Habit

  • Jeff Gibbard
  • 12 min read

I’m currently reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. A few quick observations:

  1. His origin story is amazing. He tells it in the introduction and it really sets the stage for the book.
  2. Nearly all of us drastically underestimate the impact of tiny actions.

The science of habit formation and cessation has been widely studied and remains an area of continued interest.

While James Clear has his own variation on this model, the basic process for new habit formation is: Trigger ➡️ Action ➡️ Reward.

I remember hearing a good example on the Social Triggers Podcast that we are all familiar with. When you feel a thin film on your teeth and notice that you have bad breath, you brush your teeth, and then the menthol in the toothpaste causes a tingle that lets you know your teeth are clean and your breath is better. Trigger ➡️ Action ➡️ Reward.

The Trigger is anything that helps you remember to begin the intended habit. These can be naturally occurring phenomena, or contrived methods of causing you to remember. Triggers often operate on an If-Then model. If I feel a film on my teeth, then brush teeth. If I walk past the water cooler, then drink one glass of water.

The Action is simply whatever the habit is that you wish to form.

The Reward is what solidifies the new habit by closing the loop. It can be anything from intrinsic to extrinsic. Maybe every time you work out, you earn a slice of cake on the weekend…though that’s probably not the best reward if you’re trying to lose weight. I tend to think that most of the important habits we want to build, are naturally well suited for intrinsic rewards. Feeling more confident, feeling smarter, or feeling happier.

For me, personal and professional growth is a serious motivator. Growth is reward enough itself to spur new habit formation. I’d encourage you to adopt that mindset as it makes the reward aspect of habit formation that much easier.

Conscious analysis of your existing habits, and conscious effort toward forming new habits, can make profound differences in our lives.

Today, I’m going to go through the 5 parts of the Superhuman framework, and talk about a few small habits you can focus on over the next 6 months.

Learning

The first building block of becoming superhuman is Learning. For a sizable breakdown on superhuman learning, visit The Superhero Institute page on Learning.

Forming a habit for learning can actually be quite easy. It’s simply a matter of gradually substituting non-learning habits, with learning habits. This includes replacing mindless television with online courses, replacing gaming time with flash card study, or music with podcasts or audiobooks.

Getting started: Learning Habits

Make the first page of your phone’s home screen dedicated to your own personal growth and learning. This includes adding apps for audiobooks, podcasts, online courses and of course, health and fitness.

You may have noticed that I use an app called Anki, which is a spaced repetition flash card app. I also have Duolingo to try and learn French and Japanese.

If you do this, the first things you will see when you look at your phone should now remind you of your priorities.

So, now your space is setup to make it easy for behavior change. Now, look for opportunities to swap in learning behaviors. Some of your biggest gains can happen during otherwise idle/useless time. If you’re in your car on the way to get groceries, then swap out Spotify for an audio book, industry podcast, video essay, or online course. If you’re going to walk the dog, then listen to a chapter of an audio book. If you find yourself sitting on the couch playing a video game on your phone while watching television, then close the game and instead try playing with flash cards, a language learning app, or whatever other learning goals you may have.

The key to creating learning habits is to make it relatively easy for yourself, and substitute learning activities for leisure activities a little bit at a time.

Thinking

I look at working on thinking habits as a critical step toward becoming a person of value. Strong thinking skills mean that you are more difficult to manipulate, have the capacity to bring a unique perspective, and are building emotional resilience.

Thinking does not require you to isolate yourself locked away in a cabin by the lake. In fact, isolated thinking will be far more productive when you’ve practiced your thinking skills in more distracting and challenging environments.

Getting Started: Thinking Habits

Improving your ability to think includes a variety of skills: critical thinking, creative thinking, analytics thinking…so, there’s a lot to cover. The key is to start small and practical. Thinking is something we automatically do all of the time. The habit you’ll want to develop is interrupting the automatic thinking, and instead start thinking deliberately and critically. This requires you to develop an instinct for questioning, curiosity, and investigation.

The simplest starting place for new thinking habits, is related to the learning habits. If you see anything that awakens curiosity, then spend at least 10 minutes looking into it more deeply. This means learning about it and looking at it from different angles. Fall in love with the question: WHY?

Let’s say for instance you saw a screensaver on your smart television that had the picture of a cheetah. What do you really know about cheetahs? You probably know that they are fast. Do you know where they live? Do you know what they eat? Do you know whether or not they’re endangered? Why are they able to run so fast?

Looking into all of these questions will lead you down a number of different paths, all of which cause you to think a variety of thoughts that without this inquiry you’d possibly miss out on entirely.

The value in this is that you may find yourself following a path to learn something truly remarkable, which in turn changes how you see the world, and how you think about things.

The key to building better thinking habits is to engage in the process of inquiry that continually changes how you think. The more you learn, the more you know about, and the more curious you can become, the greater your ability to think critically as you’re training your mind to stop accepting the first data you receive as you build a habit for questioning and digging deeper. You inquisitive brain will then start to naturally search for patterns allowing you to think more creatively.

For a deeper breakdown of Thinking, visit The Superhero Institute page on Thinking.

Communication

We can all benefit from improving our communication skills. This can include writing better emails to our clients, showing up more confident and persuasive in sales situations, or better understanding listening vs speaking with our partners.

There are so many areas we could focus on with regard to communication but today, I’m going to give you two new habits that I think will really help.

Getting Started: Communication Habits

Starting today, you can make two small changes in your everyday communication that I can assure you will develop communication habits that improve how others relate to you and ensure that your communications are more efficient and effective.

If you’re about to send an email, then stop and read it as the person you’re sending it to. Pause for a moment and try to imagine what the other person is thinking about, what their concerns are, what they care about, etc. Really try to empathize with them. Try to imagine that you are them, with all of the emails they receive, with all of the life pressures they might be facing. Why would they care about your email? What would make them respond favorably? What would cause them to stop reading it entirely.

Now, go back through your email? Is it formatted in a way that makes it easy to read? What was your subject line? How did you address them? Was it casual? Was it formal?

What about the first few sentences, did you intrigue them? Did you answer their question directly? How does it sound in your head? Is it warm and friendly or is it firm and direct?

Doing this exercise day-in, day-out with every important email will undeniably change how you email forever.

The second habit can be used in written form or in-person. If you are in a conversation, then ask one more question. You’ll be amazed what happens when you ask more questions in conversations versus talking.

We talk because we want people to know how smart we are, how charming we are, or we just like hearing ourselves speak. Asking questions however, gives us more information which allows us to say something more relevant. Asking questions gives us some additional time so that rather than talking, we have additional time to think about saying something valuable. Asking (genuine and curious) questions makes the other person feel important. By taking an interest in their opinion, you make them feel valued, thereby enriching the relationship. People tend to like those who like them.

For a deeper breakdown of Communication, visit The Superhero Institute page on Communication.

Leading

Leadership is a passion of mine, and one day very soon my book will come out. I promise.

In the interim, I want to give you a few strong leadership habits that you can develop starting immediately.

For a deeper breakdown of Leadership, visit The Superhero Institute page on Leadership.

Getting Started: Leading Habits

If you are leading a team, and something is not working, then step in and help. The new habit you are forming is becoming a leader with a bias toward taking action with the flexibility to help wherever you’re needed.

Help can mean a lot of things, from fishing to teaching how to fish. What help doesn’t mean is yelling that you need more fish!

A simple example might be that despite it being someone else’s responsibility to empty the office trash can on Friday, you’re the last one in the office and the trash needs to be emptied. So, you just do it. In this case, the answer was to take immediate action.

A more complex example might be that your company is pitching a big job, and your lead business developer is falling behind getting the proposal together. You could take it away from them and do it yourself, but that doesn’t help them grow and could undermine their confidence. Instead, you clear your afternoon and sit down with them, helping them to find efficiencies in putting together proposals. In this case, the answer was to take accountability to guide and grow your team member.

There will be plenty of other situations where maybe the answer isn’t as clear cut. In those cases, talk to your team members and ask them what course of action is most helpful to them. When the outcome is what matters, it’s your responsibility as a leader to step up and take ownership of the problem and be in service of resolving it.

When you take ownership, you do not waste time on assigning fault, you simply step in and fix the problem in whatever way you are required. If a problem arises where leadership is needed, then waste no time jumping in.

Realizing

Realizing is an all-encompassing term for the art of bringing ideas into reality. This includes productivity, team management, developing a bias toward action, and more…

With so much to cover, I think the best place to start is with a profoundly useful habit.

For a deeper breakdown of Realizing, visit The Superhero Institute page on Realizing.

Getting Started: Realizing Habits

If you haven’t yet read The 5-Second Rule by Mel Robbins, maybe add that to your Learning Habit. Getting things done requires that you stop procrastinating and take action.

The 5-second rule is an excellent model for spurring yourself into action, even when you don’t feel like it…ESPECIALLY when you don’t feel like it.

There’s a lot of science behind this technique and some really excellent storytelling in the book, so don’t let this brief description stop you from reading the whole book. Here’s the gist: If you have something you want/need to do but don’t feel like it, then count backward from 5 to zero and then take action. The simple act of counting down in your head “5-4-3-2-1-0” gives you 5 seconds to make the decision whether or not to take action, and what you’ll find is that when you start implementing the 5 second rule, you’ll start taking actions more often that not.

It’s not 100%, sometimes you’ll just continue laying in bed, but if you make even a 5% improvement, that’s a good start.

Building New Habits for a Lifetime

The real secret here is to take a long view of new habit formation. You have however many years in front of you. Marginal improvements in any area of your life begin to add up. When you’re deliberate about where you want to improve in your life, you create the opportunity to start bending reality to your will.

These are just a few tips, but within each of the 5 aspects of becoming superhuman, there are nearly limitless new habits that can be formed.

Good luck on your journey of self-actualization.

If you have a suggestion for how to build a new habit for Learning, Thinking, Communicating, Leading or Realizing, I’d love to hear it in the comments.

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