Congratulations! You’ve reached the final lesson of 30 Days to Better Habits. Today is “habit graduation.”
There are two reasons why I use the term habit graduation. This lesson will not only help you graduate from the course and complete what you set out to do, but we will also discuss how to graduate and advance from your small, initial habit to larger and more impressive habits over time.
One of the first questions I receive when I tell people about my approach to habits and behavior change is: Do I have to stick with a small habit forever? The concept of starting small makes sense, but how can I gauge when to scale up?
For those of us committed to continuous improvement, these questions are vital, and we will close this course with some ideas for how to answer them.
In the beginning, it’s exciting to start building a new habit because you’re learning something new. Whenever something is new, it is interesting and novel. Habits, however, become routine over time. Eventually, they become a part of you and are expected of you. Once habits become routine, they tend to become less interesting. They can even become boring at times. When you notice this, it is a sign that it is time to graduate your habit to the next level. When previously challenging situations become the new norm, you scale up.
It’s time to move on when your old habit becomes boring. The problem, however, is that as soon as people get bored, they will start seeking out new approaches, new solutions, and new programs. Eventually, you jump from one habit to the next, or one program to the next, and never focus long enough on one thing to see results. The key is to stick to the same habit, while acquiring some new skill or interest as soon as you get bored.
After 3 months of writing 100 words a day, you feel that it is no longer interesting. Rather than using this as evidence that you should jump to podcasting or 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 involving some guesswork. In the process of choosing new levels, I like to consider whether they are exciting enough to keep me interested, but easy enough to be able to complete them 98% of the time.
At this stage, you simply 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 course or you feel like it’s all you can do just to show up, return to your original two-minute version.
Finally, I’d like to share a theory of motivation that you can keep in mind as you continue to advance and expand your habits. I refer to this theory as the “goldilocks rule.” It can be a useful philosophy to keep in mind 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.
One way to know that you’re in the goldilocks zone and staying on the edge of your ability is that you’re winning enough to feel successful and failing enough to feel challenged. The key aspect to focus on here as you’re trying to expand is winning enough to feel successful. If at any point, you expand your habit to a degree where you are no longer succeeding consistently, you know you have surpassed the goldilocks zone and you should scale back down to something easier. You need just enough “winning” to experience satisfaction and just enough “wanting” to experience desire.
Here are some examples:
- Once you’ve mastered lacing up your running shoes and stepping out the door, graduate to walking around the block each day. Once that’s easy, scale up again.
- Once you’ve mastered putting all the dirty clothes in the laundry hamper, include another simple cleaning task – like washing a dish right after you use it instead of letting them pile up in the sink. Once that’s easy, scale up to include another task.
- Once you’ve mastered saving $1 per week, graduate to saving $5 or $10. Continue to scale up until you “feel” it, then back off a touch.
Staying on the edge of your potential is more art than science. Nudge yourself a little, so you’re no longer bored, but not so much that you’re failing each time.
Week 4 Summary
- Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the tribe. It transforms a personal quest into a shared one.
- We’ve discussed a variety of strategies for building habits that last. The Habit Contract brings everything together on one page and formalizes your plan for change.
- When you start out building a new habit, it’s exciting in the beginning because it’s new. Over time, however, habits become routine. 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.
Week 4 Progress Check-In
Congratulations. You’ve now finished 30 Days to Better Habits. You should have a clear plan for how to implement your two-minute habit with an implementation intention, a series of environment design changes that optimize for your desired habit, and a strategy for scaling up your habit.
p.s. If you want to tell a friend about 30 Days to Better Habits, you can use the sharing links below, or just copy and paste this URL to send to them: 30 Days to Better Habits
Helpful bonuses and downloads
- 30 days to better habits workbook – This 20-page PDF includes an action checklist (including templates for key strategies) for each lesson of the course, plus lesson summaries and a key terms dictionary.
- 30 days to better habits examples – The examples database is a Excel Sheet of 100+ examples of how to implement each strategy covered in this bootcamp for dozens of different habits.