Building Habits to Become a Software Developer, Part III Making Good Habits Sustainable

Ideas in this session are adapted from Atomic Habits by James Clear

Slides for this session

Learning Goals

  • Build on your awareness of your current habits
  • Utilize the 4th law of “make it satisfying” to create longterm habits
  • Implement habit tracking to improve your motivation
  • Apply new strategies within your environment design and everyday process to break down procrastination

This Week’s Career Journal Prompts

  • Assess your habits from last week
  • Implement reinforcement strategies
  • Don’t Break the Chain: Set up a habit tracker
  • Get back on track
  • Create a habit contract with an accountability partner

Review

We’ve discussed a lot about making our habits identity-based with the focus on the goal to become a software developer. Our identities inform our habits, and as you embrace the idea of being a software developer, that identity will inform your habits. You will focus on habits that reinforce that identity.

As you think back over the first 3 laws of behavior change (make it obvious, make it attractive, and make it easy), consider:

  • How have you implemented these laws into your habits this module?

Your first journal prompt this week asks you assess your habits from the week before to understand how you’re spending your time. Where are you building effective habits? What is still ineffective? How could you change that?

4th Rule of Behavior Change: Make It Satisfying

When a behavior is satisfying, we are more likely to repeat it. Why? Because positive emotions cultivate habits.

The first 3 laws of behavior change increase the odds that you’ll do something once while this last law increases the odds that you’ll complete the behavior more than once. This piece closes the habit loop in order to make change sustainable for longterm.

Immediate-return environment vs. Delayed-return Environment

We will gravitate towards rewards we can get immediately, and these tend to be the behaviors that will get repeated. However, success in most fields requires you to ignore immediate gratification in favor of delayed gratification. The good news is it’s possible to train yourself to delay gratification and put in habits for sustained success down the road. Here’s what you do:

  • Add a little bit of immediate pleasure to habits that pay off in the long run
  • Add a little bit of immediate pain to the ones that don’t

You can also use instant gratification to your advantage:

  • Find a way to feel successful through reinforcement measures. This works especially well when working on habits of avoidance, aka behaviors you want to stop doing. Every time you don’t do the thing, find a way to reward yourself.
    • Example: If you’re trying to save money and eat out less, create a savings account with the name of the goal you have (i.e., “Vacation” or “Expensive Keyboard”) and transfer the money you’re saving from not getting take-out to that account.

It’s important to note that you should select short-term rewards that reinforce your identity rather than ones that conflict with it. This brings us back to identity-based goals. Eventually, your identity takes precedence as the reason for why you keep doing a habit – it’s not about the reward, it’s about the fact that the habit reinforces who you are.

Habit Tracking

Tracking your habits is a way of providing instant gratification that leads to longterm satisfaction. Another way to think about this is the “don’t break the chain” method outlined in the article below about Jerry Seinfeld. The mere act of tracking a habit can spark the urge to change it.

Read both of the following articles to understand how you can reinforce the satisfaction of your habits:

Some takeaways here:

  • Habit tracking creates a visual cue that can remind you to act
  • Habit tracking is inherently motivating because you see the progress you are making and don’t want to lose it
  • Habit tracking is satisfying in itself; you want to keep the streak alive, so now you’re focused on the process instead of the result
  • Habit tracking provides visual proof that you are becoming the person you want to become

When you implement habit tracking, you should:

  • Automate your data
  • Manual tracking should be limited to your highest priority habit
  • Record each measurement immediately after the habit occurs. “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [TRACK MY HABIT].”

Try out some apps that can help you with habit tracking

What if I break the streak?

First of all, it’s okay. When you fail at your habits, find a way to rebound. Don’t get stuck in the all-or-nothing strive for perfection; this is a form of fixed mindset.

Instead, focus on how to bounce back and remind yourself to show up. How can you still show up to demonstrate that you’re the type of person who does this habit?

This also points to the idea of accountability and the inherent power of accountability partners. Having someone to check in with or complete the habit with is another way to hold yourself accountable to actually doing it.

For further reading on ways to both bounce back from failure and create resiliency with your habits, check out these articles: