Habits and Riding the Bicycle

person riding a bicycle in the middle of road surrounded with trees

“Building a habit takes repetition” is what they say. It’s true! Some people say it takes 21 days to cement a habit. Naturally, building a habit in this way leads to building a “streak” of repeated action, done consistently at the desired cadence (daily, weekly, etc). What happens when the streak breaks?

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits talks about “practicing with zero“- the idea of how we respond to ourselves when a streak is broken. What I find particularly interesting about this concept, as well, is the opportunity we miss while focusing on having broken the streak.

Dipping in and out of habits is more like riding a bicycle. Once you know how, the next times are easier to pick up again.

My meditation habit

I built a streak of meditating for over 100 days in a row. I did the same for journaling. I also want to read more, and committed to reading 30 books in 2021.

“Life got busy” and these streaks dropped.

The truth is, these are all habits as well as streaks.

I got out of a meditation “streak”, yet found it far easier to dip back in and meditate, knowing that I’ve built the behavior, and crafted the environment in which I meditate. Each time I dip and return, meditation is easier than ever.

Reading a book is done one page at a time. I committed to picking up my book at least once per day, and to reading a minimum of 1 page. If I go one morning without reading, that’s okay. The next day will be easier to pick back up again, because I’ve built the behavior.

We focus so much on “breaking the streak”, that we ignore the behavior we have spent so many days/weeks/months crafting!

Building habits, sustainably

As a ritualistic person, I find habit building to be extremely effective in building my life every day. Connecting new habits to existing habits (for example, flossing after brushing your teeth) is a sustainable alternative to streak-based habit building, which focuses less on the streak, and more towards building the habit.

The reading habit I’ve built is directly connected to my morning cup of coffee. Meditation is connected deeply to a very specific single-sofa which is “just right” for the activity.

When you find yourself breaking the streak, how you choose to respond is entirely up to you. Focus on the path you’ve walked to get you to today, the gains you’ve received from building the habit, and continue to build your habits and your life.

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