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Habit forming

09 January, 2024

Tom Scott has just finished ten years of his weekly Things You Might Not Know series on YouTube.

Simon Willison has written about streak-forming and not holding yourself too tightly to doing something every day – this is something I feel a great sympathy with; there is so much advice about doing something every day, and seeing the streak increase and using your unwillingness to break that streak to inspire you to continue.

This doesn’t work for me. Setting an extrinsic goal (increasing an external value) doesn’t work as well for me as competing with someone else – my intrinsic desire to keep up with or exceed someone else (in particular if I know them) doing something similar is a much stronger motivation.

This is because, as Simon says, life can just get in the way. If it’s an exercise streak and I’m ill for a few days, then I’ll miss my goals and away goes that streak. If it’s a blogging streak and my internet connection goes down on the day I need to make my post then away that goes too.

The unpredictable impact of externalities can affect your goals too easily. This is disheartening and can lead to abandoning the goal altogether. Far better to build in a certain amount of slack into either your initial expectation or how the streak is being tracked. A lot of goal-tracking processes (and apps), in particular in New Year’s resolution season, don’t seem to take this into account.

I am trying to do more cycling this year; I was doing well last year but injured myself in September and completely fell off the wagon. So this year I’ll be tracking my progress in two ways. Firstly I’m competing with my wife who has also started an exercise programme (and neither of us wants to “lose” to the other – a highly effective motivation!) and secondly I’ve got a physical year-long tracker on the wall in my office where I’m tracking when I do and don’t get on my bike. I’m expecting that there will be full weeks of no cycling (when I’m on holiday and when I’m inevitably ill), but so long as I can keep more green than red across the full year, I’ll be happy.

A photo of a 365-day calendar where each of the first 8 days has been coloured in green to show that I cycled on those days

Hopefully this will prove to be a far healthier way of both staying on track, and being fair to myself, rather than focusing on simply incrementing a number.

See other posts tagged with bike general habits and other posts made in January 2024.