Habit Formation Progression

Here are the different stages I think people go through when they are forming habits. Depending affinity for the habit people might quickly skip over certain stages. Sometimes we have a bad experience with a habit and we move backwards through the progression.

I do not know about doing this.

The first stage and the most common stage for people to be in. This is the stage where they have never heard about doing this activity. Any specific habit is probably not going to be popular or well known to most of the people in the world. This is not really a stage, more of a catchall for everyone not aware of a habit.

No one can do that.

When we hear about people behaving a certain way, it can be unbelievable that they can do and like doing it. For open minded people, this can seem like a invalid stage also, but there are a lot of people who refuse to accept different ways of life and habits in a very exclusionary way. For example, take someone who believes no one can live without the Internet or electricity in their house.

Why would anyone want to do that?

At this stage, we believe people can do it, but it seems abhorrent to do so. For example, waking up early can seem to be so bad that it is hard to believe people actually want to do it. We accept they can do it, but do not understand why they want to. They must be masochists.

I would never want to do that.

Now we understand why people do it, but we do not value what they get out of it. Our values are not in alignment with doing this habit. It does not feel like we will personally gain anything by doing it.

I can not do that.

At this stage, we see the value in the habit, and see ourselves being happy doing it consistently. But, we do not know how to begin. Our body and mind are not ready to embrace the full consequences of the habit. We have not learned the necessary skills or do not have the necessary equipment to begin.

I tried doing that but it did not stick.

At this stage you did it a couple of times, but stopped before it stuck. This includes habits restarted every time New Year's comes around. A lot of habits might accumulate at this stage. They are the habits you see your best self doing, and the habits you once had fully internalized but have since stopped.

I have made it part of my routine.

I figured out how to fit this in to my daily, weekly, or monthly routine. I can keep doing it regularly if I focus on it. I need help from add-on habits and maybe other people to keep doing it.

This is really hard and I have think about it a lot and I do not want to continue.

Once a habit becomes part of your routine, you start to adapt to it. This can be really hard and make you feel like the habit is a huge burden on yourself. You feel yourself changing and the change does not necessarily feel all good. You feel yourself wanting to resist the change. For example, I decided I would commute to work on a bike last December. At first this felt all-consuming, like my entire life now revolved around my habit of spending a hour on a bike a day. This point is hard to get past and often makes you want to give up a habit. This is the hardest stage. Once you get over it you are likely to get to the end of the progression.

I am getting used to this.

The habit is getting easier to do and it takes much less effort and willpower to continue.

I miss doing this.

At this point, the habit is so part of your routine that you miss doing it. If a day goes by where you cannot do your activity, you feel a small loss. You actively try to arrange your entire life so you can keep up the habit. These are the powerful forces of addiction. They can be forces for good or bad depending on the habit.

What habit?

When a habit is completely internalized, you think nothing of it. For example, you might think nothing of putting on your shoes before you go outside for a walk. At this stage, the habit is so ingrained that it is hard to separate it from your identity and sense of self. If someone takes away your habit, you will be indigent. But you do not even notice when you are doing it.

This is the habit progression as I see it. Did I miss a stage? What stage are you at on the habits you are trying to add into your life? How can you bump the positive ones up a level?

published 2015-04-15

Questions or Feedback? Email ryan@ryantm.com or tweet @ryantm.