Habits – The Autopilot of Productivity

I am intrigued by habits and how easy (or tough) it can make our lives. Let’s focus on the easy part now.

You don’t need an alarm to wake you up. — Never have to wake up to the annoying sound.

You don’t need to worry not burning calories. — You put on running shoes as soon as you wake up without throwing any tantrum.

You don’t need to look for your car keys. — You automatically keep them right next to the night stand.

That is, Imagine your life on autopilot.

While habits take care of the routine tasks, you could devote your time and energy on creating the next awesomest thing!

But it is easy for the habits to take over your life.. They are mean machines with superhuman powers.

Have you found yourself in an interesting discussion and when your phone beeps, your hands automatically reaches out to the phone to check the messages?

That’s an habit. I bet you didn’t know that did you?

That’s exactly why you need to understand habits before you can change them.

Cognitive psychologists define habits as “automatic behaviors triggered by situational cues”. In other words, see chocolate, eat chocolate. (then may be think about calories).
For those who are a minimalist  (or have a serious obsession with formulae)

Habit = (Cue + Response) x 999*

*yes, 999 is an arbitrary number. I would’ve put a million. But that would’ve been too much effort and you would’ve probably stopped reading further.
That’s why when people claim they can hack in to habit formation, they are usually wrong. I mean, is there a hack to loosing weight other than burning calories? No right?

Well… trying to change a habit is like trying to change a habit. It’s not easy. And there is no right way.

But there is your way.

That brings me to the most important thing you will need to know about habit.

You don’t know your habit even exists!
Huh? Say what?

Yes. Say for example, do you know what exactly you “do”,”think” or “feel” when you hit the snooze button? It is so involuntary that, you hit snooze button x times (three for me and yes I counted) before you get out of the bed. Have you noticed that? If not, try it tomorrow and let me know!

That’s why, I a good way to start a change a old habit (say snoozing) not by not snoozing. But by understanding what you “do” when you snooze.


It’s the most interesting exercise in habit formation. ‘Cause it’s like solving a mystery box challenge (MasterChef Australia fans, Up top!). You don’t know what’s in there, till you open the box. And of course when you open it, for a moment you are like is that me? Then you start thinking about points to intervene.
There are two places you can intervene. (By now you should’ve guessed it).

Cue and Response.

So, all you got to do is experiment. There are just 43 ways to do it.

(old habit) Cue and Response
Cue and Response
Cue and Response
Cue and Response (also for new habit)

 Note to Seventh grade self: Yes, it is very similar to a 2 bit binary code.

Once you have figured out which one works. You are just one step away from turning the autopilot mode on.


Ok. I didn’t say it was easy.

Now that I have shared my wisdom, let me share my experience. My experience of failing several times and ways I have successfully manage to stay put.
Slack off for a day and it is as good as starting again. But sometimes, you cannot. So (pretend) do the task three times the next day.
You will often want to give up. So, associate the response with a good feeling. (a simple smile worked wonders for me)
Start small and be patient. Habits you are trying to change have been with you for a long time. It is not easy to change it in a day.
That’s it.

By the way, if you want to know if I still wake up late, I do. But, I have been running experiments for the past three weeks studying my sleep pattern, the cue (snoozing alarm three times), the response and actively tweaking them everyday one small step at a time.


How many days does it take to form an habit? As long as it takes for you to not put effort ie. the response is so involuntary (it gets itchy just before it turns involuntary). People usually say it takes 21 days, some say 48 days. Well, to me habit formation is personal.

Can we really change old habits? Duh! But again, it is not easy.

How easy is it to break a habit? Not that easy as you think. How long can you fool your subconscious?




I write on every Monday and Thursday on topics such as life hacks, startups, strategies and books. Subscribe if these topics interests you. 🙂


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