– Ben Martens

Building Habits

I recently read (but can’t remember where) an article about willpower vs habits. Willpower is like a battery that gets used up and recharged each night. You have to be careful how and where you apply your willpower because you probably won’t have enough to get you through the day. Habits happen mindlessly or with much less effort. So if you’re looking to make a change, you need to intentionally apply your willpower to get an activity to the point of being a habit.

Apps are frequently built to get you into a habit quickly. Games on my phone are always encouraging me to play just one more round or telling me to log in every x hours to get the next reward. But apps can use this type of incentive for good too. I started learning Duo Lingo about 16 months ago and in the beginning, I frequently relied on the app’s notifications to remind me that I hadn’t done my lesson for the day yet. It keeps track of the number of consecutive days you’ve practice, the number of lessons you’ve done compared to other people, the number of hours you spent practicing in a week, etc. So not only is that app encouraging me to keep my daily streak alive, but it’s also measuring my progress. For me, that measurement piece is a big key to building a habit.

So all that got me to thinking about some things I wanted to change in my life and how I could use my willpower battery and statistics to build a habit. I decided to use my sore back as a test case. I have spent a lot of time in physical therapy to help with my back, but I only keep up with my exercises after I’ve hurt my back. I should be doing them all the time and avoid losing a week here and there to back pain. There are a thousand different habit tracker apps out there, but the first one I downloaded was called Loop Habit Tracker. It gives me the satisfaction of making a checkmark for each day that I do my back stretches, giving me stats about how many days I’ve done it, and reminding me if I haven’t done it yet. I’m over a week in and already I can feel those exercises using up less of my willpower each day.

One of my favorite quotes is from a French mountain climber named Gaston Rebuffat who said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” I’ve had a goal of getting better about doing those basic exercises, but I never had a plan to build the habit. Hopefully as I get the habit formed, I’ll be able to keep it going easily and then work on using my willpower to improve other areas.