Getting a Feel for It

When building a habit-system, which is what I call a whole collection of positive trigger-action pairs, you want to be able to go on a sort of auto-pilot at some point. If your habit system depends on you being able to constantly make decisions about the right and wrong action to take, you're never going to survivie a rough patch. This is why black-and-white habits work well. Even if there are some reasonable exceptions to your habit-rule, declaring that you will make no exceptions actually makes things easier when it comes time to actually figure out what exceptions you will allow yourself.

It's easier to consistently stick to "I will never drink soda" than "I will never drink soda that isn't on a special occasion or isn't a really cool, new soda." Is your birthday a special occasion? What if you're trying to get drunk with your best friend you only see once every January and the only mixer around is coke? Things get complicated and it's especially hard to make good decisions when we're drinking or under social pressure.

Besides simplicity, getting a feel for a habit-system requires patience. It's not going to happen at once, so don't bother waiting for it. But one day you'll realize that you have a pretty clear understanding of what behaviors are important to you. Even if your sweet-tooth never goes away, after a decent amount of patience, you'll find you have a deep understanding that you don't drink soda.

What I'm describing can take several different appearances. It can take the appearance of a new identity. You may be tired, low on blood sugar, and feeling hot, but if you're handed an open, ice-cold Dr. Pepper, you'll still think to yourself, "I don't want this because I am not the kind of person who drinks soda."

It can take the appearance of changing sensational preferences. Maybe you do crack and have a sip of that Dr. Pepper, but all you can think is, "This doesn't taste nearly as good as I thought it would."

It can take the appearance of independence. Whereas before you depended on sugar and caffeine to stay awake and feel good during the day, you've now learned to live without that crutch. And a crutch doesn't do any good to somebody with no broken legs. So, offered a Dr. Pepper, you think, "I really can't think of any reason why I would want that."

Finally, if you've already successfully built a lot of habits, self-trust, and confidence, you can develop an empowered sense of self-control. Even if you just decided to quit soda, have not yet built an identity without it, still enjoy it, and depend on it for giving you good feelings every afternoon, you can be so self-assured about your ability to build new habits that you fight off the desire to drink soda right from the start. This is a sort of meta-identity that comes from a long period of consistent effort at other habits.

And it feels better than sugar or caffeine ever will.


Headed to D.C. tomorrow for a wedding and Independence Day on the Mall. It's been on my bucket list for a couple years now, so it'll be good to finally check it out.