One day an early manuscript, not even proofread, arrived in my mailbox for review. I don’t review books, but this one was called “Scrum” and it was about running your business and managing projects using ideas from the method Agile software developers use to create software. I was bored of the book I was reading at the time, so I started reading Scrum.
I’m really glad I did. I never used any of the ideas to change my business, but I learned a concept that changed the way I look at habit change.
I learned about the Sprint.
In short, it’s a pattern of planning that involves mapping out what you’re going to do on a project for the next week (a week’s worth of the project is a Sprint), then executing the plan. At the end of the week, you do a review of how you did and what got in the way. Here’s the part that changes everything: you figure out what you’re going to do for the next Sprint that will overcome the obstacles.
If you keep doing this, you’ll get better each week. There’s more to the Scrum method, but this simple method of reviewing what your obstacles were in the previous Sprint, and planning to overcome them the next Sprint, you’ll get better and better over time.
From this, I created the Habit Sprint.
Here’s how it works:
- Put together a Habit Plan and focus on executing it for a week.
- At the end of the week, review how you did — how many days did you do the habit?
- Review your obstacles for days you missed or struggled with the habit. Add solutions to overcome those obstacles to your plan.
- Repeat for the next week.
Each week, you’ll get real-world information about your habit environment that you didn’t have before you started the week. You’ll get better each week as you find methods that allow you to overcome the obstacles.
Did you mess up this week and not do the habit at all? No problem — as long as you do the review and figure out what your obstacles and solutions are, it’s a success because you learned something. The only failure would be if you didn’t review and improve the plan.
This illustrates a deeper concept about change we’ll discuss soon in Chapter 16: mistakes are crucial feedback when you’re making a change. When you fail, you should realize that, and change direction. You don’t keep going in the same direction.
The Habit Sprint is a way to systematize that concept: once a week, you make sure you review the mistakes you’ve made and use that feedback to adjust course. You improve the method based on the new feedback you got in the past week.
At the end of each week, you do a quick review — how did you do, what got in the way, what solutions can you add to the plan to improve it for next week.
And you repeat that, getting better at the habit each week.
The Habit Sprint helps solidify a few principles that will help you learn the habit skills we’re working on in this book. The way that most people practice skills is suboptimal: they practice sporadically, get frustrated by mistakes, focus on the parts they’re good at.
Instead, research has shown a few ideas that help us learn skills in a better way. These strategies will help you as you learn habit skills:
- Spaced repetition. Instead of cramming for a test by studying all at once, it’s best to learn in small doses at regular intervals. That helps with long-term retention of knowledge and skills and makes learning easier. So we practice our habit skills daily: once a day, for just a few minutes a day.
- Learn from failure. It’s important to learn by trying to do something on your own without knowing what you’re doing and getting it wrong. Then correct yourself and focus on getting it right. The Habit Sprint method helps you to find where you got things wrong and to correct yourself. If you don’t do this regularly, you won’t get better. Focus on the areas where you need improvement, and you’ll improve a lot faster.
- Practice regularly. By setting up a habit practice environment where you practice regularly, and are motivated to keep practicing, you’re going to get a lot better over time. The mistake most people make is not continuing practice when things get hard. We’re setting up a habit environment to keep you on track to continue your practice.
- Practice deliberately. Practicing mindlessly is largely a waste of time. The best musicians in the world, for example, practice very deliberately. They focus for the entire time they’re practicing, and they focus on doing it right. They find weaknesses and work on them with concentration. That’s what we’re doing with our mindful practice of our habit.
The method of forming habits we’re learning in this book is not just a series of ideas to try out. It’s designed to help you learn the essential habit skills in a smart way. So don’t skip the reviews at the end of each Habit Sprint — they’re absolutely necessary for improvement.
Mission: Assess your habit change
Today, assess the progress you’ve made with your first week of habit change. How many days did you do the habit this week, and how many days did you miss? What have the main obstacles been? What can you do to overcome those obstacles and improve going forward? Add those obstacles and solutions to your Habit Plan.