When it comes to healthy habits, the problem generally isn't information--we know what's good and bad for us--it's motivation. Whether it's an exercise regimen, an earlier bedtime, or a productivity system, many people who sincerely believe in a given practice's benefits still struggle to incorporate the behavior into their life.
How can those who want to get on board with success and wellness advice finally overcome their inertia and build healthy new routines?
There's a ton of advice out there, from shock therapy to baby steps to accountability practices, and the best answer is probably whichever combination of these works best for you at a particular moment in time. But since people are different and preferences change, it's always better to have more tools in the toolbox. And I just came across a good one I'd never heard of before.
Trickery beats willpower.
Meditation is a great example of a simple-seeming practice that's endorsed by everyone from Google execs to sport stars and has a list of proven benefits as long as your arm--which still remains weirdly hard for a lot of people to adopt. Writer Jake Knapp was among them.
In a recent Medium post, Knapp confessed his own long, checkered history with meditation, including his many stops and starts, and his vague sense that there was something embarrassing and hippie-ish about the idea. Still he was determined to see for himself if the much touted benefits of mindfulness were real.
He finally managed to establish a meditation habit not through sheer force of will but, he says, by "tricking himself." Among other techniques (he's a fan of the meditation app Headspace, for example), he used a dead simple tool to short circuit his lazier impulses, and it's one that would work no matter what sort of healthy-but-not-immediately-enjoyable habit you're aiming to start.
It's called a "Was It Worth It Journal", and here's how it works, according to Knapp:
I've started keeping a "Was Headspace worth it?" journal. Every time I sit down to meditate, even after all my positive experiences, I'm still skeptical. So after a session, I record the results.
It's surprising to see all the "YES" notes lined up, because I'm always (illogically, stubbornly) skeptical before each session. But there's the proof, in my own handwriting.
As many have quipped, "I really regret that workout," is something no one has said. Ever. (Injuries perhaps excepted.) On the other hand, there are tons of reasons that skipping a workout seems like a good idea beforehand. Establishing new habits, in other words, always hinges on convincing your current self of what will be incredibly obvious to your future self--that the rewards outweigh the hassle.
A "Was It Worth It Journal" strengthens the hand of that future self who will have benefited from the new habit, giving this healthier, more productive version of you a megaphone to shout down lazy, skeptical current you who is thinking that maybe one more episode of your favorite show is a better idea that going for that run, or checking Facebook again is a better use of your time than sitting down to meditate.