How I learned to form good habits based on “The Tipping Point”

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I never used to intermittent fast, until one day I did. I picked up the habit one day and have been doing it consistently for close to a year now.

There are many benefits to it, but that’s not the purpose of the post. Instead, I’d like to talk about the source of my habit making philosophy: Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.”

In the book, he talks about 3 agents of change: The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context.

Each of these has had an impact in helping me break bad habits and forming good ones. I’ll talk about the Law of the Few in another post, so I’d like to focus on the latter two.

The power of stickiness: Aligning what you care about with good habits

I said that I wouldn’t talk about the benefits of intermittent fasting, but that’s not quite true. There are more than a few of them, but I’ll talk about the one that mattered to me the most:

That isn’t the principal reason most people do it. They might do it to lose weight, to have more energy, or a million other reasons. But it is the reason that matters to me.

I don’t have to figure out what to eat in the morning. I don’t have to pack my breakfast the night before.

I wake up, drink my coffee, and work. If it turned out that intermittent fasting ended up having no health benefits, I still might do it. That’s because the reason of simplicity is something that matters to me.

The reason why you choose to form a good habit is just as important as choosing to start a good habit. Unfortunately, many of us tend to listen to external factors when trying to form a habit.

You should start eating your vegetables…because your doctor told you to.

You should start gargling with sea salt…because a Youtube video said it’ll get you perfect breath.

The problem with this approach is that it’s based on logic. And people are not always logical. Some days, you’ll struggle to keep up with your habit, and sometimes you’ll even find your motivation tested.

If that motivation is coming from someone else, then it makes the struggle that much harder. You could struggle and force yourself to do it every single time through sheer willpower, but it’s much easier to simply not end up struggling in the first place.

There are many reasons to choose to do a habit. If you want to eat more vegetables, for example, you could you make it about learning to cook Indian food. Or make it about supporting local farmers (doing a Community Supported Agriculture box tends to have a lot of vegetables). Or reducing food waste. Or doing more meal prep.

Choose a reason that matters to you, and you will be surprised how resilient you find yourself in your habits.

The power of context (or preparing for your habit)

I still remember one of the first things I did before starting intermittent fasting: I recorded the time when I would start eating my first meal and my last meal. At this point, I wasn’t even trying to start doing intermittent fasting: I just didn’t know when I was actually eating.

From this information, I was able to actually think about what I might change to actually do intermittent fasting. Many people think about the overall goal when trying to form a new habit, but not the process someone should take to get there. Often times, having smaller goals or changes is a better approach to start forming good habits.

If you’re trying to make a workout habit, try packing gym clothes in your car the night before. Or break up a long work commute with a stop at a gym. To form good habits, you can either prepare yourself with motivation and willpower…or you can just change the context to make it as easy as possible.

Written by

Healthcare-focused UX designer and researcher. Creator of two online courses on design communication and UX research planning: https://tinyurl.com/y5m2j42v

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