creating habits FY!S

Create Habits With Your Phone’s Calendar Alerts

In last couple years, we’ve seen this big ol’ paradigm shift where everyone is all, “Hey, if you want to succeed in doing the things you want to succeed in, then you need to successfully create habits that will help you succeed!”

And we nod in agreement at this seemingly sage advice, but never know how to even begin. This would never happen in a perfect world. In a perfect world, where we can eat all of the donuts we want and never get fat, we’d all easily develop these good habits. But not only do most of us get fat on donuts, we also forget that we need to build the habit in the first place. More importantly, we forget to even start, nevermind how.

There’s an App For…*gets punched*

Well, here’s one solution: Set it as an appointment and make your phone remind you. Constantly. It sounds so simple that it’s stupidly genius. If you’re using an iPhone, the built-in calendar should have alerts. I’d assume this is the case for Android phones as well. I mean, if we can order pizza with our phone, then any phone should be able to set appointments.

Most of us have ruthless schedules that we have to stick to, so if we actually schedule the steps of learning a habit in our phone with several alerts, then we must honor it. The method works quite well for daily “must-do’s”, like taking your fish oil or drinking water. The only thing is, we need to first be able to break down the very first steps of a habit.

Two Rules to Always Remember to Create New Habits

When you schedule something in your calendar, treat it as if it’s been written in blood–you must act on it when the alert goes off.

Rule 1: Always listen to your phone’s appointments.

Of course, this means that you have to drop whatever you’re doing like it’s a soiled diaper and set aside some time to act on your alert. But this is the tricky part. You need to lower the barrier to change.

Rule 2: Remember the 20-second rule.

The habit you’re learning must be broken down into the smallest, most feasible first steps that you can do in 20 seconds. This comes from the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, who studies happiness for a living at Harvard.

Oftentimes the hard part is getting started. If you lower the “activation energy,” as Achor calls your desire to want to build a habit to 20 seconds, you’re much more likely to do it more. So whatever that thing that takes you only 20 seconds to do is–put that as your calendar alert. Be as specific as you can.

Let’s say you want to start getting through a book a month, but right now you barely read. Here’s what I’d do:

  • I wouldn’t just program Read a book into the calendar.
  • The lowest barrier-to-entry for that would first be Think about a book that you’d like to read. That’s the first step! It takes less than 20 seconds to start at least thinking about it. Then settle on one.
  • Now I need a reminder to actually start reading. I might put in an alert that says Get ready to read! And follow that up with Pick up your book and read 15 minutes later, because I know myself. I might not actually be ready to read at that moment, so I’m giving myself a bit of a buffer.
  • Then I’d strategically place that book in places where I’d be a lot, like the kitchen table or couch. I’d place the book right on the coffee stand and the remote or video game far away in a drawer.

The thing is, if the 20-second rule applies to making the hard stuff easier, then it should work backwards, too: you can make the easy stuff (like watching Netflix instead of reading a book) harder. I know I’m not going to get up and walk to the drawer so far away just to get the remote when I’m already settled on my couch, but oh, look–my book (or rather, my Kindle) is there!

So whenever you vow to get better at creating a new habit, you have to treat yourself like a 5-year-old kid and break it down to the simplest, simplest thing you could do.

Figure Out the Time and Frequency

Now here’s the sort of fun part: how often would you realistically be able to do said habit?

Based on what you know of your own schedule, your tendencies, and your current habits (hyuk), commit to a day (like Fuck Yes! Saturday), a time, or both. Make sure the frequency is something manageable and set the bar low. It’s usually better to add than to cut back, psychologically speaking.

Going back to my reading example, I’d set the frequency to nightly, just about 30 minutes before my usual bedtime. The frequency and time will differ based on what the habit is, obviously.

So You’ve Ignored Your Alerts…

This happens, and it’s a lot easier to do than you think.

After a while, we get really good at tuning that crap out. If you keep telling your phone to STFU, then you might need to reassess what you’re doing. Consider the following:

  • You’re probably trying to create too many habits: Just focus on one. You ain’t Superman.
  • The alert is too hard: It’s hard as in you didn’t break it down into a task that fits the 20-second rule.
  • The schedule doesn’t work for you: Try another time, or reduce the frequency.
  • The sound is too annoying: The unfortunate side effect of using the same sound for multiple types of alerts (calls, texts, and so on) is that you just get used to it, or you associate it with certain things and emotions. Try different sounds to your habit-related appointments. These should obviously be pleasant sounds. After all, I wouldn’t want to work on a habit either if it makes my ears bleed.

Don’t forget rule number one: Commit to your appointments. It’s not a fool-proof system. Your phone’s calendar isn’t your mom, but it might just get you closer to where you want to be.

Cover image by kennymatic.

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