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Build Better Habits

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Habit Graduation: Moving from Two Minutes to Mastery


Congratulations! You’ve reached the final step of 30 Days to Better Habits. Today is “habit graduation.”


James Clear refers to this final step as habit graduation for two reasons. Not only because you are graduating from the challenge and finishing what you set out to do, but also because, in this step, we will discuss how to graduate and advance from your small, initial habit to larger, more impressive habits over time.


Hopefully, you chose a small and doable enough habit that you were able to sustain through the month.


But what if you didn't? No problem; it's time to make the habit smaller and more achievable.


My habit was to drink 12 cups of water a day. I did well for the first week, but the second week I struggled. This is because I started with too big of a habit. So for the third week, I dropped to 9 cups of water daily. And I've been able to sustain that.


I know one of you is decluttering. I hope it's going well. But if whatever you hoped to declutter isn't decluttered or isn't staying decluttered, maybe choose a smaller area and focus on that until that smaller area stays decluttered all the time.


Another one of you is working on healthier snacks. Again I hope it's doing well. But if you aren't choosing a healthy snack at least 80% of the time, try just the morning snack for now. Lock that habit in and expand when the time is right.


But what if you did? Then you might wonder, "Am I supposed to stick with a small habit forever? It makes sense to start with something small, but how do I know when to scale up?" Congratulations! But unfortunately, the answer to this question is a bit more complicated.


When you start building a new habit, it’s exciting because it’s new. Over time, however, habits become routine. They become learned and the outcomes become expected. Once you know what to expect, habits tend to be less interesting. Sometimes they even become boring. This can be one of the first signals that it’s time to graduate your habit to the next level. You scale up when what was previously challenging is now the new normal.

Boredom might tempt you to look for something completely new to do: a new solution, a better approach, a different program. Pretty soon, you jump to one habit to the next, or one program to the next and you never spend enough time focusing on one thing long enough to get results. So I encourage you to stick with the same habit, but find a new detail to master or get interested in. Until it's automatic. THEN, choose a new habit.


Some examples:


You’ve been writing 100 words per day and you’ve done that for 3 months now and it’s no longer interesting. Rather than using this as evidence that you should jump to podcasting, video, or YouTube, you find a new detail to obsess over related to writing. Perhaps you try to master writing better opening sentences. This renewed focus on a small portion of the process allows you to stick with the habit of writing but find something interesting in the habit.


The second thing you can do is to stick with the same habit but scale up the intensity or volume. For example, perhaps you began a walking habit by putting on your walking shoes and going outside for two minutes each day. After a few weeks, this routine may be so easy that it feels boring to you. At this stage, you can scale up to walking for five minutes or 10 minutes. In this case, the potential pitfall is jumping from a small version of your habit to something massive. Even as you graduate from one level to another, you want to be careful to maintain small, incremental improvements. Just because you’ve mastered the art of showing up, doesn’t mean you should jump straight to the finish line.


This is the perfect time to continue walking along the habit-shaping path from “very easy” to “very hard.” Start by mastering the first two minutes of the smallest version of the behavior, then advance to an intermediate step and repeat the process.


Mastering each stage before moving on to the next level. Eventually, you’ll end up with the habit you had originally hoped to build despite starting so small.


Habit graduation will always be a personal choice and require some level of guesswork. One metric to keep in mind is choosing a new level that is exciting enough that you're no longer bored, but easy enough that you know you’ll be able to do it 98% of the time.


At this stage, you repeat the process you’ve already followed: Scale up to the next level, master this portion of the behavior, make it the new normal, and then repeat. If at any time you do fall off courese or you feel like it’s all you can do to show up, return to your original two-minute version.


Finally, I’d like to share James Clear's theory of motivation. I encourage you to remember it as you continue to advance and expand your habits. He refers to this theory as the “goldilocks rule.” It can be a useful philosophy to remember when considering how big of a jump you should take when you scale your habits up.


The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak levels of motivation when working on tasks of just manageable difficulty. Not too hard, not too easy, just right. This is precisely the region where habits remain motivating and exciting. Working on challenges of just manageable difficulty is a good way to keep things interesting.


​I hope you enjoyed this habit-building challenge!

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