Hello, Habits

Hello, Habits


Fumio Sasaki

Hello, Habits: A Minimalist’s Guide to a Better Life is a decently well-written book with a lot of good information. It’s around 120 pages longer than it needs to be, but Sasaki’s rambling encouragements are likely a large part of what makes the book so accessible. As long as you don’t mind analogies, it’s worth a read. This book is made up of fifty “steps” toward making and solidifying habits, so there’s a lot of actionable information throughout. The pertinent actionable information can be found on pages 57-58, 61, 78, 86, 89, 94, 106-108, 111-112, 115, 117, 130, 134, 138, 150, 160-164, 170, 178-179, 181, 192, 205-207, 209, 212, 220, 225, 233, 235, 243, and 246-247.

Hello, Habits is all about breaking old habits and forming new ones. The first two chapters focus on Sasaki’s opinions on willpower and what forming a habit really means. He references a lot of books and studies, but all the information provided is his personal interpretation of their interpretations. On the upside, Sasaki openly admits that you can skip over the first two chapters without losing anything. Chapter three contains fifty steps for breaking old and forming new habits, though many of the “steps” are general tips rather than actionable information. Chapter four is a recap as well as an acknowledgement that everyone should do things at their own pace, in their own way. 

Pages 57-58 state that habits consist of triggers, routines, and rewards. The five types of triggers, for both good and bad habits, are location, time, emotional state, other people, and preceding events (61). One of the mindsets that often prevents people from breaking bad habits is the belief that some habits, like excessive drinking or retail therapy, are necessary to relieve stress (78). Sasaki goes onto say that when quitting a habit, the first five days are the hardest. The month afterward is difficult but doable, and it gets easier from there (86). When breaking a habit, it’s easier to quit cold turkey than it is to make exceptions, as those exceptions will always grow in number, and the rules become complicated (89). 

When trying to form good habits, it’s important to recognize that there’s always a price. It’s better to recognize that there’s something you’d rather prioritize and accept the negative consequences (e.g., some people will feel insulted if you refuse to drink alcohol with them) than to pretend there’s no downside to the habit you’d like to acquire (94). Pages 106-108 recommend using a habit tracker (Sasaki uses a diary) to record both days where habits are successfully kept and reasons for failing to keep a habit. This provides a clearer view of things that might throw you off track and how you felt on days where you succeeded versus failed to keep those habits. When trying to break a bad habit, it’s good to utilize your habit tracker to see which of the five triggers are encouraging your bad habit. You can also use it to narrow down what reward you’re actually trying to attain and see if there are other ways to reach the same goal.

Pages 11-112 state that it’s a mistake to wait for motivation to start. You won’t feel motivation until after you attempt a habit (e.g., you’ll feel motivated to work out once you’re already at the gym, not while you’re at home). When thinking about skipping a habit, try asking yourself, “Will I regret it if I do?” Page 115 lists the four types of hurdles between resting states and habits as time, distance, procedures, and psychology. Sasaki states that the accumulation of small hurdles will change the actions people take (e.g., needing to take six things to the gym versus grabbing a single bag). Hurdles are more powerful than rewards (117). 

To give yourself your best chance at keeping a habit, make the goal ridiculously small (e.g., make your goal to go to the gym, not work-out). Usually, once you start, you’ll naturally want to do more. And on the days that you don’t, the habit is still achievable (130). The best way to keep a habit is also to do it either every day or on set days. ‘Two days a week’ can be negotiated as to which two days and put off. ‘Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday,’ however, leaves no room for negotiation. The goal of a habit is to “make it an unconscious process,” that way no matter what else is going on, you’ll perform the task (134). This isn’t to say that you can’t have exceptions, like holidays, only that the exceptions should be made in advance. Sasaki recommends not making same-day exceptions, stating that if you decide on exceptions in the spur of the moment, habits will deteriorate (138).

He also recommends setting a timetable and scheduling out the majority of the day, thus creating a chain of habits. What he describes is a basic version of block scheduling, with twenty-five minute bursts of concentration, five minute breaks between bursts, and longer, fifteen minute breaks every two hours (150). Pages 160-164 encourage utilizing “community expectations,” which is just to say that accountability matters. People act differently when they’re being watched, so informing others of your intent ahead of time, either through social media or in person, makes you more likely to go through with the action. 

A good way to keep a habit going is to stop in the middle of performing the habitual action. The point of this is not to push yourself until you hate it, but to quit while you’re still having fun. That way, you leave yourself with a good impression of the habit, which encourages you to do it again the next day (170). Pages 178-179 go back to habit tracking with an emphasis on list-keeping. He places importance both on recording failures (e.g., not excusing your actions and pretending the break in habit never happened) and successes (e.g., keeping a list of accomplishments so that you give yourself proper credit for the things you did do). Page 181 then circles back to block scheduling with a note that it’s best to secure time for your basic needs (e.g., sleeping, eating, exercise) before dividing up the rest of your day. 

On 192, Sasaki drives home the importance of not mixing up objectives and targets, with the distinction being that objectives are the driving force behind forming a habit (e.g., being healthy), while targets are rewarding milestones (e.g., hitting your goal weight). Pages 205-207 encourage you to “gradually increase the level of difficulty,” meaning that you don’t have to jump to your end goal right away. If you want to wake up an hour earlier, you can set your alarm five minutes earlier every day for twelve days and achieve the same goal. Page 209 drives home the fact that development is not a reward, as “development is accompanied by periods of stagnation and breakthroughs.” It’s important to both separate the development from the reward and keep your target low (e.g., even when you can do thirty push-ups, keep the goal for the day to do a single push-up) so that when development stagnates, you won’t get discouraged. 

Mindset and believing in yourself matter (212). Habits are particular to individuals, so what works well for some won’t work at all for others. It’s important to “create habits that are unique to you” (220). Sasaki quotes Daigo Umehara on page 225, saying, “When you want to make a change in yourself, a tip is not to think about whether it will make things better, If things get bad, you can make another change when you realize it.”

On page 233, Sasaki makes an important distinction between effort and endurance. Effort “brings you a steady reward and compensates you for the price you pay,” while endurance “[doesn’t give you] a legitimate reward for the price you pay.” Ideally, the point of a habit is to put in effort, not to endure it. He goes on to say that “We can think of ‘effort’ as the tolerance required to do what you want and choose to do, whereas ‘endurance’ is tolerance in a situation where you haven’t made a choice and are forced to do something you don’t want to do” (235). 

As a final, encouraging note, he discounts both genius and talent as nonexistent, stating that those words are just ways for us to place successful people on a different level, thereby stopping us from comparing ourselves to them and coming out inferior (243). Pages 246-247 expound on this with a lot of talk about not giving up do to talent or lack thereof. It comes down to him saying not to compare yourself to others, but to do your best, do it often, and find your own limitations without regard for how well or poorly others may be doing.

And now, as far as pertinent and useful information goes, you’ve read Hello, Habits. If you liked this and found it useful, please share it on your socials and with your friends. You can sign up for my newsletter here. If you have any books you’d like to see on Too Busy for Books, you can contact me here. I’d love to hear your recommendations!

Thanks for reading,

–Jack

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