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Creating Intentional Technology Habits in 2020

In this Mindfulness Monday post, we consider how to leverage our technology to create intentional habits.

Last week, we published an interview with bestselling author James Clear about starting and building better habits. There’s some great insights in the interview about how habits work, and James shares some great tips about how to create them. This week, we want to take a look at some healthy technology habits.

But first, let’s take a look at the problem with New Year’s resolutions and goals.

Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions people make is to get in shape. I personally see this play out every single year in early January, when the gym is packed with people who have made this particular resolution and are motivated to make it happen. They have decided that this is the year they are going make positive change in their lives. Sure, they said the same thing last year, and the year before that — but this year, they mean it. This year, they are determined that things will be different.

So, they join the gym. Then they buy new workout clothes and running shoes. And at the beginning, they do go every day. But within 2-3 weeks, they stop coming (and I go back to never having to wait for the machines I want to use). Something throws off their plan and they don’t see immediate results, so they lose motivation. When life happens, their good intentions are no longer enough to see them through.

And it happens to almost everybody. In fact, I heard a statistic from Scranton University recently that said 92% of New Year’s resolutions fail. In his phenomenal book, Atomic Habits, author James Clear tells us why:

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

So if you want to be part of the 8% who stick with and achieve their goals this year, the way to do it is to create a system, or habit, that makes success inevitable. Want to lose weight? Don’t chase a goal of dropping 10 pounds — make a habit of going to the gym. Want to write a book? Don’t think about how many words you need — make a habit of writing every day.

How Habits Work

In Atomic Habits, James Clear puts forth a simple 4-step framework for creating positive habits:

  1. Cue
  2. Craving
  3. Routine
  4. Reward

He also teaches four simple laws to make creating positive habits (which can be inverted for eliminating negative ones) easier:

  1. Make it obvious
  2. Make it attractive
  3. Make it easy
  4. Make it satisfying

In the book, James explains the difference between the traditional outcome-based habits vs. what he calls identity-based habits. With identity-based habits, you’re not trying to establish the habit because you want to achieve an outcome. Instead, you assume the identity of the person, which in turn dictates the process, and ultimately produces the outcome. The outcome isn’t the focus.

For example, let’s say you want to write a book. With an identity-based habit, you first identify as a writer. What does a writer do? They write! You may have trouble thinking of yourself as a writer when you’re getting started, but the key is that every time you show up and write, you are casting a vote for the type of person you want to become. Regardless of the quality, at the moment you are writing, you are in fact a writer! And every time you show up and write, you prove to yourself that you have what it takes through a series of small wins.

You can dive a lot deeper into into the mechanics of how they work, but you don’t have to know it all before you can start making positive changes in your own life. The secret to achieving big goals is consistent small actions. If you can make a habit of doing the right thing every day, success becomes inevitable. With the right habits, this can be the year that you join the 8% who actually achieve their goals.

What’s fascinating to me is the assistance that your Apple technology can give you in the creation of these habits.

Habit Trackers FTW

I’ve done a lot of research on habit tracking apps for iOS in writing our pick for the best iOS habit tracker, and there are a ton of them. Many of them use the same mechanic or strategy of trying to help you put together a streak of doing the right things consistently that harkens back to the “Don’t Break the Chain” strategy popularly attributed to comedian Jerry Seinfeld. There’s a story that goes something like this…

A young comedian once asked Jerry Seinfeld how to become great, and Seinfeld responded by advising him to get a big wall calendar and put a big red X on the calendar for every day that he wrote new material. Each day that he was able to put another X on the calendar, the longer the chain would become. And the longer the chain became, the more he would like seeing that chain. His only goal at that point was to not break the chain.

Most iOS habit trackers follow this strategy, but the best one (in our opinion) is Streaks. It offers everything you need to create good habits (or break bad ones), features a great design that is very customizable, and is the best option for automating habit tracking because of its great Shortcuts support. And at only $4.99 on the iOS App Store, it’s also a bargain.

3 Positive Technology Habits

While the Mindfulness Monday category is full of examples that would make great intentional technology habits in 2020, here are a couple of our favorites.

  1. Create a Journaling Habit with Day One. There are many benefits that come from establishing a journaling habit, but they can all ultimately be traced back to a single benefit — journaling makes you happier. And if you’re going to make a journaling habit, Day One is the best app available.
  2. Create a Writing Habit with Ulyssess. A popular study shows that as much as 81% of Americans believe they have a book in them and that they should write it. If you’re serious about your own writing project, Ulysses is the best tool to help you achieve your writing goals.
  3. Create a Mindfulness Meditation Habit with Headspace. I resisted mindfulness meditation for a long time, but I’ve come around and am a believer. If you’re skeptical or new to the practice of mindfulness meditation, Headspace is the best app to help get you started.

Make This Your Best Year Yet

The beginning of the year offers a unique opportunity to hit the reset button and reconsider some of your technology habits. I encourage you to spend a little time evaluating your technology use:

  • How much time do you spend on your phone?
  • Are you okay with the amount of time you spend on your phone?
  • If not, what non-essential activities can you remove?
  • Which apps do you use most frequently?
  • How do those apps make you feel after you’ve used them?
  • What are the negative uses of your technology that you find yourself falling into?
  • How can you eliminate or minimize these negative behaviors?
  • What do you consider positive uses of your technology?
  • How can you encourage more of those positive behaviors?

Make this your best year yet by determining the type of person you want to become. Then, use your technology intentionally to support the identity-based habits that will help you become that person.