Scott lives in Edmonton, Alberta with his wife and their little girl (7) and boy (5). He and his wife are both professionals - she's in healthcare and he's the branch manager at a bank in his neighborhood. He volunteers in leadership positions in his community league, raising money to build parks and such. He works out a bit and tries to eat well. He reads more than anyone I know. You'd think a guy like Scott would have no problem starting a new habit.
Scott first got interested in meditating the same way I did - from listening to podcasts where it seemed all the hosts and guests meditated in some way and gushed about how important it was to their productivity, creativity and overall happiness. Scott figured if it was good for them it would be good for him, so he did what anyone would do. He went out and bought a little Buddha head, put it on a little table next to a chair in a quiet room and started meditating.
It worked a for a bit, but the pull of the books he had in progress was strong and pretty soon rather than meditating with Buddha, Scott was reading with Buddha. Nothing wrong with that per se, but it wasn't what he was after. I bumped into Scott at a dinner at about this point.
At the time, I'd been meditating for a few months and loved it. So when I heard Scott was trying to create a new habit around it I offered to help.
As I study habit creation I'm finding that there are really only a handful of big ideas out there. All the books, blog posts, software, etc. seem to be slightly different plays on these few ideas. Combining elements from these different schools of thought to build Habit Plans for people makes sense to me. Each element supports the others in helping the new habit stick. And having a menu to pick from gives flexibility to come up with a plan that fits each person's unique personality and lifestyle. I'll write a series of posts another time that get into what the big ideas are and how they can be combined.
Here's the Habit Plan I put together for Scott. I combined 3 elements to help his meditation habit stick: Tiny Habits, Public Accountability and Follow Up.
If you're not familiar with Tiny Habits, check out Why Are Tiny Habits Such a Big Deal? There is actually a course you can take to become certified to teach other people the Tiny Habits program. Be advised that as of this writing I've not yet taken that course and so am but an uncertified Tiny Habits layman. Proceed at your own risk :)
As a quick summary, the idea behind Tiny Habits is that if you do something long enough and with enough regularity it will become automatic and you will be more likely keep doing it over the long term. This is true even if all you do each day in the beginning is just a really small version of your new activity (e.g. flossing one tooth to create a flossing habit). Once it's a habit, you're going to do the bigger version (e.g. flossing all of your teeth) and get the results you really want.
For Scott's habit of meditating daily - at least 5 minutes each day in the beginning, he says - I suggested the tiny version of sitting quietly for just 3 breaths. Scott works out three mornings a week and likes meditating right after his workout so we decided to anchor his meditation to the moment he walks out of the rec center where he exercises. In retrospect this may not have been the best anchor. I'll tell you why in just a bit.
The last component of a Tiny Habit is the celebration - some kind of small reward you give yourself immediately after doing your new activity, even just the tiny version. I left Scott to choose his own celebration.
Not doing something we've committed to do feels crappy. Falling short with something we've told other people we're committed to feels even worse. I suggested Scott go public with his new habit to tap into this source of motivation. There are lots of ways to do that. You can tell people what you're up to. You can write your goal down in huge letters on a piece of paper and tape it to the wall where you and everyone else can see it. You can share via social networking. Scott's plan is to share this blog post on Facebook.
Follow Up may be my favorite new habit creation tool because it hits so many levers. I included two kinds of Follow Up in Scott's Habit Plan.
Follow Up to Follow Through
I suggested Scott keep track of whether he meditated or not each day. The power of keeping track - aka 'measuring' - as a tool for getting things done is well documented.
I didn't specify how Scott should keep track other than to keep it simple and easy. Checking off the days on a calendar or even just keeping a tally on a piece of paper work fine. As well, there are lots of websites and apps built for this purpose. I've tried a few. My current favorite is Productive, though it's currently only available for iPhone (sorry, Android et al). Again, most important is that it be quick and easy to do.
Follow Up on the Follow Up
I also suggested Scott find someone else to follow up with him each day. It could be anyone - a friend, colleague, family member, it didn't much matter. All they had to do was ask him whether he'd meditated that day or not.
This serves as a sort of back up to his anchor. When he can answer "Yes!", it feels good and is a nice little reward. If he has to answer "No." it's uncomfortable, and a trigger to stop and meditate. Remember he only has to sit quietly for 3 breaths. He can do that just about anywhere, really. Then he's kept his streak alive and kept momentum with his new habit.
Risks to Scott's New Meditation Habit
I see two big risks in Scott's Habit Plan: his anchor and focusing on results too early.
We anchored daily meditation to the end of his morning workout, which only happens 3 time a week. Good anchors typically have the same frequency as the activity they are supporting. Because Scott's anchor happens less than daily, he'll have to come up with another anchor for the 4 days he doesn't work out. This is doable, but it adds complexity and risk.
For people new to the concept of Tiny Habits or baby steps, it can be really hard to stay focused on building the routine before trying to get results. If he focuses on results too soon, Scott might let his daily goal move from "sit quietly for 3 breaths" to "meditate for 5 minutes". Psychologically 5 minutes feels much bigger than 3 breaths and so is much more at risk of being pushed aside on a busy day. Until it's had time to take root as an established habit, that is.
I'll be following up with Scott periodically to see how he's doing and will add updates to this post when I do. I'm especially interested in what he anchors to on his off days and whether he'll be able to stay focused on building his routine.
Have a take? Leave a comment. I'm interested.
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Like this? Share it. I'd sure appreciate it. Thanks and take care... - Shaun