Habits are routine behaviours done on a regular basis. They are recurrent and often unconscious patterns of behaviour and are acquired through frequent repetition. Guests on the podcast share their experiences in baking habits in their lives
Devdutt talks about the distinction between building habits and enhancing awareness. He mentions that habits are often relevant only in a certain context and it is critical not to become a slave of the habit. He also elaborates on the notion of “Darshan” and “Para-jiva” and makes the distinction between self-awareness and awareness towards the other. He urges us to think about what we would do when presented with Sophie’s choice (where you have to pick between two equally deserving alternatives).
Mouli talks the fact that the time people put in a job is not an appropriate indication of the experience they have gained. He outlines TMRR (Target, Measure, Review and Reflect) as a process through which people could derive a lot more experience than what the average person might get in that time period. He also talks about how people can build in the habit so that they practice it on a regular basis.
Vinay talks about Narasimha Rao’s habit of reflection and journaling which helped him deal with the ecosystem he was in. Vinay talks about how Rao used the habit of journaling to develop a nuanced understanding of the context he was in which helped him deal with situations of grey effectively. He also talks about how he managed to gather intelligence around what was happening around him despite his lonely nature.
Indranil talks about what it takes to build the habit of story-telling within an organization. He underscores the futility of one-off programmes that leave you with a high but don’t really move the needle when people come back to the rough and tumble of their daily life. He re-emphasizes the criticality of some sort of a deliberate practice programme for people to bake in the habit.
Rich talks about how he thinks about ritualizing meditation and baking it as a hygiene in the way he goes about leading his life. He also talks about the importance of not treating meditation just as a separate activity that we do once a day but suggests that weave in meditation in the small things we do through the day. He also speaks about the importance of rituals to manage our attention in the digital economy.
James speaks about how he got injured as a player and had to focus on small wins that eventually put him on a path of recovery and regaining of fitness. He goes on to talk about how he got curious about habits from a consumer behavior stand-point in the context of the business he had started. He speaks about how those two came together and led to him becoming a bridge between academic research and practical application.
‘You don’t rise to the level of your goals but you fall to the level of your systems’, says James Clear. He speaks about the fact that goal setting has not found to be a differentiator between performers and non-performers. While Goals give you the broad direction in which you need to swim, systems provide the momentum you need to progress in that direction.
A lot of our habits are often sub-conscious. How do we ensure that we don’t become a slave of our habits but really perform our habits with awareness. In one of my earlier conversations, Devdutt Pattanaik contrasted the Indian emphasis on awareness with the western emphasis on habits. James speaks about the Japanese system of pointing and calling and uses that example to talk about how we can perform our habits with awareness.
James speaks about how environment plays such a critical part in the building and breaking of habits. He speaks about how we can increase the friction in the negative habits that we want to get rid of and decrease the resistance in the positive habits we are trying to create. This is all the more important in the context of how we relate to our digital devices where it is easy for us to go down a rabbit hole very quickly.
James speaks about the notion of a gateway habit which helps us establish the habit before we start expanding on it or optimizing it. He speaks about the criticality of us mastering the art of showing up before we start obsessing about the fine tuning of the habit.
BJ speaks about the ABC of tiny habits – Anchor, Behaviour and Celebration. He goes on to speak about the importance of having an authentic celebration as it causes dopamine regulation that leads to a habit getting cemented in your life. He also urges us to keep the habit tiny before we expand it. He says it is more important to bake the habit even if it is microscopic before we amplify it to the level that would make a meaningful difference in our lives.
BJ speaks about the Motivation Ability curve which lies at the heart of his thinking around tiny habits. He speaks about how they complement each other and one way for us to take the vagary of motivation out of the equation is to go up the Ability curve so that we reduce the friction to the extent that we could do the activity with minimal levels of motivation.
BJ speaks about the role of a prompt in getting us to perform a habit. Prompt is often the trigger that ensures that we perform the habit (assuming we have adequate motivation and ability – something that we discuss later in the conversation)
BJ makes the distinction between an Action Prompt (something that we do in our lives) versus a Context Prompt (an external trigger such as an Email, Pop-Up, Message etc). He speaks about how Product Managers in companies could be more thoughtful about how they could understand user behavior to figure out when to use the product to increase the likelihood of adoption.
BJ speaks about how we could overcome the vagaries of our motivation by working on our abilities and by keeping the habit really tiny. He also breaks down ability into a chain and says that our probability of doing something depends on the weakest link in the chain. The chain consists of time, money, physical effort, mental effort and routine.
BJ speaks about the role of celebration in locking in a habit. He also makes the distinction between a reward that often comes several days, weeks or months later and a celebration, which is often in that moment when you perform that habit. He speaks about the need to hack that emotion to really wire in the habit.
BJ speaks about how we can sow the seed for a new habit but how we can ramp up and ramp down what we do as long as we are moderate in our expectations. He speaks about the trap that a lot of high achievers get into where they keep increasing the bar for themselves often upto a point where they often end up becoming slaves to the habit as the habit starts losing relevance in the evolving context in their lives. BJ speaks about how we can bake the habit, yet regain the flexibility to ramp up or down the habit depending on how our context plays out.
BJ speaks about the importance of language when we think about habits. He says that breaking habits is possibly a wrong metaphor where we could end up doing more damage than good if we adopt that mindset. He likens a bad habit to a tangled phone cord that needs to be carefully untangled knot by knot for us to really resolve the situation. He proposes a similar approach to dealing with bad habits rather than going after them aggressively.
BJ speaks about some thoughts around how we can battle screen addiction both when we are by ourselves and when we are with others. He recommends screentime.standford.edu where there is an automated AI based system that asks for your objectives and understands your usage patterns and suggests a few simple things you could do to grapple with Tech addiction.
BJ speaks about why several people cognitively “get” what they need to do but struggle to move the needle in that direction. He links it back to the early success some of them experience in their journey and why that leads to a certain “fixed mindset” that comes in the way of them experimenting with new ideas that could potentially be a failure. He also talks about how we need to work on minimizing our expectations for new behaviours to take root and grow.
Marshall speaks about the challenges in getting behaviours to stick and the need for a Coach to keep you accountable and ensure that you be at it. He speaks about how he gets somebody to call him every day to get him to ask him a few questions around areas he wants to improve and how that has helped him with behaviour change.
Ashley speaks about the notion of how we should outsource the task of staying productive to tools and apps that are out there and not leave it to the vagaries of our will power. She also speaks about how we should have a conversation with ourselves on why we might be reaching out to technology whenever we have a few residual moments to kill.
Jen speaks about 4 common conflict habits we gravitate to – Blame (externalize the problem), Shame (internalize the problem), Shut down (refuse to have a conversation), Relentlessly Collaborate (proactively work with the other side). She speaks about how we end up developing one of these styles and what happens when we meet another person or entity that has a different conflict habit.
Tom speaks about the challenges we face in the unlearning process whenever we have spent a lot of time learning something. He speaks about a rocket scientist in Huntsville Alabama, who constructed a cycle with different movements to prove the point about how difficult it is to balance the cycle.
Katy speaks about Andre Agassi and the approach Brad Gilbert took with him when he was going through a slump. She says that Brad suggested that Andre would have to devise a strategy that is specific to each opponent and come up with a tailored approach to win and this new approach helped Agassi climb back to the top and win many more tournaments. Katy suggests a similar approach to tackling behavioral change.
Katy refers to the song “Spoonful of sugar makes the medicine goes down” and speaks about how kids naturally warm up to the notion of doing something that seems like fun but adults sometimes don’t appreciate it enough. She goes on to say how we could think about combining activities to ensure that we increase the odds of doing it.
Katy speaks about what it takes to build a robust habit. She speaks about two archetypes – Flexible Fernando and Robust Rachels to illustrate the point. She goes on to say that Fernandos end up building a habit that is likely to stick despite the vagaries of real life as compared to Rachels (any gender related themes are just a mere coincidence!). She expands on this topic here.
Katy speaks about the magnitude of change that one can typically hope to undertake. She refers to the example of Ben Franklin who decides to make a fresh start after a phase of debauchery. He goes on to make a list of 13 virtues and starts tracking himself on those. Katy shares her perspective around how much to take on in a change initiative.