Since I became a solo maker, I've discovered a pretty reliable way to combat my overthinking tendencies. Overthinking along with planning, strategizing, analyzing leads to lack of action more often than it leads to decisive action for me. Habits by definition are actions, something you do everyday. Daily habits have allowed me to feel a sense of accomplishment consistently. The possibility of compounding effect of action also puts the planning/strategizing part of my brain at ease.
Building a new habit also requires some planning and thinking though. But this is okay. It's a little upfront effort of figuring out some details that start paying off immediately. In my observation, this is where people struggle when starting a new habit. That upfront effort. There is a building phase and then the just-do-it phase. For example, if you want to start a habit of exercising every day, you'd need to decide what you're going to do, when in your day, where in your home, and for how long. You may even have to experiment with these parameters for the first few days but then stick to your decisions. Just do it for a finite number of days (usually 30 for me) before analyzing results or tweaking anything.
There are some good books I've read on habit building — Atomic Habits, The Power of Habits. Often the challenge is not in knowing the principles but in applying them concretely to my own context (without overthinking). Here are the principles I’ve applied successfully when building a new habit.
My Habit Forming Steps
- Start small — in action and duration. So 30 days instead of an entire year. Treat it as a short-term experiment, not a long term commitment. First do the thing then evaluate and optimize.
- One habit at a time — add a new habit to my day only when current one becomes automatic behavior requiring little mental effort.
- Implement some form of accountability — public or private. Being accountable to myself has worked well for me for certain habits. Now I am experimenting with public accountability. I use a simple piece of paper with a habit grid on it, usually in a location where I’ll do the habit action (e.g. on nightstand for bedtime habits, etc.).
That’s it. Once I decide, no negotiations with myself! No analyzing until the experiment duration is over.
What to do once the experiment is over:
So let's take the habit of meditate for 5 minutes everyday for the next 30 days. I have the following choices:
- Continue the habit as is - so in this case I can continue for another 30 days without changing time or effort required (I could try different app or different time of day)
- Invest a bit more in the habit by increasing effort or time - so in this case I can do this mental exercise for 10 minutes everyday OR for 5 minutes 2x per day. (I can also buy a subscription to some app)
- Conclude the experiment - this was good to try but I decide not to invest more effort/time/money at this point. I choose not to adopt this habit and I conclude the experiment as a success in trying something new!
All three options result in a decision and a positive feeling of conclusiveness. There is a not much room for guilt and such for letting a habit fizzle out. Especially if I conclude with choosing not to adopt the habit. Cool, now I can move to the next habit in my 'backlog' and start a new experiment.
Another trick is not analyzing the habit while in the experiment window. So for 30 days just do it. No evaluating to see if I am liking this or if I am succeeding at this habit. Is this the best habit to serve my goal, are there other better habits I should jump to. No optimizing before I've experienced something everyday! That is all. Keep it simple. But remember simple != easy. But easy is overrated. And also, you can't spell traction without action. (oh no I can't stop!).