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2021 Recap: I Did This Newsletter Wrong
And Other Mistakes You Can Avoid
I am a sucker for New Year’s resolutions.
I love using this time of reflection to consider new and better habits going forward. Lose weight, compliment others, cure more cancers than I did last year, you get it.
My wife has known me for only 5-years, but can attest to my love of launching personal initiatives only to fall face-first into my own failure a month later. This newsletter is one such initiative.
Sticking to Habits is 👎
The literature on habits and how to keep them is vast. And one thing the literature promotes is to reward yourself for a habit well-practiced.
To keep my future self from giving up on this newsletter, I laid down reward booby-traps at critical publishing milestones. I had to do this; if I hadn’t, future-Stanley would’ve thrown his laptop out the window by issue 12 and tacked this newsletter onto his growing list of failures.
Since I began, I’ve crossed two reward-earning milestones: one at issue 13, the other at issue 26 (one quarter, and one-half way through the 52-week program, respectively).
The first reward gave me a day off to binge-watch television that my wife would otherwise veto in the living room, e.g. anything depressing with no wizards in it.
While binge-watching, I would also enjoy one of the many videogames I purchased yet never played. The second reward was a spa day. How many of my rewards have I claimed? Zero.
And around issue 28, my consistency waivered. Here’s where I went wrong.
According to Wendy Wood, professor and author of Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science Of Making Positive Changes That Stick, people have a hard time convincing themselves that long-term gains are worth short-term pains.
The New Year’s habits we often wish to form, such as going to the gym, eating three servings of vegetables per day, and the like, rarely deliver immediate satisfaction.
It might as well be Newton’s fourth law that if a habit is good for you, it’s hard; and if the habit is bad for you, well you can start today with no-money down!
Smoking is easy to pick up and instantly rewarding for many. Plopping our asses on the couch and asking Netflix to steal a few hours of our life costs only two clicks.
The better a habit is, the more pain you will endure before you see its positive results, which is why many give up on exercise and eating healthy.
Dr. Wood says that to make a good habit stick, we need to bring a rush of endorphins to the brain as we perform the habit. Promising yourself a pay-off down the line is exactly what all good habits already do, so therein lies my mistake with newsletter rewards.
Writing is painful by design. Convincing myself to write repeatedly on schedule for no compensation is like drawing up fresh blueprints for my own personal hell-house.
So what should I do instead, and what can you do when you want to form a new, difficult habit?
Pleasure Meets Pain
Dr. Wood suggests pairing the action with another pleasurable experience. For example, if going to the gym is a grueling endeavor for you, treat yourself to something after you’ve exercised – preferably not the food you mean to avoid.
After the workout, go get a coffee from your favorite shop and read some young-adult literature for half-an-hour. The key being, you only do those things if you have worked out.
If you go get that coffee whenever or tear through Twilight on your bathroom breaks, it will render the reward meaningless.
My plan to reward myself eventually will be my downfall. I don’t have a plan for what to do with my newsletter habit yet, but I’m excited to have this new knowledge.
Here are some other tidbits worth noting from Dr. Wood’s appearance on Hidden Brain1:
Setting a time to perform your habit will increase your chances of performing it
Willpower is basically a myth, do not rely on yours
To stop a habit, increase the friction – make it harder for you to perform
To create a new habit, make it as easy as possible to do or chain it to another good habit you’re already doing
But how does this impact our businesses and our marketing?
It’s a Process
According to Dr. Wood, about 43% of everything we do is habitual. And since we work most days, and most of the day’s doings are work-related, that means a good portion of our work is on autopilot.
Therefore, we certainly form habits at work just as we do in our personal lives. Eventually, we codify workplace habits into “processes,” the official business term for habits.
And it’s easier, but still a challenge to discover when a workplace habit starts to hurt more than help.
I believe in New Year’s resolutions and the period of reflection that follows the changing of the calendar. If you do too, here are some questions to ask yourself about your processes and business practices at the end of the year
“If we were starting [X] today, would we?” (stole that one from Peter Drucker)
“Do I know [X] works, or do I believe it works?” Data backs one, intuition the other; it’s best to have both
“Is customer segment B worth the return on our marketing investment or is this just wishful thinking?”
“Is our product still living up to its messaging? How do we know?”
“Am I plugging leaks or building ships? And which one would I prefer to do this year?”
I encourage you to take a break, evaluate your habits both personal and professional, and think deeply about how you wish to change in 2022.
Because you’re reading this, I know there’s greatness in you, and that means there’s even more greatness trapped just beneath the surface. Find it, exploit it, enjoy it.
Happy new year.
Creatures Of Habit | Hidden Brain Media. Hidden Brain Media. Published January 4, 2022. Accessed January 6, 2022. https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/creatures-of-habit/