exercise in identifying key habits. Identifying which habits we want to start, stop, or change is the first step in creating our lives by design. Another way I like to identify habits is to categorize them as Old Habits – things I want to do less or stop all together – or as New Habits – things I want to do more or start doing.

The Habit Cycle

Understanding the Habit Cycle is like learning the anatomy and physiology of habits. The Habit Cycle explains how habits come to be and what we can do to make that process easier or harder.

According to Clear, habits have 4 stages that they follow. Cue. Craving. Response. Reward. Understanding each stage will help us intentionally create habits that we want in our lives and destroy the habits we don’t.

The Cue is the external stimuli that triggers the brain to start the behavior. When we see a cue, we get a Craving, which is the motivational force behind the habit. The Response is action or set of actions we take to potentially satisfy the craving. The Reward is what makes it all worth it and the last stage, the satisfaction of the craving.

The Habit Cycle – James Clear

Let me give an example to ground this in real life.

Let’s say I’m working on a blog post and I reach an issue in articulating what I want to say. Cue – I encounter a difficult situation. I start feeling stuck and my motivations change. I just want to be relieved of my frustration. Craving – yearning for relief. Despite my best intentions, I reason with myself that I am going to die sooner than I’d like and my experience of life is all that truly matters so I should stop blogging and play video games. I save my blog post, turn on my PS4 and have a good ol’ time. Reponse – leaving the challenging situation to play games. I feel delighted that I get to play my video games and my relief has come. Reward – obtained relief from tension caused from blogging. In this case, I layed out my provility to play video games when I’m confronted with difficult situations. Identifying the steps in this habit cycle helps me take the steps I need to ramp this up or turn it down depending on what I want for my life. For me, I love developing myself to overcome challenges in anyway possible so I’m going to try to break that habit and replace it with a new and more positive one.

If we pay enough attention to what causes our cravings, then we can take premeditated steps to intentionally create our ideal lives. We do not have to let the habit cycle run over and over, we can stop it at any point. We just need to know how.

Breaking Old Habits

Breaking old habits is a skill worth practicing. On our journey, we pick up ways of being or thinking that may have been useful in the past, but no longer serve a purpose to us in the present. I know I have more than a few habits holding me back from bringing about my Jungian Self.

The first thing we need to do when we’re breaking habits, is identifying the things we do that are not bringing us closer to where we want to go. Once those habits are identified, we can practice a few things to make those habits more difficult for us to live out.

Harness Friction

One of my favorite ways to break bad habits is to add friction to the mix. Friction can be thought of as obstacles preventing us from completing an action.

I’ll give an example to bring this down to Earth.

Let’s say we have a habit of spending too much time on our phone in the morning. The first thing we do when we wake up is check out phone and we end up losing track of time and it throws off our whole day.

Analyzing this situation in terms of friction, we can see that we are only partaking in the “bad” habit because there’s nothing stopping us from doing it! If we were to set our phone on the other side of the room before we go to bed, then there will be a lot of friction between us and checking our phone in the morning.

Those small, yet big, steps of getting out of bed and walking over to your phone gives you enough time to develop the willpower necessary to not act out the habit. Friction is what makes or breaks my habit formation 90% of the time. I’m so sensitive to friction, but I choose to use my susceptibility to measure the effectiveness of my environment.

I love using friction to my advantage. I can increase the friction to prevent actions that I don’t want, or I can decrease it and it’ll be easier for me to build the habits I desire.

Invert the Habit Cycle

Another effective way to break old habits is to invert each step of the habit cycle.

The first step is Cue. If we can cut out the cue completely, or at least make it invisible, then we have a fighting chance to break that specific habit loop. Let me give an example, if I see my PlayStation controller in my room I’ll get an urge to play and I’ll have to use willpower to fight off the craving. Instead of using willpower to break the habit cycle, I put my PlayStation controller in a place that makes it difficult for me to see it and the craving never exists in the first place.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Now, I still may get cravings to play video games, but this way I can control for at least 1 variable. To break the habit cycle at the cue stage, we can make our cues invisible.

The second step is Craving. To stop a craving we can use willpower to resist it (but that takes too much energy), we can make the cue invisible, or we can make the craving seem unattractive.

Let me put it this way, let’s say I have a craving to eat a snack at midnight. I can think about how good it will feel to satisfy my midnight craving and how happy I will be enjoying my little snack – thinking like this will just make me want to eat more.

Or I can think about how I’m developing a habit that could lead to an unhealthy lifestyle which consequently leads to a shorter and lesser quality functional lifespan. I can imagine my body failing me in ways that I take for granted now and the frustration I will feel confronting my true powerlessness.

Once the snack is framed like that, it’s much easier to say “How about a hell no.” Making things unattractive can stop a craving dead in its tracks.

The third step is Response. To stop the habit in the response stage, Clear recommends to make the response difficult. This goes hand-in-hand with my “add-friction” tip from earlier. If we add friction between us and our response, then we are much less likely to act out the response. This makes sense when we think about what the purpose of habits are.

We have habits to save cognitive load, and overcoming friction would add cognitive load, which works counter to habits. We have habits to make things easier, so making a response more difficult will cut off the habit before we get our highly sought after reward.

The fourth and final step is Reward. We love the reward because of one simple reason. It is satisfying. If we make the reward unsatisfying, there goes all the power!

Imagine, sacrificing what mean most to you only to receive a lackluster reward. The visceral and lingering feelings of disappointment will power through any urge to perform those sets of actions again. If we feel like what we doing isn’t worth it, then we aren’t going to do it again. Simple as that. Find what makes the reward sweet and ruin it.

Be weary that there aren’t just clever mind tricks that play into our breaking and forming of habits, but our emotional states as well. We tend to break the “good” habits and start the “bad” habits when we’re feeling H.A.L.T. – hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. When we identify with one of these 4 emotional states, we are way more susceptible to aiming down and following through with it. We are pretty tough people, but we only have so much willpower. Save your willpower for when we’re feeling one of the four detrimental emotional states. We should invert the habit cycle whenever we can so we can have the energy to fight when we need to.

Creating New Habits

Once we set ourselves free from our old bad habits, we can finally create new habits! But that poses the question:

How do we create new habits that last?

We can approach this a few different ways. If you’ve read my other blog posts, specifically about studying, then you know I’m all about finding a bunch of ways to do things and modifying them to create my own personalized system.

Optimize to Win

In his fantastic success manual, Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss talks about the importance of meditating every day. While I do recommended practicing meditation, that isn’t what I want to focus on. People tend to have a difficult time creating a habit from meditation, after all most of the benefits only occur when meditation is being practiced as a habit.

Tim says when you start a new habit, you want to rig the game to win. It takes 5 sessions to make something a habit, and it doesn’t matter how long the sessions are. Keep it simple and make the first 5 sessions short. The first few times stepping up to the figurative plate will take significant willpower, but once we developed a little habit it gets easier over time. Optimize to win. Eventually our actions will eventually become what we are, I talk a little bit about this in my post Hypnotic Rhythm.

We don’t have to stop at making it short, we can make it easy too! When I first started working out consistently, I made my first 5 sessions short and easy and now it feels a little weird if I don’t get at least a little exercise.

Another thing we want to keep in mind when we are trying to create new habits is knowing that we only want to do things when we believe it will pay off for us. If we believe it won’t pay off or it’ll actually harm us, then we won’t do it. To take advantage of this bit of knowledge, we should presence ourselves to why starting this new habit is worthwhile. Be advised, this is different for everyone and requires rigorous self reflection.

Encourage the Habit Cycle

Another effective way to create new habits is to encourage each step of the habit cycle.

The first step is Cue. The cue usually kicks off the habit, but if we’re making new habits we might need a little extra help with this step. Make the cue obvious. I lay out my yoga mat and have my kettlebell out in the open so I don’t have to spend any time setting up. Working out consistently has always been difficult for me, but when I set out my equipment in a place that’s easy to see it’s much easier to just start working out. Making cues obvious can also be thought of as a method of removing friction.

The second step is Craving. This comes after the cue and gives us that feeling that we should be doing something. Craving a good habit is an interesting feeling, but one that we should try to encourage. Encourage the craving by making it attractive. Imagine, actually craving to workout or study. It’s not that hard when you think about how good you will feel once you finish or how much longer you’ll live if you’re healthy. Find reasons to pick the good choice.

The third step is Response. Once we have the craving to do something, our next move is to act. If we want the habit, to stick then we need to make it easy. I’ll use the example of my yoga mat and kettlebell again. Since the mat and kettlebell are already set up in the center of my room, it’s easy to just start working out. It’s actually easier to workout than it is to ignore the equipment! That’s why I put it in the middle of my room. I’m making it harder to ignore working out (stopping the old habit) and easier to start working out (creating the new habit).

The fourth and final step is Reward. This is what makes it all worthwhile. If we want to keep a habit going, we have to make the reward satisfying. Since I absolutely adore my video games, that’s usually the go-to treat for me after doing something difficult. Creating new habits is not easy and responding to those changes takes a lot out of us. I also love watching carefully written television like The Sopranos, Game of Thrones(Seasons 1-4), and Westworld. When I have the time I also love to cook. Sometimes I’ll make a really nice meal to reward myself for creating new habits. Find what makes you happy and indulge once everything is said and done.

Developing New Traits

The best part about knowing all is this is discovering that traits and skills can be developed through simple habit formation. This means we can create habits of traits that we admire in our role models within ourselves!

There was a study at Harvard which suggested that the most productive people don’t wait to be told what to do. Successful people take initiative and we can use the knowledge of breaking and creating habits to create the habit of taking initiative within ourselves!

The best best part – this doesn’t have to stop at initiative!

We can create a habit of being honest, courageous, hard working, dedicated, reliable, or any other trait that we would like. It’s not an easy task by any means, but it is possible with serious attention, dedication, and time.

The Issue of Willpower

Creating habits takes willpower. Sometimes it requires a lot and sometimes it requires a little. If we are trying to create new habits, we. need to find ways to minimize how much willpower we’ll need or designing our lives will be too difficult. We can minimize will power through optimizing our environment. I talk a little bit about that in Strategies for Better Studying Part 4.

If we set up our space to encourage the new habits and add friction to discourage the old habits, then willpower won’t be necessary!

James Clear talks about different ways to minimize required willpower by adjusting our actions to the habit cycle. At first, the changes will requires a huge amount of willpower, but every time we run through the loop we strengthen the neural pathways and the required willpower becomes less and less.

Josh Kaufman also talks about habit cues in his fantastic book, The Personal MBA.

“Habits are easier to install if you look for triggers that signal when it’s time to act. For example, if you want to take vitamins, it’s easier to remember to take them if you use another habitual action as a trigger for the action. Instead of relying on your mind to remember to take your vitamins in the middle of the day, you can use brushing your teeth in the morning or evening as a reminder.”

Josh Kaufman (The Personal MBA)

In addition to building a guiding environment, we can reduce willpower by focusing our attention on one habit at a time. Kaufman also mentions this in The Personal MBA.

“For best results, focus on installing one Habit at a time. Remember, you only have so much Willpower to use each day, and overriding your default mode of action depletes it quickly. If you try to install too many Habits at the same time, you probably won’t succeed at adopting any of them for long. Focus on installing one Habit until taking action feels automatic, then move on to the next.”

Josh Kaufman (The Personal MBA)

Creating and destroying habits takes a bit of practice, patience, and discipline. If these methods don’t work, try longer. We are surprisingly malleable creatures despite our proclivity towards habits and routine. Getting better: at first it’s uncomfortable, but later will be worth it. Perhaps the real lesson is to learn how to internalize discomfort and push forward, for once we do this we can do anything. Feel free to pick and choose which parts of this post you like and go forth to design your dream life!

Start by winning the moment right in front of you.