Some habits work too well

by | Nov 15, 2022 | General Productivity

Takeaway: Sometimes a habit works so well that we stop doing it. Here’s how to stick with these habits in the long run.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 10s.

Habits that require a steady investment of time, energy, attention, or willpower often fizzle out over time.

A few weeks back, I wrote about how we all have dividend-paying habits we take for granted. If you made a list of these habits, you likely realized that you’ve stuck with some for quite a while. There are other habits, though, that may slip over time—especially ones that require a steady investment of ingredients like energy or willpower.

Once a behavior becomes habit, we don’t think about it as much. When this happens, the habit can slip as stress piles on (a topic I break down in How to Calm Your Mind), life becomes more demanding, or our available time shrinks. 

In other words, a habit can work so well that we forget and stop doing it, even though it actively provides us with dividends. Here are a couple of personal examples:

  • A meditation habit might lead me to calm, so I skip one day, then two, and then eventually drop the habit for a while—even though that wasn’t my intent. Only when I become more anxious will I remember to pick it up again. 
  • A new eating habit works well and leads me to become fitter. Once I get my desired result I stop investing in the habit—and slide backward again. Only when I gain a few pounds will I remember to eat healthier. 

Sustaining a good habit over time is like sustaining a flywheel. Once the flywheel starts spinning, it will mostly continue doing so from its own momentum. Eventually, though, it’ll stop. Every once in a while, we need to add energy into the system so it can continue to spin at the same rate. 

The same holds true for habits and conscious interventions. Formed habits spin primarily using their own momentum, though they’ll slow and come to a stop over time. 

To combat this, a favorite strategy of mine is a weekly review of the habits that actively provide dividends or that I’m most likely to drop because they require continual effort over time. I have a weekly recurring task in my task manager of choice called “Have I taken my foot off the gas?”. Inside this task is a note of the habits that tend to slip, including meditation, intermittent fasting, and eating a whole-food, plant-based diet. Checking in with myself every week lets me make sure I consciously make the effort to continue these habits.

I’ve found this tactic to be a helpful way to continue investing in the habits that provide me with the greatest dividends—I hope you will, too!

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of two books: Hyperfocus and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in 34 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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