3 steps for compounding your habits

The compound effect is commonly thought of in a financial context; as your investment grows, you start to gain interest in the growth which causes it to grow faster. I want to change your paradigm so that it also includes other types of investments: physical, mental and temporal. 

This effect best illustrates the power of habits. When you think of the compound effect concerning habits you are taking a step up the habit ladder ‒ let’s call this step meta-habits. Meta-habits are the compound effect that helps you develop your habits to make them more effective.

Step 1: Define your goals

The first step to developing your meta-habits is to decide what you want to accomplish. For me, that is learning the Czech language. At the time of writing, I am mere days away from a 600-day streak on Duolingo

Full disclose, some streak freezes were used in getting there ‒ but that is not the point. The point I want to make is: my learning method is consistently becoming more effective. I am still far from speaking the language but I have reached the level of very bad conversation, to speak scientifically.

While my frequent exposure to the Czech language gives me a lot of opportunities to learn and practice. It also makes it hard for me to track my progress so I have decided to be more process-driven in my approach. I follow my system and make improvements to it as ideas come up. 

Truth be told, I don’t like Duolingo, but I have learned to use it effectively. In the beginning, I would simply do a couple of screens on the app and then carry on with my life. Now, the app is only the beginning. 

Anytime I get something wrong repeatedly I write down the answer. Anyone that has tried Duolingo knows how frustrating it is to get stuck on a screen. Thus, this new habit benefits me in two ways. I can cheat when that screen comes up again and more importantly, I can break down the difficult sentence to learn new words or grammar rules. 

I have also learned to supplement Duolingo with other forms of learning. Taking the advice that Gabriel Wynard wrote in Fluent Forever I have started using Ankidroid for making memorization cards out of the previously mentioned difficult sentences from Duolingo.

I started with a desire to learn the Czech language. That desire and the download of an app have since led to the development of meta-habits that are the result of ideas compounding on each other to develop the system that best works for me. 

This is my system; it might not be yours. I use the example of learning a language because it is important to me and a goal that many people share.

Learning a language is difficult and I have already given up on several languages in the past but I refuse to give up on this one. The key is to keep doing and improving your process. After all, success is a symptom of repeated failure.

Step 2: Focus on the process 

Meditate. Meditation is helpful for many reasons. Mainly, to feel spiritual, be more relaxed, be more productive. All these things are great, but the process of meditation is even better. It is what makes everything else happen. 

Spirituality only comes when it is not actively sought. Relaxation and productivity are only reached by focusing on the process of meditation. The process of meditation is what makes it such an effective habit. 

Meditation teaches you to be present. Essentially, it teaches you to focus on the process. Regular meditators are happier because they find joy in everyday activities. Having goals is great, but knowing how you will attain them is even better.

To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them.

Thích Nhất Hạnh

When I meditate my goal is to sit until the bell rings. My process is counting my breaths, scanning my body, acknowledging my blessings. All these things are far more valuable to me than the sound of a bell on my phone; they are what makes sitting for so long worthwhile. 

When I challenged my brother to run a half marathon last year the first thing I did was design my training regiment ‒ my process. It was simple, I put reminders of how many kilometres I had to run on given days and then did those runs on those days.

I got bored. Running is a great exercise but I lacked the motivation to spend an hour or more running. My solution: audiobooks. I choose a good one Brave New World . It was one I had wanted to read for a long time so when I made the rule that I could only listen to it while running, I suddenly became very motivated to go run. 

This rule was particularly motivating because I would inevitably stop listening to the book in a very interesting part and want to know what happens next. Thus, my running ‒ an activity I don’t enjoy ‒ became motivated by my desire to read this book ‒ an activity I do enjoy.  

This combination is not for everyone. If you are more motivated by music then you can use that. Reserve your favourite music for your least favourite activities. Its motivational power increases drastically when it is a reward for accomplishing an unpleasant task rather than your standard. 

Step 3: Forget about your goals

The final step is to forget the last step: your goal. My goal was to run a half-marathon, but what I wanted at the moment was to listen to a book I enjoyed. If I had focused on my goal every time I ran I would have lost all motivation. 

Running for an hour was boring enough but the thought of running for two seemed agonizing. Listening to a book for two hours though, that I could do. There is one line that is readily repeated in The Intelligent Investor: “I don’t know, and I don’t care”. 

Again, financial lessons can also be applied to life. In the book, this line means that when you have invested your money wisely, you don’t need to check on your portfolio regularly because you trust that your money will grow over time. 

The same is true with the habits you develop to achieve your goals. Using the language example again. It’s hard to quantify your progress without taking long and stressful tests so the best answer when someone asks you how much you know is: I don’t know, and I don’t care. 

When you practice that language and are dedicated to learning it you will eventually be able to speak it. Instead of trying to form an idea of how far along the journey you are, get out, talk to someone in that language. Celebrate the small victories like learning a new word or a grammatical rule. 

It is very satisfying when you have worked hard towards something and get to achieve it but people often look back and realize that they enjoyed the process to get there more than the achievement.

Don’t be one of those people. Learn to appreciate the little victories and use your habits to build better habits. Celebrate your small victories along the way and eventually reach your goal, whatever it may be.

Go on, you’re almost there. 

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