By Leo Babauta
The first skill I’d like to talk about in our final week is how to put your habit in maintenance mode, once it’s starting to become more automatic.
You want to take on more than just this one habit, but it’s not smart to start two habits at once. Doing one habit takes a lot of effort and focus, but once it becomes more automatic, you can start a second habit.
Notice that I said “more automatic” â€” that’s because it’s a continuum:
- In the beginning, you’re at one end of the spectrum: you have to do it very consciously, with focus.
- After a week, if you’ve been consistent, the habit is getting easier and needs less effort and focus.
- After a couple weeks, it’s becoming a little automatic, and you might not need reminders anymore. You can also start to expand the habit gradually if it’s becoming more automatic.
- After four weeks, it’s becoming pretty easy and automatic, so that you can start a second habit. It might take five weeks, depending on how easy the habit is, and how consistent you’ve been. You can put the first habit into maintenance mode (more on that below).
- After 8-12 weeks, you probably don’t need to think about the habit very much, and just want to check on it periodically. Again, this depends on how consistent you’ve been, and the difficulty level of the habit.
Notice the two main factors for how long it takes for a habit to become automatic:
- How easy the habit is. So make it as easy as possible to get it to automatic sooner.
- How consistent you’ve been. Again, making the habit easy makes it easier to be consistent, and focusing on starting the habit makes you more consistent.
So again, make the habit as easy as possible!
My recommendation is to string together four to five good Habit Sprints (doing your habit 6-7 days each week) before going into maintenance mode … but instead of blindly following this recommendation, it’s better to learn the habit skill of gauging automaticity.
First Skill: Gauging the Automaticity
How do you know when your habit can be put into maintenance mode, and you can start a second habit? You have to gauge how automatic the habit is becoming.
The way that I gauge the habit’s automaticity is by seeing how many days I can go without needing reminders or conscious effort to remember to do the habit, or needing accountability. So I slowly remove those elements, and see if the urge to do the habit just comes up automatically.
It should start to feel routine, nothing special. A regular part of your day, like brushing your teeth or using the bathroom or taking a shower or checking email. Those things have become habits through repetition, and so should your new habit.
After a month or so, it starts to feel this way. It’s not as automatic as those more established routines, but it’s beginning to feel that way. When you don’t need the accountability or motivation or reminders, you can put the habit into maintenance mode.
Second Skill: Creating Maintenance Mode
What’s maintenance mode? It’s the second phase of habit creation:
- First phase: Conscious habit creation, where you create a plan, have accountability, do a weekly review, set up reminders. You are very conscious in the beginning of this phase, but need to be less so as the phase transitions into the next one.
- Second phase: In this phase, the habit is becoming more automatic, and you can start a second habit. You don’t need reminders, or a weekly review. You can dial down the accountability to once a week instead of daily, and do a review at the end of the month.
So with that in mind, here are the elements of maintenance mode:
- Weekly accountability: Just check in with at least one person, or a group, telling them that the habit is still on track (or that it got thrown off by travel, etc.).
- Monthly review: Each month, review your habit just like you used to do with a weekly review.
- No reminders.
- Less conscious effort.
Please be aware that you might get temporarily derailed by disruptions such as travel, illness, a family crisis, visitors, etc. When this happens, you should be very conscious about getting back on track. Restart your habit like you did when you started the habit in the first place: with a simple plan, reminders, maybe some accountability, and conscious effort and focus.