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Discovering the Root of a Habit

Habits that require an extended period of focus are usually hard to start. We often put them off by doing easier things. Here’s some examples:

  • You want to edit the current chapter of the book you’re writing, but decide to watch just one more episode of your favorite show
  • You want to read an article for research, but decide to play a game on your phone instead
  • You want to meditate, but you can just never get in the mood

We’ve already seen why using a count-up timer on any kind of habit like this helps make it seem less daunting. If you only have to put in a minute, it’s not hard to show up.

But this sometimes isn’t enough. Unless you have some kind of external pressure — like a deadline on that book you want to work on — those easier things you’d rather be doing will keep presenting themselves to you. Maybe it’s another episode of your show, or maybe it’s quickly checking your social media apps and getting pulled into not-so-quick scrolling.

The trick is to make the habit feel easier. I call this discovering the root of a habit.

Think of the root of a habit like kindling placed carefully on logs before you start a fire. If you just light a match and throw it on the wood, most likely it will go out. You’ll have to light lots of matches, and you might still not succeed. With kindling, the whole thing goes up in a whoosh and you can sit back and enjoy the blaze.

Let’s see an example of this with each of our situations above.

1. For writing the chapter of your book, the actual habit is more than just the mechanical typing in a word processor. It includes how you get set up as well.

I always make a cup of tea and place it in front of me before I start writing. I don’t need the tea, but the act of making that tea gets me in motion. Once I sit down with it, I’m in front of the computer, a few clicks away from getting started.

Making tea is the root of my writing habit. This works with coffee as well, if I’m writing in the morning.

2. For reading an article, the actual habit is more than just poring over the sentences and processing them. It includes getting comfortable and relaxed.

I always read in the morning, just after breakfast. I keep the humidifier on, since I find it relaxing, and I sit on a comfy couch with my morning coffee.

This is the root of my reading habit, and it keeps me showing up every day and sometimes reading without distraction for hours.

3. For meditating, the actual habit is more than just sitting in a meditation chair with a timer on. It involves building meditative activities into your day that will make you more likely to meditate.

I could never convince myself to meditate, but I could convince myself to journal and spend some time visualizing in front of my vision board. Because I created space in my office just for this, and do it every day, it’s not hard to meditate once in a while.

Admittedly, I don’t practice formal meditation that often, but I do my journal and visualizing every day. Getting to the root of this habit helped me discover just what I was after in wanting to meditate in the first place.

Since discovering the root of a habit helps make it feel easier, over time as you keep your habit up, this sense gets etched into your memory. When I think of writing, I don’t think of straining and pulling my hair out. I think of the Zen-like calm I have as I sip at my tea and enjoy the creative process happening spontaneously — even if messy at times.

The root of a habit is very powerful, because it softens a habit that might otherwise seem hard. It can radically change your perspective, to the point that you enjoy your “hard” habits — a sort of “hard work is fun” mindset.

Stay tuned for next Tuesday, when we’ll cover more ways to succeed with the Multihabit system.


p.s. if you enjoy this newsletter and have suggestions for future articles, please hit “reply” and let me know.