The 8-Week Habit Challenge

Self Control

I have the self-control of a tiger at a bunny convention.

I try to pretend otherwise, and in some instances manage to succeed, but the fact remains: I don’t spend nearly enough of my time and energy on the areas of my life that I deem important.

The time has come for a change. And I need your help.

Rather than try and magically increase my self-control, I will be trying to take willpower out of the picture entirely by instilling within myself a series of productive habits. Research has shown that the best way to successfully train a new habit is to use either external incentives (e.g. financial) or social accountability. I plan on using both.

Keystone Habits

There once was a fat man named Melvin. For years, Melvin had tried everything he could think of to lose weight. His friends watched as he cycled through fad diet after fad diet—vegetarian, pescetarian, Dukan, Atkins, Flintstones, Crazy Chicken—he would stick with one for a few weeks, lose a few pounds, get tired of it, and gain all the weight back. Every New Year’s he would sign up for a gym membership, always on the lookout for that extra perk that might successfully keep him coming back. But no matter how excellent the towel-service, by mid-February Melvin was nowhere to be seen.

One day Melvin decided to try something different: he would start keeping a food journal. Rather than specifically restricting what he ate, he would eat whatever he wanted but make sure to write it down. Each night, he would read over his food intake for the day.

Soon something magical began to happen: Melvin began to lose weight.

Instead of being restricted by some externally imposed, arbitrary set of rules, Melvin was now thinking for himself. Each time he was about to reach for a snack, or order that extra Diet Coke with his meal, he thought about having to write it down and was able to stop himself. The constant health-awareness even began to extend itself to his fitness activities. The small decisions like taking the stairs instead of the elevator began to add up.

For Melvin, this food journaling turned out to be what is known as a keystone habit. A single important habit from which a cascade of others easily follow. Identifying these types of habits is one of the most important parts of making major life changes.

My 3 stickK’ing Keystones

In my article about habit formation I mentioned two apps that I found to be quite useful: coach.me and stickK. The former is great for easy check-ins with large numbers of habits or for hiring a coach, and the latter allows for more social interaction via Referees and Supporters as well as the capability to add in a financial incentive. I have decided to use both—stickK for my keystone habits and coach.me for the rest.

Soon I’ll write a post talking about my overall self-improvement plan and all of the habits that will entail, but right now I want to limit the focus to three (hopefully) keystone habits:

  1. Meditate 10 minutes per day — I’ve been listening to The Tim Ferris Show for quite a while now, where he interviews the world’s top performers (CEO’s, pro athletes, best selling authors, etc). One of the most common similarities that these people have across the board is a regular meditation practice. Meditation is something that I’ve been doing off and on for a while now, but everything I’ve read about it states that after the first 10-15 days of constant practice there is a qualitative change that has far-reaching effects. I have yet to reach that point, but I plan on doing so by two weeks from today.
  2. Work 1 hour before noon — Once I’m in the groove, I can go on working for hours. It’s getting started that I have serious problems with. I know that a single hour doesn’t sound like much, but the point here is consistency + achievability. This habit is designed to get the ball rolling each day.
  3. Blog 3 times per week — And now we get to the whole point of this post: external culpability. I will be blogging primarily about my various adventures on the quest for self improvement, shorter pieces about things that I have learned and find fascinating, and occasionally some bits about my musings on life. By sharing it with all of you I hope to be able to both organize my thoughts better and to force myself to apply everything I learn to my daily life (and help you all do the same).

My Challenge to You

I have signed each of these habits up on stickK, complete with a $5/week penalty that gets donated to an anti-charity if I don’t check in. As of right now I have $200 on the line—the problem is that money by itself has never been much of a motivator for me.

Instead, I want motivation through social pressure and group-accountability.

Do you have some aspect of your life that you’ve been meaning to work on? Something you keep trying to change but haven’t quite managed to do so?

Now’s your chance.

Sign up for stickK.com, make at least one commitment (it’s best not to try too many at once), and add me as a friend. You can use the above three links to join as a supporter for my habits, and I will do the same for yours. If you want I can even be your referee. To increase your number of supporters, comment on this post with your username / link and everyone else can join you as well.

Each week you will be required to check in and report on your progress (or miss it and get fined).

Who’s with me?