Routines, Habits, and Systems: Writing more on autopilot.

The difference between habits and routines

The terms routine and habit are often used interchangeably. One is a group of habits, the other is a single one. So I want to differentiate them right now. Habits are hard to change, we have a craving for them. Gambling, smoking, these are habits. Reward-driven behavior that people crave. A routine is just a pattern in our life and is easy to change with simple motivation.

At the end of the day what you really want is a system. A series of habits or a habit-stack that you constantly evaluate to improve its efficiency.

You Need a Reward

The first step is a reward. Whenever I talk to people about forming habit I always start here because this is what will create the craving. It's also the component most people leave out. I remember talking to a writer who had been working on novel for three years. I asked him about his reward system for writing, and his response was that "writing was its own reward." So I asked him how often he wrote. It was about twice a week. That's when I told him if writing was its own reward he would be doing it every day. He would be late for work because he needed to finish a chapter. As the saying goes "nobody likes writing, we like having written." A good reward is usually something you find yourself actively avoiding because you eat too much of it, do it often, or do it too long. Things that works best, are usually the things you avoid because you find them addicting or you can't control yourself around them very well.

Something you crave

A good reward is usually something you find yourself actively avoiding because you eat too much of it, do it often, or do it too long. Things that works best, are usually the things you avoid because you find them addicting or you can't control yourself around them very well.

For a long time I had a list of certain foods I wasn't allowed to buy, because regardless of how much I bought, I would consume it all in one sitting. If I bought a small bag of Swedish fish. I would eat them all by the end of the day. If I bought a 5lb. bag I would eat them all by the end of the day. So I stopped buying them.

It was only later that I realized I could use this intense craving to motivate almost any behavior. I just needed to find a way to prevent myself from overindulging, so I bought a tool box with a key lock. This serves as the barrier from the reward while the work is getting done. Most of the time the key just sits in a drawer, but on certain days I have to put it in my car. This is strengthening the barrier.

A System

I think the narrative explains the system for the most part but here it is in summary. First, find something you crave. Second, reward the habit you want with it. Third, set up a barrier to keep you from it until you've earned it. Fourth, document how you do each day. Look at where things work well, and where they fall apart, then try to structure habits around that. Once a habit is established expand on it, or stack it. Maybe it just 5min of writing and it gets expanded to 10 and eventually 45min followed 20min of reading a book on writing craft.

Through my own documentation, I found that one of the biggest lulls in my work day came around lunch. I would watch TV while I ate lunch, but when I finished I would keep watching to finish the show. As I looked at this problem I realized that I always craved something sweet after I ate, and I had a lot of Swedish fish in my lockbox. So I wanted to start a new habit. I would reward myself if I stopped watching TV as soon as I finished eating.