Habits are the elimination of micro-decisions, and the key to progress

I stepped away from the keyboard for a bit and the result was a decline in so many aspects of my life, largely morale and a sense of “movement.” I’ve long been a believer in the “do something for 30 days to form a habit” mentality, it’s proven so true, unfortunately, to undo a habit doesn’t take nearly as long. I would argue that it can come as quickly as your decision to NOT do it for a day or a week. This is what happened to my writing.

For several months I had managed to incorporate a pattern of waking up, doing little else before I would write in some form; either in my handwritten journal, my Evernote notebook or here on my blog. I would typically also match this with morning meditation or yoga or weightlifting. About 6 months ago I got a puppy and all of a sudden I had to choose to deal with his morning routine to the detriment of my own, with that change in patterns I slowly quickly fell out of my habit.

As I spend my days pondering how much better I felt when I was doing that, I finally link “habit” and “micro-decision” as they really should be. In creating a habit, I remove one more micro-decision from my daily routine. I can choose to wake up and do this thing (writing) or I can wake up and browse Reddit. I can take the time to formulate my thoughts for the day or I can just consume and be distracted. (That seems like another post, consumption vs creation, maybe I’ll return to it later.)

For years I abhorred the idea of routine or daily habits, that seemed like it was all about losing spontaneity or flexibility in my life and while that has some ring of truth to me still, it isn’t as extreme as I’ve always thought.  The trick is to keep those habits and let them coexist with spontaneity. In the case of my writing/morning routine vs my puppy, the answer was likely to start my morning a little earlier or just allow my day to start a little later as I get through my routines. I am realizing more as I become more mindful or self-aware, that habits are really just me removing choices to make and just doing things that should be done. They’re less about “being better” and more about “being me.” When I’m not letting myself have positive habits then I’m just sitting in stasis, or possibly slipping back to a less self-reliant or empowered version of myself.

“Micro-decisions” is a relatively new term (at least to me) and one that’s tossed around by the likes of Tim Ferris and other productivity gurus but I’ve never heard someone say it directly next to “habit”. I’m not saying it hasn’t been said, I just didn’t hear it. I first started seeing it in conjunction with intermittent fasting or probably more specifically “bulletproof coffee.” The usage was that by always consuming the same breakfast, or by only having one meal a day, you have a little bit less to think about and it gives you back some mental stamina or removes some of the stress that builds up from a day of decision making. While I’m not spending my day making high impact decisions for the world around me, I do like that I can get up, do this coffee routine and be on my way. My mornings are on auto-pilot when it comes to nutrition. I would never have called either “BP Coffee” or intermittent fasting a habit but I would acknowledge that they removed one or several small decisions from what I do before work.

I say all that, to say that eliminating a micro-decision is effectively the same as creating a habit. Rather than get up and think “should I work out today” I just say “I’m up, time to work out.” The same goes for my other tasks, “I’ve made my coffee, fed the dogs and let the chickens out, time to write” and that’s just how the day goes from there. No time to wonder what I’ll write about, or if I’ll write, I just start doing it. If it feels like something to share with the world then I’ll go to the blog, if it’s feeling more transactional or daily log then I’ll probably write it by hand and if it’s something between the two (eg. future blog post ideas) then I’ll jump into Evernote. Once I’m done with writing on to the next “this is just what I do” step in the day. It sounds easy because, once you make the choice to do it, it is easy.

Should YOU do it? Possibly? I often say to myself “When it matters, I’ll prioritize making it happen.” The question is when will it matter… that all depends on the person, how happy they are with their current daily habits (Reddit surfing is a habit) and how much they want to default into a new behavior. You just have to make that real decision for a little while (30 days? probably not necessary) and accept that it’s the new normal. I’ll be tinkering with my ideas of “new normal”here in the coming days weeks and months to see where it goes. Let me know if you’re doing it as well.