Dumb Habits

Good habits are notoriously difficult to build. Bad habits, well, those are easy. To circumvent this, lately I’ve been experimenting with what I call dumb habits. Dumb habits are technically good habits, but they have so little positive impact that they kind of sit in the middle of the spectrum. They won’t change your life—necessarily—but what they will do is get you into the habit of…building habits.

Things like making your bed every morning. I’ve gotten obsessive about this. I’ll get up, take care of hygiene, get dressed, and then do two things: make the bed and open the bedroom curtains. Stupid, sure, but by forcing myself to do these two banal tasks before starting my day, it gets me into a flow early on—more important habits are far easier to build because I’ve set a precedent. Well, I made my bed successfully, I certainly could respond to all of my email before I dig into the day’s real work, right? Yep. Just like skills and investing (money), the habits compound.

There are different techniques for getting this right. Personally, I take the decidedly gauche but helpful nudge from over-the-top success coach Dan Peña: “When I do feel wimpish—which isn’t too often—I just say ‘what’s wrong with you, you cunt, come on’ and I just go out and do it.” A little bit of cerebral self-shaming does wonders for getting you to do the trivial. To be clear, it’s not about feeling guilty but calling yourself out for being soft. When you miss a day, catch yourself and just say “today happened, get it right tomorrow and keep moving.”

As these dumb habits build up, I’ve found that it helps to start sneaking in the good habits. For example, forcing myself to wash the dishes immediately after I cook and eat as opposed to letting them pile up or shoving them in the dishwasher. To keep myself limber, too, before heading to my desk in the morning and before getting in bed at night, doing 100 kettlebell swings. Trivial in the short-run, but immensely important in the long-run.

The end result of this is that you start to feel far better than before. I was a man of deep anxiety, fear, and paranoia in the past and having incorporated these dumb habits into my life, I’ve noticed that those things have all but dried up—when they do rear their head, they’re far easier to squash. I’m sure there’s some science to this, but it doesn’t matter. It works.

If you find yourself battling with the day-to-day, try adding in some dumb habits. Worst case scenario you get an immediate win in your life every day. See how that feels. Build on it. Sure, you may feel like a goon being disciplined about trivia, but keep a close eye on how it impacts your ability to do the more important stuff, too.