Imagine yourself as a kid who wakes up after a night of heavy snowfall. There’s a thick layer of snow on the ground, clean and without a path.
The first time you walk through this snow, you have a very wide array of choices for what path to take. You can walk to the left, down the middle, to the right, zig zag, walk over that hill, and so on. Not only do you have many choices of paths to take, but each one will be very difficult, because there’s a foot of snow everywhere.
Now picture walking to school the next day … the snow from the previous day is still there, but now there’s a bit of a path you created from yesterday’s walk. You can still create a new path, but the one you created yesterday will be a bit easier. So you take that one.
Each day, you decide to take the path already created. This is a groove in the snow that gets easier over time, until you’re probably not going to take any other path.
Creating a new habit is a lot like that: you’re creating a groove in the snow. At first, you can go anywhere, and it’s difficult going … but once you’ve created a groove, it’s much easier, and you don’t have to forge new paths anymore.
But here’s the twist: let’s say that the child walking in the snow is actually your Childish Mind. You want to guide the Childish Mind to choose a new habit path. You want it to take a new direction, to create the groove you’ve chosen. You want to decide which habit forms.
So instead of giving the Childish Mind a wide variety of paths to take, you want to encourage it to choose the path that will create the habit groove you’ve chosen.
Here’s how: put things in the way to block your Childish Mind mind from straying from the path you’ve chosen. You could put spikes everywhere else or big roadblock barriers that force the Childish Mind to take your chosen path. Maybe place some delicious chocolates along the path to entice the Childish Mind to stay there.
You can set up your new habit so that it becomes the groove. You just need to put up roadblocks and incentives so that the right groove is created.
How to create your groove
The first thing you can put in the snow to make the groove you want is a series of incentives:
- Create little rewards for doing the habit each day
- Enjoy the ability to tell accountability partners that you did it
- Make the habit enjoyable
- Do the habit with a friend
Even more important than the incentives are the roadblocks. It’s hard to get off the path if you’ve set up some good roadblocks that keep the Childish Mind on the right path.
- Public accountability (not wanting to report that you failed)
- An accountability partner who pushes you to succeed
- Embarrassing consequences if you fail (e.g., having to donate money to an organization you can’t stand)
- Lots of reminders so you can’t forget
- The Vow you’ve made, the deeper reason for doing the habit
By setting up the roadblocks and incentives, you’ll create an environment that is much more likely to create the habit groove you want.
I’ve learned that if you want to create a habit the right way, you set up the right environment, and you don’t rely on willpower alone to overcome the Childish Mind. Willpower inevitably fails in the face of constant resistance.
Mission: Create reminders
In the next few chapters, we’ll take actions to create the groove for our new habit. For today, let’s take a small action: set up reminders, so you’re more likely to start creating the habit groove you’d like to create. Open up your Habit Plan and write down what reminders you’re going to set up. Physical reminders are often best, like big notes around where the trigger occurs (a sticky note on your laptop, a meditation cushion next to the coffee maker, running shoes next to your bed, etc.). Next would be digital reminders, like phone and calendar alarms.
Now set those reminders up, so when the trigger happens, you absolutely won’t forget.
We’ll set up the rest of your habit environment in the next few chapters.