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The Action Automation: Mastering Your Daily Habit


Talking about daily habit, you may have been heard it like every day. I believe that every productive writer on the internet has talked about it at least once. But, what makes everyone talk about it? What makes a daily habit so special?

In this article, you will learn about every little thing related to habit. Those are:

  1. The Difference Between Routine, Habit & Rituals;
  2. Conscious & Unconscious Habit;
  3. The Habit Loops Concept from Charless Duhigg;
  4. My Personal Daily Habit;
  5. The Habit Myth.

The Difference Between Habit, Routine, & Ritual

Okay, before we go deeper about habit and how to develop it, let’s talk about some context and definition. Why? Because you may be confused about what is the difference between a habit, a routine, and a ritual.

So what is a habit?

Derek Sivers in his blog had explained the technical definition of a habit, that is:

Habits as they are technically defined: the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day. At one point, we all consciously decided how much to eat and what to focus on when we got to the office, how often to have a drink or when to go for a jog. Then we stopped making a choice, and the behavior became automatic. It’s a natural consequence of our neurology. And by understanding how it happens, you can rebuild those patterns in whichever way you choose.

Conscious Habit 

Conscious habit is a condition that you are awake and understand what you do repeatedly everyday and why you do it.

Basically, everyone has their own habit. Consciously or even unconsciously. Do you remember that every morning you woke up at 5 and then going to pray? That’s a habit. Remember when you are opening your phone to look at photos on Instagram or Facebook whenever you’re bored? That’s also a habit. But it is an unconscious habit. There are so many examples of an unconscious habit that happened without we notice it at all. You name it.

According to Meriam-Webster Dictionary, conscious means that you are awake and able to understand what is happening around you. Taking this concept, my definition of a conscious habit is a condition that you are awake and understand what you do repeatedly everyday and why you do it. The main point is to understand what you do and why you do it.

Do you understand why are you doing your habit everyday?

I believe that some of you don’t. You just take it for granted. You just do it because you have to.

I also used to be like you. Doing my habit because I have to. Without knowing the real reason. Until someday I realized that not all of my habit good for me. Some habits just suck up my energy and time. The time flies fast. But not in a productive way.

Habit is more like a system if you compare to a routine. It is a series of action and reaction that we do everyday. The system contains what Duhigg called as a Habit Loop.

The Habit Loop

In a nutshell, habit loop is the cycle that turns a routine into a habit.  It is consist of the cue (later on, I will use “the trigger” instead of cue because I like it more), routine and reward. As a cycle, those are an endless process of a habit. The first habit will be continued by the second habit and so on.

When the first time we do something, our brain is consciously active to the process of doing it. After we do it on a daily basis, a pattern will start to form in our brain. This pattern makes our cognitive function on our brain stop and replaced by automatic movement by our brain.

The Habit Loop is a neurological loop that governs any habit.

For example, when the first time you drive a car, your eyes are really focused on the road. Your hands are gripping the steering wheel tightly and any little distraction will make you lose your mind. Actually, it all happens to all of us. The reason is our brain is still consciously active to the routine. But after a hundred times you drive a car, driving will be just as easy as riding a bicycle. You will become so natural at it. The pattern of habit loop is already created and our brain isn’t actively conscious all the time anymore.

As I mentioned earlier, the pattern can be recognized by the brain consciously and also unconsciously. The interesting part is you can also manipulate your brain to recognize a routine as a habit that works automatically. How? By creating the trigger and the reward. The more and more we do a routine, the pattern on our brain will become stronger and it is easier for our brain to identify the trigger to do the routine.

The Habit Loop Cycle

The Habit Loop Cycle

The Trigger

Before you creating the trigger, it is important to know the definition of what a trigger is. According to Merriam-Webster(again), a trigger is something that causes something else to happen.  It creates a causal effect. If this, than that. When you always open Instagram when you are getting bored, the bored feeling is the trigger.

But the trigger can be anything. It is not limited only by the feeling. It can be a location, a smell, a time, certain emotional feeling, previous event, or even a people. The more your brain recognized the trigger the more it will likely to do the routine automatically.

The Routine

According to Charles Duhigg in his best-seller books, The Power Of Habit, the routine is the action that we do on a daily basis to form a habit. It focuses on the action. The things that we do.

For example drink water, take a cold shower, meditate, etc.

The Reward

The reward could be anything pleasurable. It might be as obvious as the physical stimulation of nicotine or sugar (although, even if that’s a part of it, there is very often more to it than just that). It could be connected to a feeling of acceptance, belonging or achievement; or it could simply be an excuse to get away from your desk.

For example, after a run you usually feel so refreshed. The refreshed feeling is the reward you get after you run. Sometimes when the reward is so addicting (usually it’s a bad habit like smoking), we are craving to get the reward as soon as we perceived the trigger. When this happens we get a tiny hit of a pleasure hormone called dopamine. Essentially, we get a taste of the reward before the action is completed; just enough to key us up, but not enough to satisfy.

Habit vs. Ritual

Ritual

Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

So, I assumed that you are already familiar with the concept of habit. Let’s talk about ritual. You may have heard ritual as a religious event. Something like Shalat the daily prayer if you are Muslim or praying every Sunday if you are a Christian.

Habit

According to Charles Duhigg in Quora, habits (at least from the evolving neurological perspective) are behaviors that are self-generated. A habit is a decision that someone makes at some point, and then stops making but continues doing. So, for instance, the first time you ate a donut at work, it was a decision. The 45th time, it was a habit that occurred, essentially, unthinkingly. The first time you backed your car out of the driveway, you had to give it some serious thought and decision making. The 100th time, it happened automatically.

Ritual

Rituals, by contrast, are almost always patterns developed by an external source,  and adopted for reasons that might have nothing to do with decision making. Someone might celebrate thanksgiving with a turkey not because they love turkey, but because society has indicated that’s what we eat at thanksgiving. We might make the sign of the cross when praying not because it makes our prayers more effective, but because that’s how we learned to pray (if you are Catholic), and the physicality of the ritual has become comforting.

The main difference between habit & ritual is on the source of the purpose. Habit is created by internal purpose while the ritual is created by external purpose.

My Daily Habit

In this section, I will tell you about my daily habit. Please notice that I did not put any religious event on them because we are talking about habit not ritual. And I develop most of the habit because I want it and need it for myself not for the sake of humanity. So, don’t judge me.

I usually do this daily habits on my place in Jatinangor before I go to campus. Here are my daily habit in details:

1. Wake up at 5.00 AM
Why: Well, wake up in the early morning makes me feel more refreshed and alive.
Trigger: The alarm I set at 4.50 & 5.00
Routine: Turning off the alarm and sit for a while.
Reward: Feeling more alive and of course, woke up

2. Drinking A Glass of Water
Why: According to (http://www.menprovement.com/drinking-water-after-waking-up/), drinking a glass of water will rehydrate your dehydrated body.
Trigger: A water bottle besides my bed
Routine: Drink the water
Reward: Feeling more refreshed and clear the mind

3. Take a Cold Shower (really cold like 16 degrees)
Why: It clear every negative thought in my mind and gives me more energy.
Trigger: Going to the bathroom
Routine: Take a cold shower and do another bathroom thingies like shampooing and brushing my teeth
Reward: Feeling clean, energized, and refreshed

4. Meditation
Why: It helps me to get focused on reading a book and reducing stress.
Trigger: My Earbud & Zenfie (application for guided meditation)
Routine: Take a deep breath and listening to the guide
Reward: Feeling more focused and increasing awareness of the present moment

5. Reading a Book for 30 Minutes
Why: Reading many books gives me a broad knowledge of life & mostly because I have a personal quest to read 1000 Books in 10 years.
Trigger: The book itself
Routine: Reading book for like 2 chapters or 50 pages
Reward: Feeling resourceful and getting more knowledge

6. Eating breakfast
Why: My body needs energy before doing daily activity
Trigger: Seeing the food itself
Routine: Eat omelette or ovomaltine sandwich
Reward: Feeling more energized

7. Reading lots of articles and curate it to post on Metagraf
Why: As you know, I owned a media platform about book-related content that called Metagraf (http://metagraf.co). Every morning, I have to curate an article to be posted on Metagraf.
Trigger: Alarm at 7.00 & my smartphone.
Routine: Read lots of article on Pocket about life, productivity, & startup.
Reward: Besides fulfilling my work at Metagraf, I also feel inspired by the articles.

8. Watching one inspirational video
Why: It opens my mind about the world and getting a broad of knowledge
Trigger: Opening Youtube on my Macbook
Routine: Watching one video from TED/The School Of Life/Fight Mediocrity on Youtube
Reward: Feeling inspired

The Myth About Habit

Myth #1: It Takes 21 Days to Form a Habit

You’ve probably heard it takes 21 days to form a habit (or possibly 28 or 30), but according to most studies, that simply isn’t the case. But it helps to know where that myth comes from. It seems like the initial “21 days” idea originated in Maxwell Maltz’s book, Psycho Cybernetics:

It usually requires a minimum of about 21 days to effect any perceptible change in a mental image. Following plastic surgery it takes about 21 days for the average patient to get used to his new face. When an arm or leg is amputated the “phantom limb” persists for about 21 days. People must live in a new house for about three weeks before it begins to “seem like home”. These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the time it takes to adjust to the loss of a limb doesn’t correlate to forming a habit at all. Still, self-help gurus latched onto the 21 days idea and spread the myth everywhere they could.

So, researchers from the University College of London decided to take a closer look. In their study, they found that habits take a lot longer to form. They’re also dependent on the person and the habit. On average, it took people 66 days to form a habit, but it varies for everyone (the variability was big, too, ranging from just 18 days to 254 days). Their study was small at just 96 participants, but it still shows that the amount of days it takes to form a habit is variable.

Which is all to say, there’s no magic number and no magic bullet.  It’ll take time and effort to form a habit, so don’t expect to automatically start doing something in just 21 days. Habit forming is a process, not an event on your calendar, so don’t treat it like one.

Myth #2: You Can’t Miss a Day When Forming (or Breaking) a Habit

The “Don’t Break the Chain” productivity method (widely attributed to Jerry Seinfeld) is wildly popular and the concept is pretty simple: spend some amount of time every day doing an activity, then cross off the day on the calendar when you do it. If you don’t do that task, you miss crossing out your calendar and the chain is broken. Of course, Seinfeld isn’t the only person to come up with this concept. It’s a persistent myth that in order to form a habit, you need to do it every day (or at least on a schedule) without ever missing a day.

The good news comes from the same study, published in European Journal of Social Psychology, that debunked the 21 days myth. It turns out that missing a day occasionally didn’t affect the habit formation process.  Repetition of behaviour is important, but you don’t need to beat yourself up just for missing a day occasionally. That doesn’t mean this method isn’t useful, though. Tracking progress is good, just don’t let missing a day destroy your self-esteem.

Myth #3: Apps Can Help Us Change Our Behavior

Apps like Fitbit, MyFitnessPal and BookLover promise to help us change our habits by tracking our good (or bad) behavior. And some websites say they work, running lists like “17 bad habits you can kick using nothing but a smartphone” or “Mobile apps that can help you kick your bad habits.”

But most apps simply monitor what you’re doing, which doesn’t necessarily lead to behavior change. As one group of scientists noted, “The gap between recording information and changing behavior is substantial.” There is, they wrote, “little evidence . . . that [apps] are bridging that gap.”

In my research, I’ve found that certain types of planning and monitoring actually get in the way of creating new habits, perhaps because they focus our attention on things that are irrelevant to behavior change.  Some people might like these devices. But until there’s broader evidence of effectiveness, I recommend that most people don’t bother with them.

References:

  1. Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (2012). USA: Random House.
  2. https://sivers.org/book/PowerOfHabit
  3. https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-a-habit-and-a-ritual
  4. http://lifehacker.com/four-common-myths-about-habits-debunked-1715269304
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-our-habits/2015/12/31/1f3ab244-ad93-11e5-9ab0-884d1cc4b33e_story.html
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The Action Automation: Mastering Your Daily Habit

by Gilang Agustiar time to read: 10 min
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