There are probably a million habits you would like to have that you have not set up yet. Be it the usual ones like eating healthy, exercising, or meditating, or more unusual ones, like remembering to look for disconfirming evidence, labeling emotions, or doing spaced repetition for things you'd like to memorize.
Here I’ll explain an acronym that condenses down a lot of the best steps you can take to make sure you actually establish the new habit you want. S.E.E.P stands for Systems, Easy, Enjoyment, and Passive. A way to remember the acronym itself is to remember that you want habits to seep into your day-to-day life.
What system are you going to use to set up this habit? Put that into motion right now. Don’t wait until you’re back home from work and assume you’ll remember. The systems I use and recommend are:
Make it something you enjoy. You are far more likely to implement a habit if you like doing it. Usually people think of the default and try that, even if they hate it. The most common example is exercise. When people think they want to be more active, what are the two things everybody always thinks of first? Going to the gym or taking up jogging. Why those things? Most humans hate the gym and find jogging boring. Some people appear to enjoy it, but for the rest of us, there are options that are so much more enjoyable.
Ways to get exercise that are enjoyable
This is just a small list and can be applied to practically anything. Say you want to meditate more. How do you make that more enjoyable? You can do the meditations that more reliably make you happy, like loving-kindness or mindful eating. You can pick a meditation object that is beautiful, like a sunset or view of the mountains.
You get the picture. Try to figure out ways to make the habit something so enjoyable that you’ll want to keep coming back instead of having to force yourself to.
If you want to make something a habit, it helps to make it easy. Some general principles for making it easy:
Take for example exercise again. How do you make it easy? Dancing is kinda hard. You have to go to a different building, find dancing opportunities, pay for them, etc. Instead, you could dance at your house. Just roll out of bed, put on some wireless headphones, and dance.
Let's look at sports as another example. Sports can be hard. You have to have enough people close by and willing to play a regular game with you, and then you have to organize everything. Easier is to join a local community center, find some teams that are fun, and if other friends come, great. Alternatively you can find a sport that you like that is solo or only requires one partner, such as hiking or tennis.
I write about passiveness and how it applies to happiness here. At this point in the acronym you try a different tact to establishing habits - you set up the behavior or outcome to happen with little to no maintenance effort after an initial upfront investment. For example, I live in a house that is within biking distance of everywhere. It takes ~5-15 minutes to get anywhere. It’s just a bit too far to walk anywhere, and too short to be worth bussing. The easiest option for me is to bike. The choice of the house initially took a bunch of work, but now, without any continuing effort on my part, I bike about 20 minutes a day without even thinking about it.
One of the best ways to make something passive is to:
Put positive temptations in your environment
Put things in your physical environment that tempt you to do good things. For example, put the books you want to read right next to your desk and your couch, wherever you sit the most during the day, both at home and work. These can be self-improvement books, books that develop a skill, classics you've always wanted to read, etc. Another great place to put positive temptations are on shelves that are in eyesight of where you do the desired behavior. For instance, if you store your books in your bedroom but do most of your reading in the living room, they’ll go unread.
Fill your digital environment, such as your computer and phone, with positive temptations. For example, populate your bookmark bar in your browser with things you want to do more of. Maybe an online course for a hobby you want to pursue or more life satisfaction-inducing alternatives to social media. Set your desktop wallpaper to rotate through things that might tempt you to do the behavior you want. For example, pictures of books you’d like to read, lectures you’d like to listen to, or healthy meals you love the taste of.
Remove negative temptations from your environment
Remove negative temptations from your physical environment, such as your house or office. See if you can completely get rid of a temptation from your environment, and if you cannot or don’t want to for whatever reason, hide it. For example, don’t have junk food in your house. If you live with people who do not want to do that, put the junk food at the back of a high shelf behind some healthy alternatives, like dried fruit or salted nuts.
Remove negative temptations from your digital environment, such as your phone and computer. For example, unbookmark things if you don’t want to do them as much. Use programs to automatically stop you. For example, there’s this Chrome extension that replaces your Facebook feed with a quote about procrastination or productivity. Or this one that you can customize with time limits and completely block sites for periods of time, say during work hours. You can even get more heavy duty ones that can block certain apps, which is particularly useful if you’re trying to cut back on something like gaming.
List of examples you might find useful
Weight and health
What you eat
Katherine Xio Savoie
I'm an effective altruist who co-founded Charity Science. This blog is where I write about everything, particularly happiness, health, life hacks, and psychology.