zen habits : breathe

The Four Hidden Habit Skills

By Leo Babauta

When you learn a new skill, feedback is important: if you fall off a bike, you need to make an adjustment so you don’t keep falling.

But when people learn the skill of creating new habits, they usually take the feedback of missing the habit as complete failure. A sign that they have no discipline.

In actuality, it means no such thing. It just means you need to practice the skill more and make an adjustment.

What people don’t realize is that creating habits is actually a skillset that can be learned and practiced and mastered.

And there are four hidden habit skills that most people don’t realize they’re bad at, which I talk about in my new book:

  1. Committing to actually starting. Lots of people think, “I should learn a language,” or “I’m going to start exercising soon” … but then don’t actually take action. That’s because they haven’t really committed to getting started. In our minds, we half commit to things all the time. The habit skill to master is fully committing. That means overcoming your mind’s resistance to taking action, and saying, “I’m doing this. I’m all in. I’m going to start today.” And then get moving. If you’re not good at doing this, start your practice right now: commit to making a small habit change, right this second.
  2. Focus on starting. Once you’ve chosen your habit, and are ready to get started … the focus should be on actually doing the habit. There’s a resistance we face many times when we’re supposed to do a new habit, and we procrastinate, run to distractions, and rationalize. The skill to master is getting started. You don’t have to exercise for 30 minutes … you just need to start. Most people are not good at this, and they think it’s because they have no willpower. No. They just haven’t practiced and mastered this skill of starting.
  3. Noticing rationalizations. Our minds resist doing the habit, and come up with all kinds of rationalizations: It’s too hard, there’s no need to put yourself through this suffering, you’ll do it later, you deserve a break, just this once won’t hurt. We’ve all done this, many times. The skill to master is seeing this rationalization process in action. Be mindful of it. Expose it to the sunlight of attention. And then, come up with counterarguments for each rationalization.
  4. Constant re-adjustment. This is one of the most important habit skills of all, but people fail to do it. They have a rigid idea of what their habit will be like, and when something doesn’t go according to plan, they feel like everything has failed. They feel guilt, and think they’re a failure. No. They just need to re-adjust, and have a flexible mindset. This is so important, and yet almost no one does it. Forget to do the habit? No problem! Adjust by coming up with reminders. Procrastinated by going on Facebook? No problem! Adjust by blocking Facebook until 5 p.m. No problem is a problem if you have the skill of re-adjustment.

If you’re not good at creating habits, you simply need to practice these four hidden skills. If you mess up, just practice some more. No one mastered anything on their first few attempts — it takes time to get good at anything.

But if you get good at this, you can unlock almost unlimited achievements. That makes it worth practicing.

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