The Habit Gradient

Hi friends,

I wanted to share a new concept I have thought about in the last week. I'll call it the "Habit Gradient." Essentially, the problem with building new habits and consistently being productive is that we tend to think of habits as discrete variables. Either you check the box or you don't. In fact, the entire concept of a "habit checklist" is premised on the idea that habits are discrete, binary units. I have come to realize that that is not necessarily true.

In my experience, habits are continuous quantities on a gradient. To build a habit, then, you just need to move to the right (pun intended) side of the gradient. See below:

On the left side, we have "inertia" — this is when you don't change at all. On the right side, we have "habit" — this is when you have fully changed. The huge middle of "forced change," "semi-forced change," and "change" is what is left out by most experts and productivity pros, and this middle determines whether you actually develop a habit or not. Initially, sure, you have to force yourself to get out of bed and work — this is when you force change, say, for a few days. Then, the intensity of force decreases because the habit tends to become second-nature. Later, this leads to a tangible amount of change and finally, you end up forming a habit.

However, with all that said, the main point is that missing a few days when you are "forming a habit" does not mean that you are not forming that habit. Let's say you want to exercise 5 days a week. Now, the classical habit checklist will tell you to actually exercise 5 times a week, and that if you don't end up doing that, you have not acquired the habit. However, the habit gradient will tell you that as long as you're in touch with the habit, you are somewhere on the gradient, and as long as you are on the gradient, you are en route to developing that habit.

I have found that thinking of habits on a gradient is more motivating and sustainable than thinking of them as discrete quantities. Sure, if you miss exercise twice a week, you will drift to the left side. You will have to apply more force to change yourself. But drifting to the left momentarily does not mean that you are not building that habit permanently.

In essence, then, as long as you're in touch with your habits (and as long as you have the intent of being in touch with your habits), you're en route to permanently ingraining them in your lifestyle.

Have a great week ahead.


Video of The Week

In this video, I talk about which apps I find most useful and how I organize them. :)

Podcast of The Week

The Habit Gradient and Rethinking Productivity

I talk about a new concept I'd thought about -- The Habit Gradient -- that rethinks our habits, not as discrete things but continuous variables. Then, Ali and I talk about how we can re-examine our relationship with productivity, and continue with "Finite and Infinite Games," a concept popularized by Simon Sinek.

Articles of The Week

I've been thinking about an interesting corporate skill I learned 2 years ago -- Precision Questioning and Answering. See this article. This skill was developed at Vervago, a skill-development and training company, and I have found it to be extremely useful both in a work and college setting.

As always, I'm also linking my Covid-19 research article here, where I try to capture, summarize, and display accurate information and latest research on Coronavirus in an easy-to-understand, digestible manner.