How To Change Your Habits (For Good!)
Keith Simon: Are you tired of tribalism?
Speaker 2: I think a lot of what the left supports is satanic.
Speaker 3: The only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigotry and discrimination.
Patrick Miller: Are you exhausted by the culture war?
Donald Trump: If they don't like it here, they can leave.
Hillary Clinton: You could put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.
Keith Simon: Are you suspicious of those who say Jesus endorses their political party?
Speaker 7: Is it possible to be a good Christian and also be a member of the Republican party? And the answer is absolutely not.
Speaker 8: From certainly a biblical standpoint, Christians could not vote Democratic.
Patrick Miller: We trust the Lamb, not the donkey or the elephant.
Keith Simon: This is the podcast that's too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals.
Patrick Miller: I'm Patrick Miller.
Keith Simon: And I'm Keith Simon, and we choose truth over tribe.
Patrick Miller: Do you? So guys, we've entered a new year, and as is often the case, everybody's figuring out what new resolutions they want to make, what new habits they want to break or create. What about you guys? What habits do you want to form?
Daniel: I really want to become more of a reader. I feel like that's a classic thing, but I average about six minutes of reading before I go to bed before I fall asleep, so I'm trying to push to the 10 minute period you know?
Patrick Miller: How many books do you think you could read if you read 10 minutes every night?
Daniel: Based off that math, seems like one to two a year.
Patrick Miller: I think it might be more than that.
Keith Simon: Oh no, I bet it's a lot more than that.
Daniel: 10 minutes a night?
Keith Simon: If you read 10 minutes a night, I bet you'd read... and you did it every night, right? Hypothetically you didn't miss a night, 365 days a year, I bet you'd read 20 books.
Patrick Miller: Yeah.
Daniel: So that's all you need.
Patrick Miller: That's all you need, just 10 minutes.
Daniel: Nevermind, I'm already close enough. Six minutes.
Patrick Miller: Nice, what about you?
Keith Simon: He's like, " Okay, I'm fine with 10 books a year."
Daniel: It takes a little bit to get into a book, right? Like you start reading slowly and then you pick up your speed.
Keith Simon: Well, the problem isn't that you only read six minutes a night. Your problem is that you only read six minutes a night probably three nights a week.
Patrick Miller: Once a year. That's good, that's good. So you want to read more books. I would recommend audio books.
Patrick Miller: Yeah.
Keith Simon: What about you Patrick? What do you want to do?
Patrick Miller: Well guys, I'm getting fat.
Keith Simon: Fat Pat?
Patrick Miller: Fat Pat's back.
Keith Simon: I remember when we were first starting to work inaudible together, and I saw your Twitter picture and I'm like, "Where'd this Patrick go?" From your Twitter profile.
Patrick Miller: The skinny Patrick? My wife called that version of me Skeletor.
Keith Simon: Oh, really?
Patrick Miller: Uh- huh( affirmative), yeah. She had a name for it.
Keith Simon: Well, it looks good in photos.
Patrick Miller: Yeah.
Daniel: Patrick was actually my small group leader in college, and there was a period that you called yourself this, so don't feel mad about this, but you called yourself Fatrick.
Patrick Miller: I like making fun of myself, I can't help it. So Fatrick is back, and we just bought an exercise bike, and so one of my goals, in fact just last night I got onto the exercise bike and I did a over 30 minute long exercise. So I want to start exercising again. I was coughing like a maniac afterwards, like my lungs had exploded.
Keith Simon: Smoker's cough.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, I was just... it was gone. But that's what I want. I actually don't even care about losing weight. I want to exercise, I want to be in better shape. Keith, what about you?
Keith Simon: I've thought about it a lot. I think I'd like to change my mindless eating habit.
Patrick Miller: So you want mindful eating?
Keith Simon: Well, I'd like to be paying attention a little bit more. So here's a quick story, is that we went on vacation a little bit ago, and I came back and I had that vacation moment where like, okay, I got to eat a little healthier this next week. So early Monday morning I come into the office, and nobody's around, or at least very few people are around, and I'm hungry. And so I start walking through the offices, and I find in a cabinet a whole box, unopened box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I had an 11:00 o'clock meeting-
Patrick Miller: You found someone's Cinnamon Toast Crunch stash and you stole it?
Keith Simon: I ate the entire box before my 11:00 o'clock meeting.
Patrick Miller: No.
Keith Simon: No milk, I wanted to cut calories. No milk.
Patrick Miller: How did that not shred your mouth?
Keith Simon: I just poured it into a cup and downed it.
Patrick Miller: Dry cereal.
Keith Simon: While I was working on stuff, and I just thought, okay here in three hours on a day I was going to try to eat healthier, I just ate 16 ounces of cinnamon toast crunch without even paying attention.
Daniel: Dude, that's me with Butterfingers.
Keith Simon: This is a cry for help over here, if you didn't notice.
Patrick Miller: Let me pull back the camera. Obviously on this podcast, we tend to talk about culture, cultural commentary, that's kind of our shtick. But given that it's a new year, we wanted to step aside from our normal thing and talk about habits, because habits are incredibly important. Habits shape the kind of person that we end up becoming.
Keith Simon: Yeah habits, just for a quick definition, are something you do without thinking. You don't make a plan, you don't make a decision, you just find yourself doing it. It can be as simple as a habit of driving to the office, or it can be as simple as mindless eating, or a habit that can be positive is something like exercise or saving money, or going on a date night. And there are negative habits that we have that are just as bad for us, but our life is ruled by habits, and those habits shape what kind of people become.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, habits shape our trajectory. A great example of this, I can't remember the exact details, is that if a plane takes off in LA and it is off on its trajectory by just three degrees, instead of ending up in New York which might've been its destination, it will end up in Washington DC. It will end up in a very, very different place, and that's what habits do to our life. They set our trajectory. And in the short term, it might not seem like a big deal, but in the long- term you don't end up in New York, you end up in a totally different city.
Keith Simon: And so if habits are things that you don't think about but you do them anyway, and if they have such a huge impact on our life, then what our habits are or aren't is really, really important. There's a quote here that I like. It's attributed to a guy named Charles Reade, who I have no idea who he is. I'm not even sure he actually said this, but, " Sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny." So our choices end up becoming habits, and those habits end up shaping the kind of people that we are. So your habits, my habits, extremely important.
Patrick Miller: There was a Duke researcher in 2006 who found that more than 40% of the actions we perform aren't actual decisions. They're shaped by our habits. So again, choosing your habits means choosing your life. Another quote that I really like by Annie Dillard, she said, " How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives." And I might just add to that, how you spend your days is 40% determined by your habits.
Keith Simon: So there's a guy named Charles Duhigg who was a writer for the New York Times. I don't know if he's still with the Times or not, but he wrote a book called The Power of Habit. And in the book, he tells a story about a couple different people who had serious brain injuries, and doctors and research scientists studied them to try to figure out how do they take in information with this brain injury. And one of the things they found is that habits were a way that people gained information and operated their life even when their brain couldn't function properly. So just for example, there was a guy who could not draw a floor plan of his house, but he could easily find the bathroom. So mentally, he didn't have enough going on because of his brain injury to be able to map out his house, but he had no problem whenever he needed to going to the bathroom, and that's because he had developed a habit. And that habit took over where his mind couldn't work.
Patrick Miller: I like to think about it like trails. If you enjoy walking on trails, which when I'm not fat I do enjoy walking on trails, if you enjoy that, you will notice that well traveled trails, they're easy to walk on right? Because the ground has been tamped down, and sometimes people even come along and put gravel on it. But if you're going through the woods, you'll also notice deer trails right? Those are these tiny little game trails that, they're kind of hard to walk on, they're kind of broken in. And then you'll notice there's parts where there's no trails at all. Habits make trails. A habit you don't do much, that might be a game trail. A habit that you do every single day, that becomes a well worn trail that you don't even have to think about it. You can just walk straight down it, it's super easy.
Keith Simon: And thank goodness we have habits like that, because they allow us to take shortcuts. So just pay attention to your morning routine. When you get up, I bet you you do the exact same thing every morning. You have a order of things you do, like brush your teeth, wash your face, jump in the shower, go for an exercise. But just think of your bathroom habits. You have not only an order to do them, but you also have a way you do each one. How much toothpaste you put on, what side of your mouth you brush first, how many handfuls of water you do to rinse your mouth. You have a way that you dry yourself off after the shower. And you don't think about it, but you do it the same way every time. And the reason that's good is because it allows your mind to be thinking of something else. So while you're brushing your teeth and getting in the shower and doing all that, you don't have to think, " Okay, now put shampoo on." Instead you're thinking, this is what I have to do today, or this is a presentation I have to give, and your mind's running through it. Meanwhile your body is just acting on autopilot. Now, that's great if it's getting a shower and doing some healthy things, brushing your teeth. But what if that autopilot were leading you down destructive ways of impulsive shopping, or obsessively checking your phone? Your body's on autopilot, you're doing them, it's shaping you and your destiny and your character, but you're not thinking about it. It's not conscious.
Patrick Miller: Can I share example of that from my personal life? I've gotten both in and out of this habit, so it's something I've broken and then gotten worse again over time. But it's really tempting for me when I wake up after I do some of the things you mentioned to go into my kitchen and pick up my phone, and check Twitter or check my email as the first thing that I do. And what I discover is that if I do that, I can't get my mind out of that path. So after that, I want to go read my bible, I want to pray, I want to have time with God, but I can't do it because I'm fixated on something that I read in my email, because I'm fixated about something that's going to happen in my day as a result of that email, because I'm fixated at how someone responded to me on Twitter, or something that I read on Twitter, or wherever it is.
Keith Simon: You got a little dopamine rush-
Patrick Miller: I did.
Keith Simon: And it's hard to now set that dopamine rush aside and pick up this kind of leather bible, right? It seems all boring in comparison to Instagram or whatever it is you're spending your time on.
Patrick Miller: And so by inverting the habit, of making a rule for myself, which takes effort at first and then over time becomes natural, reading my bible before I check my phone, I find that creating that habit pattern, usually it's me making coffee, reading my bible, and then checking my phone, it allows me to focus on god's word. It's a habit that's, by the way, shaping the trajectory of my life. Because if I started with my phone every day, I would have a very difficult time spending time with God.
Keith Simon: Well, just think about how small that is. What do you check first? And yet it has a huge impact about what kind of person you're wanting to be. Slight changes can have a huge, huge impact.
Daniel: Yeah, this reminds me. Have you guys ever listened to the Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard?
Keith Simon: inaudible episode or two. It depends on who it is.
Daniel: I love Dax. Some people say he's my celebrity lookalike.
Keith Simon: Really?
Keith Simon: I've never seen him.
Daniel: I crosstalk take it's a compliment. But he's interviewing Tom Brady in a recent- ish interview, and he's just lathering on the compliments. He's, " Tom you're so beautiful. Tom you're so handsome," which is hilarious to me. And he talks about, " How did you become who you are today, this amazing athlete, this Superbowl machine?"
Patrick Miller: Who's middle aged and beating the young guys.
Daniel: Yeah. And he talks about where he was at in college and where he's at now. He's slowly made these small changes, where he just drinks more water. He's like, " Yeah, I just focus on drinking a lot of water," which is something so simple.
Keith Simon: If I drink a lot of water, I'll win Superbowls?
Daniel: That's it. That's it.
Patrick Miller: All you got to do.
Keith Simon: Just wanted to make sure I got it right.
Daniel: That's what I've been doing wrong all these years, hydration. Okay, " And then I started doing my diet, I started really focusing on diet, then I started focusing on my sleep." He goes to bed at like 8: 00 PM every night.
Keith Simon: Same.
Daniel: Something crazy like that, yeah.
Patrick Miller: Now we know why you're successful.
Daniel: So more water and you'll be there.
Keith Simon: But your point is that he just made these small changes, and he went from a sixth round draft choice out of the University of Michigan, and if you look at his pictures in college, I mean he didn't look that impressive. And so small changes had a huge payoff, and they will not just in a athlete's life, but in our lives.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So this is called a aggregation of marginal gains. And the idea here is that if you can make enough small changes in your life, they can have big impacts over the long- term. And so that's where habits come in. If you can aggregate enough small habits, you can create huge transformation in who you are in your character, in how you spend your time, in your health, all different kinds of things.
Keith Simon: Yeah I mean, I'm not sure though that we quite believe we can change. And so I think we get kind of caught in this story we tell ourselves, something like, "Well I am who I am. I'm the person that's going to be caught up in social media, or I'm not a hard worker." And the reality is that all of us can change. We're not trapped in who we are. We're not a victim of our circumstances.
Patrick Miller: It almost makes me ask the question, if the difference between a disciplined person and an undisciplined person is that a disciplined person shapes their habits, an undisciplined person allows their habits to just be what they are. Discipline is someone who's willing to develop habits that actually shape their character, their life, their health, their relationships in the direction that they want to go, and an undisciplined person is someone who lets their habits be what they are. They're guided by their cravings. I think about Proverbs 22, which says, " The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him." I mean, that's a powerful and hard verse to read, but it's making that point. If you're lazy and you're just following your lazy cravings, you won't shape your habits, it's going to be the death of you. It's going to lead you, instead of getting to New York City, you end up in Washington DC.
Keith Simon: So I was talking to some football coaches the other night in a little bible study, and I asked them what's the difference between training and trying, training and trying. When we talked about it we thought, would they want a player who tried hard or trained hard? And of course the answer you want is both, but just go with me for a second. If you were going to bet on a marathon, the runners of a marathon, would you want to bet on the runner who was trying hard or the one who had trained hard?
Patrick Miller: Trained hard. You got to pick trained hard.
Keith Simon: I think it's trained, right? Because you could try in the moment, and you can give it 100% effort, but you haven't trained yourself to be ready. So Jesus says that, " The student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher." And so what he's telling us there is that if we want to follow him, we have to train ourselves to do it. Which goes to your point, that we can't just be driven by our impulses, by our cravings, by our desires. Following Jesus is a matter of training, that's a matter of habits, that's a matter of discipline.
Patrick Miller: And this is a command. Hebrews 6: 11 says, " We want each of you to show the same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised." So the author of Hebrews is saying here, you have to have diligence in your training. You have to have healthy habits, so that you can realize the hope that you have in your life, become the kind of person that God is calling you to be.
Keith Simon: Okay, so let's just think for a second about why it's so hard to develop habits. Because I'll just be honest, bad habits are not hard for me. For some reason, the bad things for me are easy for me to do. It's the good things that are hard for me to do. And part of it is just going against the cultural drift, and some of it is coming from inside of me, that inside of me is this desire to take the path of least resistance.
Patrick Miller: I think that having healthy habits is really counter- cultural. I mean, let's just think about some little phrases that we hear inside of the culture today. We glorify being chill. So this is someone who isn't disciplined, someone who's just kind of relaxed and hanging out, and goes with the flow, doesn't have a seriousness about them. Okay, another one. Treat yourself. You had a hard day, go treat yourself. You should eat that ice cream, you deserve it, you've earned it. And again, this is going the opposite direction. It's saying follow your cravings instead of to discipline your cravings. Or what about TV binging? People talk all the time about binging shows, such that it's become normalized. I mean, this wouldn't have been possible 15 years ago, 10 years ago even before streaming. You couldn't just sit down and watch 10 episodes of a show in a row, and yet now here we are, and it's become normalized, which is totally undisciplined.
Keith Simon: I think another reason habits are so hard to develop, at least good ones, is because you don't see the consequences of your actions immediately, right? So if you go run a mile, you won't see any benefit the next day. You won't have lost weight, you won't necessarily feel better. In fact-
Patrick Miller: The only thing I feel after my bike ride yesterday-
Keith Simon: Is worse.
Patrick Miller: My butt is sore.
Keith Simon: Yeah, yeah.
Patrick Miller: That's it.
Keith Simon: That's the one reason I don't ride bikes. I don't get crosstalk.
Patrick Miller: I really enjoyed it actually.
Keith Simon: The butt being sore?
Patrick Miller: Not the butt sore today.
Keith Simon: Oh, okay.
Patrick Miller: But the point is, if I was looking at the immediate results, all I got from the bike was some soreness in my rear.
Keith Simon: Yeah, you don't see any positive benefit out of it. It would take 30 days maybe of doing that in order for you to start to see some things. And conversely, if I eat a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch before 11: 00 o'clock in the morning, there's no huge negative downside that comes to me-
Patrick Miller: You get the reward immediately.
Keith Simon: The next day. So in all your habits, all your choices, small choices make a huge difference over time, but not immediately. So that means that you don't have to pay the negative consequences of bad habits, you don't get the positive consequences of good habits for quite a while, and therefore it's hard to stay motivated through the process.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Whatever you want to go towards in the end, that's a ways off, and you don't get it immediately. Unlike Cinnamon Toast Crunch, you do get the reward immediately.
Keith Simon: It was delish.
Patrick Miller: It's deliciousness.
Keith Simon: The texture.
Patrick Miller: Well you did not experience the texture you're supposed to, because there should be milk on it, but I'm glad you enjoy it dry.
Daniel: The taste you can see. Isn't that the slogan?
Keith Simon: Yeah, I think it is. That's exactly right.
Patrick Miller: So there's so many examples of this. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits.
Keith Simon: Yeah, the health of your relationships are a lag measure of the time you put into those relationships, to communicate, to listen, to do things together. This is true whether they're friends, roommates, spouses, kids, parents, whatever.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So forming habits is essentially saying, I'm going to reject the things that give me instantaneous feedback. There's like you said, eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch. And instead thinking about, what's the long- term goal that I have, and what do I need to do in the present, short term, small little habits to get myself in that place?
Keith Simon: So how do habits form? What causes them to get ingrained in our head, or to develop one of those trails, pathways that you talked about earlier? So a habit starts with a cue, or what is called a trigger. My cue is I started working on my computer, and I immediately start having stress. Am I going to be able to produce enough? And so I'm looking for a distraction, so my cue for me in that moment was, starting my computer. Or how about this one? If you hear the ding of email, that's a trigger for me to go down a pathway of checking my email. So first is a cue, something that triggers it. Then there is a routine, that's something you'll go do. So maybe at 3: 30 in the afternoon, you desire to walk around and talk to people, or get a cookie or something like that, right? That's the routine. And then third is the reward. There's some sort of payoff for it. So I start working at my computer, I get stuck, I want to have a distraction, so my routine is to walk around and look for food to distract myself, and then the reward is the sugary goodness of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Or to do it again, the email dings, that's the cue. The response is to check my email, and then the reward is that I feel important, or I get to respond to something, I feel like I accomplished something, and that's where the dopamine hit comes from.
Patrick Miller: So cravings are what drives habits. I mean, that's the bottom line of what you're saying. It doesn't start with me saying, " I want to do X, so I'm going to go do X." It's that we have a craving to do something.
Keith Simon: Well see if I understand it, because maybe I don't, but here's the way I get it. Is that, the email dings, and then if you don't go check your email, you decide you want that reward but you haven't had it yet, and that's the craving. So you learn to crave the reward, and that craving will drive you to check the email. Or I get stuck on my computer, and I'm frustrated and I want to take a break, I want a reward of distraction. But until I get that reward, I'm going to crave it.
Patrick Miller: You're going to be distracted by the craving.
Keith Simon: The craving is that desire that comes from a reward that you want, but haven't received. Is that right? Is that the way you understand it or no?
Patrick Miller: I think I understand it that way, and I think this is interesting, because you're obviously coming more from Duhigg's book, and more of my experience with habits is coming from James Clear and his book Atomic Habits. And he says something similar, he puts it in a slightly different order, but I think it ends up in a very similar place, which is that you get a cue, you get a trigger that leads to a craving, and then you act on that, and then that leads to your reward. And I think that's what you actually just said, so I'm tracking now.
Keith Simon: Yeah, I think that's right. But the craving comes when you want the reward but can't get it, and that desire builds and builds and builds, and forces you... I mean, in quotation marks right? " Forces you" to go down this routine that'll eventually lead to the reward.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So like I wake up in the morning, and the first thing I crave is coffee. So that leads to me going and making coffee, and doing the whole routine. And then I get to drink the coffee, which is my reward.
Keith Simon: But let's say you tried to get into a new routine where you didn't drink coffee. But right now, your body is used to getting that caffeine jolt and that hot feeling sensation. And so if you were to say, " Nope, tomorrow I'm not going to do it," your body would crave that reward until you got it, right?
Patrick Miller: Yeah.
Keith Simon: But if you say to me, " Hey, you don't get to have any cocaine in the morning," I don't have a craving for that because I've never had cocaine. So a craving is something that comes after you've experienced the reward, and now you want it but can't get it.
Patrick Miller: Gotcha. So what I'm tracking with here now is, our habits are formed by these things. I have a habit of drinking coffee every single morning because I've trained myself to do it, right? I've trained myself to drink it, which then demands this craving in me, of desiring it, which then creates all these cues around me that make me want it. And so by repeating the action, I've created the habit in my life.
Keith Simon: So how do you get people to use toothpaste? So toothpaste is coming on the market, people can start brushing their teeth now. Of course this is several decades ago. What do you do to get them to want to do this daily, and maybe even more than once a day? And just telling them, " You should do this, it'll make you have a better smile," that didn't work. And so what Pepsodent did is they put a little irritant in their toothpaste that gives that tingling feel, and that tingling feel was the reward. And then people wanted that tingling feel, so they started to crave it, so that's what drove them to start using toothpaste frequently.
Patrick Miller: Oh, I had no idea that happened. That's crazy.
Keith Simon: Yeah, that's why you should read more books.
Patrick Miller: Daniel and I will work on that together.
Keith Simon: If you're like me and you leave each episode with a lot to think about and wishing you could go just a little bit deeper, you should subscribe to the Truth over Tribe newsletter. Not only do we explore the topic further, but we also interact with people who disagree with us and tell you about upcoming episodes. Just go to choosetruthovertribe. com and sign up for the newsletter there.
Patrick Miller: So I think I'm tracking now how our habits form, and of course that leads to the obvious question, how do we form new habits? I mean, I've got all these bad habits that are in my life right now. How in the world am I going to start making new ones?
Keith Simon: From what I understand, you can't really get rid of an old habit. What you have to do is redirect it. So you have a cue and you have a reward. What you need to do is develop a new routine between the cue and the reward.
Patrick Miller: All right, give me an example.
Keith Simon: Well, so in the Duhigg book, he mentions the example of every afternoon at 3: 30, he would get up from his computer and go walk around, buy a cookie, and then come back, sit down in his office, and keep working. And what he tried to figure out is, what is the reward that I'm really looking for? So what he did was he developed a new routine. Every day at 3: 30, he would take a walk outside if I remember correctly, and then come back, visit with someone in his office, and then sit down at his desk. So he had the same cue and he had the same reward, distraction, but he developed a different routine that bypassed the cookie.
Patrick Miller: So he walked instead of getting the cookie.
Keith Simon: Yes, and it was walk and have a conversation with someone, but the reality is that you've got to find a new thing that will give you a reward that you desire. Was the desire really for food? Because if it was, then what he needed to do is eat an apple instead of a cookie. But if the desire was for a distraction, then a walk and a short conversation would do the trick. What is it that I really want out of this?
Patrick Miller: Okay, so that's great for breaking habits I don't want to have, right? Is thinking about what's the reward and what's the new routine I can build in. But let's talk for a second about how we create new habits, things that we don't already do. It seems like the place to start is actually right there with the trigger, with the cue, to create a new cue so that you can start a new routine. There was one study that was found, I thought this was interesting, it was with high schoolers. And they had two groups of high schoolers, and they told them both, " If you write this little essay, you'll get X amount of extra credit when you come back from Christmas break." At the end of the class, they asked the students how many of them intended to do the extra credit.
Keith Simon: Let me guess, it was a lot of them.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, it was something like 95% of them said they were going to do it. Now they divided the group into two. One group they just let go home as is, and give it their best shot. The other group though, they had them sit down and write out a specific plan for how they were going to do that extra credit assignment, and here's what's crazy. The group that didn't make a plan, it was something like 5% actually finished the extra credit assignment. The group that did make a plan, it was somewhere around 60% of the group actually did finish the extra credit assignment. In other words, what they had to do when they were writing out this description is they had to set a time, a place, a day. In other words, they were creating a cue for themselves. " When this day comes, at this time, in this situation, this is when I'm going to do this thing that I wouldn't do otherwise."
Keith Simon: Oh, I love that. Now, you said about 95% of the kids wanted to do the extra credit, right?
Patrick Miller: Yeah.
Keith Simon: I'm sure you were in the 5% that didn't need to do the extra credit, right? Because you-
Patrick Miller: There was one extra credit assignment, it was in our Pentateuch class. You could optionally live levitically for a week. It was kind of a live it out thing. And only two students in our class did it, and it was one of the best assignments I ever did in my life.
Keith Simon: Wow. So you didn't eat any shellfish? What did you-
Patrick Miller: I didn't eat any shellfish.
Keith Simon: Did you wear any clothes with mixed fiber?
Patrick Miller: I did not wear any clothes with mixed fiber. I'm so type A I couldn't not do it. But anyways, the point is you need to make a plan, and part of making a plan is setting a cue for yourself. So for example, if you want to read your bible, one cue you could do is let's say, and this might even be building on top of another habit, set your bible next to your coffee pot. So when you go out there to go get your coffee, look, you've got a new visual cue right there. You can grab that bible and it'll remind you, okay, I'm going to go read my bible after this.
Keith Simon: So that's on the cue side. On the other end you have the reward, and you have to have some sort of reward you give yourself in order to reinforce the behavior that you want to develop. So let's say that you want to read books, like Dan had said earlier. What's going to be the reward? Well you might think the reward could be just, I'm going to learn things and have this experience-
Patrick Miller: That's a lagging measure.
Keith Simon: Well yeah, that's true. That's a great reward, and maybe that would work for some people. But let's say you needed a little more extrinsic motivation. You could say that, I am going to buy this piece of clothing after I read 10 books. Or you could say I'm going to go out to a special dinner with my wife after we have cleaned out the garage. In other words, I've got to find some incentive that will reward me to do something that right now I don't want to do, but I know that if I do it, it will pay off over time.
Patrick Miller: And I think the best rewards are immediate. So a good example of this is actually television. If there's a habit that you want to have, so like I want to exercise, a great rule... now, I don't watch a ton of TV, but a great rule for myself might be, I cannot watch Netflix until I exercise. Or put differently, when I exercise, I earn the right to go watch Netflix. Or maybe even better, I could watch Netflix, but only while I exercise. And in all of those instances, I've created an immediate reward, the thing that I want, and I get it only when I'm doing the thing that I want to do, the routine, which is exercising.
Keith Simon: Didn't we read a story about somebody who had rigged up their bike so that peddling their bike powered their Netflix, and the only way they could watch Netflix was by peddling at a certain speed. So that's going for an immediate reward that is tied to a behavior that you don't necessarily want to do, but you... well, you want to do it long- term, but not in the short term.
Patrick Miller: If I was smart enough to do that I would do that in a heartbeat, but you could do the same thing with reading. My reward for 10 minutes of reading is that I get to sit down and watch a show that I want to watch. And if you can set a good cue up that reminds you to read, then you do the routine of reading and then that leads to the Netflix, well that's a great habit builder.
Keith Simon: All right, so we've talked about cues and rewards, and now we want to make the routine or the behavior as easy as possible. So let's just think about this together. What are habits that you want to establish that you need to make easy, and how would you make it easy?
Patrick Miller: So one way to make a habit easy is by decreasing or increasing friction, or difficulty. So a good example of this is, let's say I'm terrible at thank you notes. Dan is always getting on me about writing thank you notes. So how could I create a good habit of writing thank you notes? Well one thing that sometimes stops me is that I don't have the thank you notes easily at hand, and so if I just set those thank you notes out and had them organized, maybe even pre- written out where they're going to send, it would make it easier for me to get into the thank you note writing thing. Or on the flip side, if you want to kill a bad habit, sometimes you just need to make things a little more difficult. A great example is if you're watching too much TV, take the batteries out of your controller. Go and put them out in the garage inside of your glove compartment. Now it sounds stupid, but when you have to... you sit down and you're ready to watch TV and you press play and you're like, " Oh my gosh, I'm going to have to walk outside into the cold, and into the garage, and I've got to go get those batteries," it creates friction that might create a space for you to break the habit.
Keith Simon: And some people have used that same approach with say, social media. So they've taken the app off their phone, but it's still on their computer. And they can go to their social media platform of their choice, they just can't do it easily on their phone. They've got to make the extra effort to go to their desktop. Or they've not allowed the platform to know their password, and they've given themselves a complicated password. So now if I want to go into Twitter I can, but I've got to enter this, 10 symbols of my password in order to get access to it. So all that does is it slows you down a little bit and says okay, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Do I really want to do this? And maybe the answer is yes, or maybe it's no. But it just takes it out of habit and makes it a decision.
Patrick Miller: Can I add another one that I think is really funny? You could allow your spouse to be the only one who knows your password for your social media.
Keith Simon: Oh, wow.
Patrick Miller: Every time you're done with social media, you sign out, and every time you want to sign in you have to go to your spouse and say, " Hey, I'm not interested in you, I would like to look at Twitter please."
Keith Simon: And so hand him or her your phone and say, " You enter it. Don't tell it to me, you enter it."
Patrick Miller: Yeah, they can't tell you. "You enter it." It's just a good example of how to maybe break a habit that you want to break. Okay, another example is using small intervals. I really enjoy writing, I absolutely love writing. You know what I hate? Starting writing. I don't know what it is about writing, but getting started is always absolutely misery. When I know I've got a project sitting right in front of me, I will do anything but that. And a way that I've helped myself is intervals. What I'll do is I'll set a timer on my phone, and I'll say, " Okay, Patrick, you just need to write for 10 minutes. If at the end of that 10 minutes you're still miserable, you don't want to be writing anymore, you want to move onto the next thing, you have full permission. You haven't failed today." And what I've found is that 90% of the time, if I'll just go that 10 minutes, that tiny little interval, I can go on for another hour, an hour and a half without a problem, but it's that first interval that's really hard. So that's something you can do. If you want to exercise, I'm only going to exercise for five minutes. If I don't want to keep exercising after five minutes, I can be done. But again, usually you get through the five minutes, you'll keep going.
Keith Simon: Yeah, one more is habit stacking. So we're talking about ways to make new habits easier to do, easier to establish, develop. Habit stacking is finding something you already do, and then establishing a new routine, a new habit you want to develop onto that which you already do. So for example, let's say every morning Patrick makes his cup of coffee. What you could do is take your bible and set it out by your coffee pot, so now something I'm already in the habit of doing, going and making coffee, now when I get there I see my bible. So while the coffee's being made, I read my bible. And that way I establish a new habit, reading my bible, by tying it or stacking it on an old habit, making coffee.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. Another good example might be, maybe you want to be more grateful. In fact, there's lots of studies that show that if you practice gratitude once a day, your mental health drastically improves. That's a very small thing. So every time you brush your teeth, when you're done, you just look up in the mirror and you say one thing you're thankful for that day. That would be stacking a habit, what am I grateful for, on top of something that you do. You could do it at the end of the day when you brush your teeth, similar idea.
Keith Simon: So we've already kind of mentioned short term rewards, but I think they're so important. Because all the good habits take months, maybe even years to see really pay off, so we've got to establish some short term wins to keep us motivated. What are some other ways that we can do that? Some practical examples.
Patrick Miller: So some of these are going to sound really, really stupid when I describe them, but I have found them to be incredibly personally effective. If you can give yourself a little tactile reward in the moment, something that seems really dumb, what I'm about to share, it will have a major effect. So again, I'll go back to writing. Years ago, I was trying to get into a habit of writing more consistently. And so I had these two buckets of paperclips, okay? Bucket one was my paperclips I had not used, and the other one was this bucket where I was going to put the paperclips in the future. And every time I wrote a page, if I finished a page on a Word doc, I would move one paperclip from the one bucket to the other bucket, okay? And the rule was, once I filled up my other bucket, I could buy$ 100 worth of clothing. Now, here's why that worked. The$ 100 worth of clothing is a lag measure. You have to wait to write 100 pages before you get to buy your$ 100, but there was something about moving the paperclip in the moment. It was just this tiny little reward of, I'm accomplishing something. I've succeeded in something today. And so that's a tiny little, short term reward that you could add to almost anything that you want to do more of that would allow you in the long- term to develop a habit. Another one is you can do high cost failures. You kind of hate this story I'm about to share. But what you can do is, if there's something you want to stop, you just set a really high cost failure. You put a$ 100 bill, put it in a very public space. " If I do X, I'm going to light the Benjamin on fire."
Keith Simon: So there's public accountability.
Patrick Miller: Yes.
Keith Simon: Because I could say all that, but I wouldn't really light it on fire.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, yeah. You need that public accountability. So you're going to hate this example, but I still think it's funny. There's this guy, he's trying to walk with Jesus, he's just struggling because he kept sleeping with his girlfriend. And eventually they wanted to get married and he didn't want to break up, and I thought they actually had a good relationship, it was just this temptation kept getting into it, and so this is what I told them to do. I said, " I want you to get a Benjamin. I want you to put a piece of tape on it, and I want you to put it above both of your beds. Anyplace that these things happen. And I want you to tape a lighter next to it."
Keith Simon: This is a horrible story.
Patrick Miller: I told them, " If you do it, you've got to burn the hundo," because this was a guy who's very motivated by money, liked money. And he told me afterwards, now I don't know if I believe him or not, but he told me afterwards-
Keith Simon: I don't. I don't even know what he said, I don't believe him.
Patrick Miller: He told me afterwards that this sincerely helped them. It was this short term cost that made them stop in the moment and say, " Okay, I don't want to lose$ 100 more than I want to have this experience."
Keith Simon: Some of this, okay I know I'm going to go a bad direction, nobody wants to go this direction, but it's just the way I feel, is that some of this seems like it's not the way the world is supposed to be. You're supposed to want to follow Jesus because Jesus is the reward.
Patrick Miller: No, no, no, no, no. You are missing the point. This guy was really serious about wanting to follow Jesus, but he had some really bad habits that were deeply ingrained. And he knew that they were wrong. He knew this is not a way of justifying it, but there were all kinds of cues that led them to sex. And so by putting up this big barrier between him and that thing, it was a way of in the moment resisting for the sake of following Jesus.
Keith Simon: Yeah, I get it.
Patrick Miller: It's no different than the person who puts a bible next to their coffee pot because they can't read their bible. I mean really, don't you just want to follow Jesus? Why do you got to put it next to your coffee pot to do it? Well no, that's silly. He was setting up a cost so that he could resist and follow Jesus when his brain was in the limbic system you know?
Keith Simon: That's fair. I mean, it really is fair. In a perfect world we wouldn't need things like that. And so sometimes when I hear it, it just seems like a reward of Jesus should be enough, but you're right. That's not how our sinful screwed up selves work, and so by creating artificial rewards, it helps us do what we want to do in the long- term.
Patrick Miller: A last thought about habits and forming habits. Habits need community. The best habits are often done with other people. So an example of this in my life is, when my wife and I have wanted to eat healthier, it's really hard when the other spouse decides, " Yeah, you can go eat healthy. You can eat your salads and do your own thing, but I'm just going to keep eating the way I want to eat."
Keith Simon: Right now, my wife is trying to do this intermittent fasting thing. Well, she's been doing it for quite a while, and so she doesn't eat from, I don't know, sometime at night until noon. So I'm in the kitchen hiding in the morning eating, because I don't want to bug her, but I'm not going to do it.
Patrick Miller: That's kind of you though, at least you're trying to hide.
Keith Simon: Yeah, I just feel-
Patrick Miller: Do you have a cereal closet where you eat by yourself?
Keith Simon: It just feels weird, me and the dog trying to eat quietly.
Patrick Miller: Trying to hide. But it highlights a point. We often need community. So if you're like me and you're like, " Hey, I want to exercise more," what's a way that you can do that with others? Maybe you have a friend you can go exercise with, or maybe there's a friend who's trying to do the same thing. You can hold each other accountable.
Keith Simon: Is this the kind of like the thing where they say show me your five best friends and I'll show you the person you're becoming?
Patrick Miller: Yeah.
Keith Simon: We become like them, and habits are contagious. And if we have people who practice wise habits, whether it's their spiritual life, or their relationships, or money or eating or whatever, that kind of rubs off on us.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, one example of that is, I've wanted to get into a better habit of practicing the sabbath, of actually setting aside work stuff on Saturdays, because Sunday is a workday for me as a pastor. And I had a community of friends around me who all kind of at the same time said, " We're going to do the same thing." And we even set up a reward. On that Saturday, we'd get together with all of our families, and we'd just have a fun meal together, and it was really relaxing. And knowing the reward at the end, but also knowing I was going to be accountable to those people of was I really sabbath- ing, that helped me live it out, because I by nature do not want to sabbath. So let's give a big overview of where we're at. Your habits shape the trajectory of your life. Where you're going in the long- term, the kind of person you're going to become, the kind of life you're going to lead, is shaped by your habits. And that means that you both need to break old habits and build new habits in your life. Absolutely everybody has to do this. The way that we do that is multifaceted. Sometimes it means creating new cues, sometimes it means creating new rewards, sometimes it means creating new routines, but there's also lots of other ways you can decrease or increase the friction. You can use small intervals or habit stacking, where you're adding new habits to old habits. It might mean creating short term rewards or high cost failures. There's lots of different ways to create habits, but that's what we want to help you do, because we really do think those small little choices that you make in your life have a large impact in the long- term.
Keith Simon: James Clear, Atomic Habits, Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habits. I'm sure there's other good stuff out there, but those are two places that I would start.
Daniel: Thanks for listening. If you found this podcast helpful, make sure to subscribe and leave a review.
Patrick Miller: And make sure it's at least five stars.
Daniel: Stop, no. Just be honest. Reviews help other people find us.
Patrick Miller: Okay, okay. At the very least, you can share today's episode. Maybe put it on your social, your favorite text chain.
Keith Simon: And if you didn't like this episode, awesome. Tell us why you disagree on Twitter at truthovertribe_. We might even share your thoughts in an upcoming newsletter.
This week on Truth Over Tribe, we are discussing how to form new habits. Habits, good and bad, rule our lives and shape the kind of person we become. Today, we dissect what a habit is and how they form, leading to a better understanding of developing positive habits. We learn that it helps to redirect your habits through cue and reward, plus we share some reward systems that can help to create new habits. There are many processes to forming habits, and today we hope to help with the small choices that build impactful, long-term ones. Listen now!