Habits Humans

Humans = Habit-based Programs (Part 3/3)

In this third part of Humans = Habit-based Programs post, I will share about the ways of maintaining your habit and what to do if you have a setback.

Last Introduction For This Series, I Swear

This is the third part of Humans = Habit-based Programs post. Should you stumble to this part first, I advise you to read the previous posts before continue, in this order:

We covered quite a lot about the characters of habit and how to program new habits into our lives.

Though, deep inside our hearts, we know that it will not be an easy journey. There will be many moments of weakness and temptations. And they are lurking behind the shadows, waiting for the best opportunity to strike.

It breaks our good habits. Think about it. The good habits you have nurtured consistently for a rather long time and made you a better person, could be gone without you realise it. Though strangely, it also goes slowly but consistently, in almost the same time for us to program a new good habit. Because it also counts as programming a new habit, but a bad habit it is.

Is that not a waste a time and energy? We might realise that we have failed after a while, and we want to go back to the good habits. But, we start again from almost zero, or even negative.

A simple illustration is like saving money. When you do your good habits, you save money. And you do it consistently, so the money piles up. When you skip your good habits, you do a bad habit in the same time, so you take your money from the pile.

Let’s add another variable for the illustration. Add a maintenance fee. Because unlike money, humans lost a bit of something every day, so you have to pay a maintenance fee every day. For example, you save $100, for a fee of 10% monthly (that’s a lot, but it’s for the sake of making a point). And here is the table showing the progress:

MonthWhat you saveTotal Money You SaveWhat You Have
1$100$200$190 ($100 + m0 x 90%)
2$100$300$271 ($100 + m1 x 90%)
3$100$400$343.9 ($100 + m2 x 90%)
Table 1: Saving Consistently Illustration

So, on the fourth month, you have $343.9. But, you saved that much.

Back to the illustration, this is what happens if you take your money, instead of saving:

MonthWhat You SaveTotal Money You SaveWhat You Have
1$0$100$90 ($0 + m0 x 90%)
2-$50$50$31 (-$50 + m1 x 90%)
3-$50$0-$22.1 (-$50 + m2 x 90%)
Table 2: Save and take money. Assuming that the account can save negatives.

On month 1, one does not do the habit, so $0 is saved. On month 2 and 3, instead of doing good habit, he’s doing bad habit, so each month $50 is taken. But the fee is always there. At the end, instead of gaining, he loses. Imagine that the savings account is our well-being. You see the negatives for our well-being? In the long-term, the negatives will be a lot if we don’t do something.

Because we are in debt, the debt collector someday will come. But, the worst thing is, there are no warnings that we have debts, unlike in the real world. The debt collector will come in the form of either sickness, poverty, depression, or anything else that is bad depending on whatever bad habit we have. The debt collector can come any time he wants, and there is no escape.

It is very important to keep going. Try to at least maintain the gains if somehow you cannot save much. If you can save just a little bit more than your beings’ maintenance fee, you will gain much in the long term.

That is the importance of maintaining a habit. And finally, we will get into the section on how to maintain the habits you have somehow successfully programmed to yourself.

How to Maintain Your Habit (the good ones)

Here are some of the rules for maintaining the good habits. It also needs some time to get used to it. It will become a tremendous help and you will realise you are going up to an upward spiral.

Be Aware

Being aware is the key. Learn and get used to know if something feels wrong. Know the state of the mind and body. The current feelings. Try to acknowledge when you feel strong or weak. Talk it out, then proceed to do your habit.

Knowing that there is a resistance in the mind really helps. Accept it, then trick the mind to do it in a smaller scale. For example, when I don’t feel like to continue typing my blog content, actually I feel this way some minutes before I type this section, I said to myself: “Oh, it seems like I’m not really in the mood of doing this. It’s OK, no need to do much, just type a paragraph. You will still progress.” Then I grab my laptop and write almost half the post. It’s true.

It also means if it feels too tough, it is good to have a rest just once in a while. Just once in a while. On the next day you have to do the habit again. You want to enjoy doing your new habit, not a chore that has to be done. And it is also good to regularly remind yourself why you do the habit in the first place.

Track Your Progress

Do you remember the mind saying these things? “Nah, not today, I’ll do it tomorrow. It’s just one day.” Then, the next day: “I don’t feel like I’ve recovered enough, let’s just skip this day also.” And then, suddenly a week passed. You know that you already missed one week, but somehow you underestimated the value of one week. It suddenly become the beginning of the end of the good habit. Though it’s good if you do this to your bad habit if you can.

Tracking the progress daily helps tremendously. Write a journal of what you do today, the next day, the next day after the next day, and so on. When you feel like not doing it at all, just put it as “REST DAY”. You will somehow objectively see the journal, roughly calculating the days you do the habit and the days you don’t. It also serves as a memory of the progressions you have successfully made in the past.

Another thing I found interesting is that it also helps you to have the mindset of taking it one day at a time. Every day you can win. Every day you are setting a new personal record. And it will continue. When suddenly another month has passed, look back at the daily victories before, you will be proud of yourself.

Never Set a Deadline

A good habit is meant to last forever. It has to become part of you. That is why you don’t set a deadline for your habits. Make sure that your habit is consistently doable. It has to be easy. Learn to run in Nao Kazami’s pace (see part 2) for longer distance. Slower, but more distance. Less daily effort, but the effect lasts longer.

They say that a new habit is created after consistently doing it for 21 days. For me, that’s not the case. 21 days are not enough to make the auto-pilot stable. Even 60 days are still not. In fact, the resistance is still rather strong. I usually target 90 days to stabilise the auto-pilot. After that, it become so much easier to continue. The days I mentioned here is good to be considered just as milestones. You may celebrate with anything you want, but not by stop doing it, not even for a day.

The only deadline you must set is the deadline of doing bad habits. And the time is now. Stop doing those things now. Don’t waste anymore time to things that you already know is not good for you.

Change Things A Bit If It Becomes Too Easy or Boring

Doing the same things for long periods of time can be boring. If you exercise, maybe doing 20 reps of push-up a day does not feel fulfilling anymore. You don’t feel getting any more benefits. You become comfortable, 20 reps of push-up is a cakewalk.

I find that adding some progressions is a good way to bring back the excitement of doing the habit. For example, if 20 reps of push-up is already easy, try 25 or 30 reps, or even do a 20 reps of decline push-up. You will feel slightly challenged, and also get stronger.

In my experience, I started exercise from adding 1 rep of push-up per day. Then when I reached 25, I started to get tired, so I split it to 2 sets of 13. Then gradually made it to 2 sets of 25. I realised I need rest between the sets, so I add a 30 seconds of low plank in between. After a while, adding 1 rep each day felt too slow, so I added 2 reps each day.

And so, I continue to add reps, in between moves, and splitting more sets. 5 months has passed and as of now, every day I do at least 100 push-up variations, at least 5 minutes of plank variations, at least 40 pull-ups, 100 crunch variations, and at least 60 squats or lunges variations, with a day in every three days to run for at least 5 km or 30 minutes. No before after pics, sorry. Believe me or not, it’s up to you.

It takes around two hours to do all that as of now. I can do it now because of self-quarantine, but I might cut half the routine when things get back to normal because the routine takes too long and quite exhausting. Because, the true habit I programmed is to exercise daily. I just somehow got used to get stronger in the process.

Find Someone to Hold Yourself Accountable

Sometimes our own willpower is not strong enough to go on. It depends to the person, but some of us need somebody else to remind, or even better, to do the same habit together. They feel more energized if there are other people around. They do it because they want to uphold the others’ expectations. If they don’t, they feel they would disappoint the others.

You can start by sharing to them what you are going to do. Make sure the person you tell is the type that can hold a commitment to help you program your new habit. It’s very important. Try it for some days. If they frequently fails to remind you, find another person who can.

As proof of daily success, you can create some kind of report of the activity. If you exercise, record a daily video. Taking a weekly before after pics should also work. If you try to make a habit of reading, make a summary of what you read. Then, you send it to the person who have agreed to help you with. Do it as if you are submitting a report to a lecturer. Let him/her give you a feedback whether you cheat on your habit or not.

Having Setbacks? Don’t Worry

Know that the journey will not be a smooth sailing all the time. There are times that you will fail, and that’s normal. There are times of being weak. There are times when you need to rest. And of course, there are times when you are not aware you are gradually reverting to your old bad habits.

Here are some tips to help you get back on your feet, and continue trying when you feel you have failed.

Accept You Are a Human, not a Machine

Only machines can do things consistently. And produce the same quality of work all the time. You are not a machine. Don’t treat yourself like a machine because you are more precious. A broken part of a machine can be replaced quickly. Your body and mind cannot be replaced, they can only be healed. And healing takes time.

You are doing your habits for your own good. You need yourself to do your habits. And you want yourself to be in the best condition to do it. So, just accept it and be at peace.

Accept Your Failure, and Try Again

Failure is inevitable. It’s part of the journey to be successful. Learn from the failures: what makes you fail, how can you prevent the failure if possible. Then try again.

There might be some of us who has a fear of failure. If you think about it, the consequences of failing is almost none. None in the short term. And if it does, only you will feel the consequences. You can choose to get angry at yourself, but you shouldn’t. Being angry with yourself will only make things even harder. You should accept it and say, “The past has passed. A brighter future has yet to come.”

Failure caused by not knowing the right thing is not failure. You truly fail if you give up. By giving up, you will taste the consequences in maybe tens of years in the future. It will be subtle, but unforgiving.

No Need to Restart Your Streak

If you are the consecutive counter freak type, you might be very happy because every day would be a new record. You might achieve the 200th consecutive days of waking up early without skipping. Good job. But then, you forgot to charge your phone, then your alarm didn’t set off, so you wake up one hour later than your target. Then, you feel that your 200-day streak is broken and you have to start again from day 0.

There is no need to do that.

Why? Because you already do your very best. Failure also come to the best of us. Just learn the mistake, by making sure the phone survives until morning, then continue to do the usual. Besides, you also get an extra hour of sleep. A reward you shouldn’t have gotten, but you got it nonetheless.

Do Even Smaller Steps

We might get overconfident in setting our habit target. It might seem to be quite easy for a few days. Then, suddenly it feels tough. That’s the sign that it’s not small enough, that we got too overconfident in estimating. The only solution is to reduce the load. You might find it to be very easy. But it is what we want to achieve: the habit itself. And it should be easy.

Another case is when you are doing progressions. You are happy with your progress, and you add it gradually. Then suddenly, it also becomes too tough. You might feel reluctant to continue, or maybe unable to reach the progressed daily target for a few days. Same solution: Reduce the load where it’s comfortable, and rebuild your confidence and spirit to continue doing the habit.

Conclusion, The Final One For This Series, Finally

The approach I shared here is based on my experience and personality. Every person is different. If you have a more effective approach for yourself, and it’s not listed here, let me know about that. I will make some revisions, so together we can help other people whose personality is more like yourselves.

I believe that programming habits is a way to control ourselves. To be aware of what we lack, and what we want to achieve. It is also a statement that we don’t let bad things happen to us, but we create the things that we want to happen to us. We take back control of our own lives. Free from the slavery of the bad habits.

Lastly, the most important habit for me is to make a habit of programming a new good habit. That way, I can learn to always be aware of whatever bad habit I still have, then convert it to a good habit. I want to set myself to ride the upward spiral of life.

If you like reading books, which is a good habit you should have, here are some of the very recommended ones to improve your habit programming:

  • Stephen R. Covey – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • James Clear – Atomic Habits
  • Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habit
  • Gretchen Rubin – Better than Before

And thus, this is the end of the series of Humans = Habit-based Programs. It’s been fun to write these posts, even though it’s unexpectedly long. I hope they can help you on your journey to become your very best version. Thanks for reading!

Code this to your life, and live it consistently!

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By Ericko Yap

Just a guy who is obsessed to improve himself. Working as a programmer in a digital banking company. Currently programming himself in calisthenics, reading books, and maintaining a blog.

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