Habits and Holes

Let me know if this sounds familiar:

In my younger days, I liked to make plans about habits that I wanted to break. The instinct to do this was particularly strong around new years. And sometimes in the moment of planning to break the habit, I would be doing the thing I wanted to stop. So I might sit down at my laptop creating a plan to moderate my drinking in between sips of a microbrew or a glass of red wine.

Perhaps not surprisingly, every one of those plans fell through.

Breaking a habit is like digging a hole. Planning isn’t all that helpful. The only way to dig a hole is to get busy digging.

And planning to break a habit while reinforcing the habit you’re trying to break is like shoveling a huge pile of dirt on the very spot you’re looking to dig. You’re going in the wrong direction.

And yet this is basically what we do when we make new years’ resolutions. We indulge in some habits while planning to develop the opposite habit. We build a hill on the spot we plan to dig a hole.

You can dig a massive hole if you remove one bucket full of dirt from the some place every day 1,000 days in a row. But if you shovel five buckets one day and put 8 buckets back every other day, then you’ll end up with a hill instead of a hole, even though you’re doing a lot more work than the first person. And if you dig for five days in a row and then abandon your hole for a month, nature will undo most of the work you’ve done.

If you want to change a habit, you don’t need a new plan or a new year. You just need incremental and consistent movement in the same direction.