The fringe benefits of habit-building

Apparently, rebuilding habits are top of mind for many of us these days

I’ve been running something called the Back to Self Challenge with a cohort of friends and Twitter acquaintances for about two weeks now. The idea is to do something every day for 30 days that gets you feeling like yourself again.

Every day, I’m trying to encourage folks to stick to their self-reported goals. For some added accountability, I built a leaderboard where we check in daily on whether or not you have succeeded in doing the thing. As of this morning, our group has collectively completed 142 things we wouldn’t have done otherwise. Pretty cool.

My goal for this month has been to blog every day. And I’ve been pretty close to achieving that.

What’s interesting, however, is that even on the couple of days when I didn’t actually publish something onto this blog, I did set aside time to write. (The reality is, when it comes to writing, some things just take longer to get across.) Initially I was marking myself as an “incomplete” on our Challenge Tracker on those days. After all, I hadn’t done “the thing” that I said I would do.

After thinking about it, I realized that wasn’t entirely accurate either. Habits are a means to an end, a small indicator or behavior that helps you achieve a broader goal. Working out every day is about getting healthier, or getting fit, or preparing for a big race.

When you really think about it, daily blogging is in actually a compounded habit. First, I need to get back into daily writing. Second, I need to get back into the habit of publishing. They are related but still separate. The smallest atomic unit of the habit is actually the daily writing, not the commitment blogging. (Which is really more of a side effect.)

I’m not the only one in this group who’s realized, a couple of weeks in, that perhaps they inadvertently committed to a compound habit vs. a singular habit. To adopt a metaphor from college, perhaps they chose 200-level habits vs. more foundational, 100-level habits. A few folks have already scoped them down to make them more manageable and digestible. Then, next month, once we’ve built the foundation, we can build upon this and work on “habit stacking” for the next level up.

Another observation is that — much like goal-setting in company building — this exercise has made several folks realize there’s actually a different, more important habit that they should be starting with. Rather than commit to creating something every day, start with getting enough sleep. If you’re looking for a new job, commit to sending a cold email every day.

Finally, there are a few people in this challenge (present company excluded) who are Back to Self Streakers — they’ve hit their goal every single day. And I hope they will continue to do so until the end of the month. Seeing that example and commitment is inspiring the rest of us.

It’s been fascinating to watch the progress and evolution of this experiment. And by the way, if there’s a habit you’re looking to get into, you’re more than welcome to join in.

Originally published at Dry Erase.