Recharging Habits

Since finishing NaNoWriMo my writing habit has been lax - automaticity has been difficult to achieve. A part of that has to do with improper transitional planning - I knew exactly what I had to do during my 30 day challenge, and after it ended I was left swinging in the wind. 

Another aspect is a lack of a proper implementation intention. It had been eroded by my recent travels, and for NaNoWriMo it had changed. My unstated implementation was “write A LOT” - which I did. But shifting gears to a normal schedule my if-then protocol was gone. And this is very noticeable when compared to my very new rowing habit, which has a crisp if-then (as soon as I get up, I row), a fact that’s reflected in rapidly soaring SRHI scores.

I switched up my routine yesterday and today, immediately writing after rowing. It just feels more automatic. It appears that the closer I have a task to waking up, the more charged the habit gets. Why? I think it has to proper implementation - the further a long in the day the more willpower stores are depleted. Also more tasks come up later in the day. I need to eat, I need to go to the bathroom, I need to cook. All of those tasks are not precisely pinned down - they change, making the implementation sloppier.

That usually doesn’t matter so much - but after various forms of degradation (travel, a 30 day challenge, getting sick), it starts to make a big difference in automaticity. 

A while back I talked about the potential that all long-term habits may need a “re-charge” once and a while. Scott Young, in his post “Why is it So Hard to Create Permanent Habits?” describes this train of thought.

In the post Young talks about how many habits have to be restarted. We want to think they will be permanent, but they often aren’t - habits for him are a medium-term strategy. They are, in his terminology - “metastable” - they lower thresholds of action in some ways, but not all ways. And because of this, they often have to be restarted depending on the changing action you are doing in the habit. 

This idea of metastability conforms to my experience as the reason why I’ve found few habits have had permanent lifespans. Inevitably, the habit breaks down because of a temporary lifestyle change: a vacation, an illness, needing to move or work overtime. These create shocks which are often enough to break the behavior, increase the decision cost, making it no longer automatic when you return to the habit.

His full post is really interesting, and I’d like to analyze it fully in a separate post. I agree that shocks will destabilize habits. But I think proper mid-range planning can compensate allowing you to “shelf” some habits at lower daily minimums (which he mentions) or, in this case, “recharge” them by rotating them in a daily regiment. 

I also think that tempering a habit comes with these periods of unstableness - there’s my quarter mark theory, there’s a dip in the graph before a superhabit is formed - without a metric to determine habit strength or a habit of tracking habits it’s hard to see whether a habit is lost, or if it’s still there and going through a weak patch.