The Force of Habit
Read this story about the force of habit and learn the lesson and punchline
Two old pirates were sitting at a bar, talking about their adventures. “So,” said one
pirate, “how’d ye get that metal hook for a hand?”
“We were ransacking a merchant ship in the West Indies when I got into a sword
fight with the ship’s captain and he cut off my hand.”
“Fantastic!” said the first pirate. “And how’d ye get that peg leg?”
“We were ransacking a schooner off Haiti when I got into hand-to-hand combat
with the schooner’s captain. He swung his sword with such force that he cut off my leg.”
“Amazing!” said the first pirate. “And how’d ye get that patch over your right eye?”
“I was standing on the deck of my ship when a seagull crapped on my face.”
“That’s how you lost your eye?” asked the first pirate.
“Well, it was my first day with the hook.”
Nobody adjusts to big changes instantly. It takes time to get used to new conditions, and you’re bound to make mistakes.
But you don’t have to be the guy with the hook. If you recognize changes as they’re happening, you can limit your mistakes by developing new habits to go along with the new conditions.
And surprisingly, you’ll find that it doesn’t take a lot of willpower to change a habit—just persistence.
BEYOND THE PUNCH LINE
It’s a widely held myth that it takes twenty-one days to form a new habit.
A 2009 study showed that new habits are actually more likely to take two to eight months.
It also showed that success in creating a new habit depends largely on the consistency of repetitions at the beginning, not on how hard you work.
You just have to keep at it.
And if you forget every now and then? That doesn’t seem to impact your progress at all.
Creating a new habit can be fairly painless and stress-free if you’re willing to do the basic work.
According to Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit,
it’s a three-step process:
- Create a trigger;
- Pick a routine;
- Enjoy the reward.
Step 1: The trigger is a reminder that tells you to start the process.
It works best if you pick a regular part of your schedule and add to it. For example, say you’re trying to take vitamins regularly. The trigger could be brushing your teeth.
You tell yourself that every morning before you brush your teeth, you’ll take vitamins. Or if you’re trying to read more, you might tell yourself that when you sit down to lunch each day, you’ll read for five minutes.
The beauty of this is that it switches the burden from willpower to a reminder system.
Step 2: The routine is the action that constitutes the new habit.
Taking vitamins or reading, in the previous examples. Expert advice: Keep the routine as simple as possible, to begin with. Take just one vitamin or read just one page.
The easier it is to start, the better. Get the repetitions going, and worry about the quality of the effort later.
The first and most important thing is to establish it as a routine in your life.
Step 3: The reward is whatever benefit or result you’re aiming for.
At first, it may just be the satisfaction of doing what you set out to do.
Later, you’ll get the benefit of the action itself—feeling better from the vitamins, the pleasure of reading a good novel, losing weight, etc.
Science has proven that these steps really work. All it takes is the effort.