The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.
When situation X arises, I will perform response Y.
The punch line is clear: people who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through.
When your dreams are vague, it’s easy to rationalize little exceptions all day long and never get around to the specific things you need to do to succeed.
After [current habit], I will [new habit].
When I take a break for lunch, I will do ten push-ups. At first glance, this sounded reasonable. But soon, I realized the trigger was unclear. Would I do my push-ups before I ate lunch? After I ate lunch? Where would I do them? After a few inconsistent days, I changed my habit stack to: “When I close my laptop for lunch, I will do ten push-ups next to my desk.”
- 35% of service members had tried heroin in Vietnam
- 20% were addicted
- Upon returning home, only 5% were re-addicted within a year; 12% in three years
- Basically 9/10 eliminated the addiction overnight
Bad habits are autocatalytic: the process feeds itself. They foster the feeling they try to numb. You feel bad, so you eat junk food. Because you eat junk food, you feel bad. Watching television makes you feel sluggish, so you watch more television because you don’t have the energy to do anything else.
After [current habit], I will [habit I need].
After [habit I need], I will [habit I want].
After I get my morning coffee, I will say one thing I’m grateful for that happened yesterday.
After I say one thing I’m grateful for, I will read the news.
You’ll find that nearly any habit can be scaled down into a two-minute version:
Read before bed each night becomes read one page.
Do thirty minutes of yoga becomes take out my yoga mat.
Study for class becomes open my notes.
The cost of good habits is in the present. The cost of your bad habits is in the future.
The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom. We get bored with habits because they stop delighting us. The outcome becomes expected. And as our habits become ordinary, we start detailing our progress to seek novelty. perhaps this is why we get caught up in a never-ending cycle, jumping from one workout to the next, one diet to the next, one business idea to the next. As soon as we experience the slightest dip in motivation, we begin seeking a new strategy – even if the old one was still working. As Machiavelli notes, “Men desire novelty to such an extent that those who are doing well wish for a change as much as those who are doing badly.”
The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over. You have to fall in love with boredom.
The key to mitigating these losses of identity is to redefine yourself such that you get to keep important aspects of your identity even if your particular role changes.
- I’m an athlete –> I’m the type of person who is mentally tough and loves a physical challenge.
- I’m a great soldier –> I’m the type of person who is disciplined, reliable, and great on a team.
- I’m the CEO–> I’m the type of person who builds and creates things.