99 comments

A Lifetime of Riches – Is it as Simple as a Few Habits?

monetary_musings_photo

Photo by Kudy at monetarymusings.com

As a Mr. Money Mustache reader, you are on the straight and narrow path to considerable wealth. You’re actively soaking up financial knowledge and putting it into play in your day-to-day life. Unless you are very new here, you probably don’t need convincing of either the value of creating a golden financial situation, or the methods by which we pursue it. Understand and optimize your spending with happiness as the prime directive, while improving the rest of your life and increasing your ability to earn money as a side-effect.

It sounds easy when you put it that way, but to newcomers there are many roadblocks. First is the issue of basic financial knowledge itself. Most of your neighbors believe that borrowing money for cars and kitchen renovations is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, a 5-10% savings rate is admirable, and credit cards are a way to borrow money when life’s little expenses temporarily outpace their salaries. With assumptions like these, wealth will always prove unattainable.

But even with a solid understanding of financial concepts, you still have to get over an even bigger hill: changing your behavior in a way that sticks. To get rich on an average income, you need to have lower-than-average spending. This will mean doing less pointless driving around in your car. But you’ve become very comfortable with habitual car trips. It will mean making fewer visits to restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. But that has become a pleasant and comfortable habit too. Booze, drugs, cigarettes, TV watching, video game playing, procrastination, unhealthy eating, sedentary living, convenience and comfort-seeking and unnecessary shopping are other habits that are widespread in US society. And most of these stand between the average person and a truly wealthy life as well.

For the two years of this blog’s lifetime, I have been trying to attack these habits from a variety of angles in order to create more happy, wealthy people. Beneath my usual drill-sergeant routine and threats of face-punching, I have laid out logical and numerical justifications for some of the changes, and issued emotional calls to action in other ones. Sometimes the articles work, and sometimes they don’t. So what is it that makes a good change-creating piece of advice?

Recently, some important heavy iron plates of missing knowledge have been clunking into place in my mind, due to a string of really interesting practical psychology books I have read in recent months. Blink, Nudge, The Tipping Point, 59 Seconds, Switch, and most recently The Power of Habit, which is a great book.

As simple as it sounds, the missing piece has been the concept of habits, and how ridiculously important they are to the human life – every human life.

If someone asked you to define “habit”, what would you say? Until recently, I probably would have said something like “a repeating pattern of behavior, which is hard for some people to change, and easier for others. And the ability to change habits is sometimes called “willpower”.

But I was surprised to learn habits are much more than that. As it turns out, habits are little chunks of auto-pilot behavior that get burned right into your neurology – permanently. Once you develop a habit, you can never truly erase the program, even if you manage to deactivate it.

It gets even crazier than that: when your brain starts running one of its many habit scripts, a good part of your conscious judgement is shut off for the duration. The habit takes over, controls you until you get to the end of the script, and then dumps you out at the end. And this is not just a rare occurence – depending on who you ask, habits are in at least partially in control for between 50 and 90% of our waking hours.

This has been a popular field of scientific study for several decades, although recent breakthroughs in the area have brought it into the public eye (and the bestselling book list, as shown by the examples above). Consumer marketers have been all over the concept of habit formation, as it is the basis for much of the sales and profits in the world’s vast Unnecessary Products industry. But now the cat is out of the bag, and the fruits of this scientific study are available for you to use to your own advantage, instead of Proctor and Gamble just using them on you. If we can gain a more accurate understanding of what habits are and how to change them, we can get much more control over our own lives.

The studies that figured all this out have been fascinating. In one study, the brains of test rats were monitored, first as they learned their way though a maze to some cheese, then as they eventually repeated the maze run effortlessly every time they were released. Neurological activity was massive at first, but after the habit had been formed, they could race through with very quiet brains, making no decisions between the initial click sound that marked the opening gate,until finishing the quest. Even if removed from the maze and trained for other things, the rats could re-activate the old maze program much later in their lives. And even if the maze was booby-trapped, with sickness-inducing cheese or an electric floor, the rats still played out their habit scripts to their own detriment.

Why is this relevant? Because as smart and fancy as we all are, our mind is subject to the same auto-pilot “chunking” of behavior. Starting the shower, arranging your towels and clothes, and going through the full routine of washing and drying yourself is probably one good example of something you do automatically. Reversing a car out of your driveway or driving or biking very familiar route that you’ve done hundreds of times is another. Coffee drinkers (myself included) are certainly familiar with the process of habit formation. And smokers can be some of the modern world’s most dedicated creatures of habit.

And it goes beyond that. The way the average person responds to certain luxury products and makes purchases is highly habitual as well. Need to go somewhere more than a block away? Grab the car keys. Hungry at work? Head out to one of the usual restaurants. Have a problem with your house? Begin worrying immediately as you try to find a professional who can fix it for you. Uncomfortable or Inconvenienced? Find a product to address it. Mr. Money Mustache telling you to start riding your bike around town for local errands? Immediately think of why you can’t do it, and start typing complaints to that effect.

And here we get to the meat of the issue as it pertains to financial success: because habits become so automatic, they become effortless. This is a bad thing if the habit is destroying you, but wonderful if the habit is a life-boosting one.

In my recent experiment where I tried to spend money wildly, I had to expend great daily effort and still didn’t manage to match the average high-income person’s automatic routine. Not buying unnecessary stuff during trips is an age-old habit for me, and it would be hard to break even if I wanted to. In fact, the habit extends to every financial transaction I make: I tend to run through a routine of: “will this really make me happier? / is there any other way to get the same happiness? / can it be delayed? / how can it be optimized to get the most at the lowest cost?”.  Anything from a piece of pie right up to a house or investment property gets this automatic scrutiny, and the result is usually fewer, better purchases.

So if habits are so automatic, biological and hard to break, how do we do it? Distilling all the books and the science down to a tiny list, the answer seems to be this:

Habits are like little loops. They start with a trigger, which sets off your automatic behavior. They end at a reward, which is the little pleasant occurrence that reinforces your habit.

For a standard consumer/car driver, the habit might look like this:

Figure 1: The Consumer Habit Loop

Figure 1: The Consumer Habit Loop

For a Mustachian, you can see the habit loop is different:

Figure 2: The Mustachian Habit Loop

Figure 2: The Mustachian Habit Loop

This difference is vividly illustrated right on my own street, where my neighbors each make several short car trips around our tiny city each day, and my wife and I make a smaller number by bike. Neither group is expending effort to make its choices – cars are just a habit for them, and bike transportation is ours. But if either of us tried to change our habits, that is where there effort would come in.

Luckily, enough research has been done that we now do know how to make habit change easier. It involves keeping the same cue and a similar reward, but substituting in a different routine. And this is how it is done:

1: Find the trigger point of your habit: You do this by describing your own behavior in detail, searching for clues you might have missed before. My habit of making coffee is triggered by entering the kitchen. Every time I walk in in the morning, I feel like firing up the espresso machine to make some lattes. If I wake up or spend the day in an unfamiliar setting (for example, at a campsite or out at a construction site), the coffee craving abates. But if I spend the day at home and return to the kitchen to make some lunch – hey, there’s that nifty espresso machine again.. maybe I need to fire it up! Similarly, some people smoke in response to a lull in their afternoon’s office work, eat in response to boredom, or buy stuff in response to desires. Find your own trigger.

2: Take the same cue, but trick yourself into triggering a different behavior: If I wanted to quit coffee, I could give away the coffee machine and put a box of herbal tea on the countertop on its place. Then I’d make tea instead of coffee. Or I could put a nice water glass, or even a pair of boxing gloves on that part of the countertop. Each morning could trigger a nice round of boxing practice with a heavy bag in the garage, and I’d be better off for it.

3: Try to make the new reward similar to the old one: With coffee, the reward is a warm, tasty beverage and an excuse to sit still, contemplate, or talk for a while. Caffeine may be a secondary part of it, but the physiological part of habits is only a tiny part of the reason they form (this was big news to me). So the tea would probably work, but boxing would be a bit of a stretch.

That’s the basic Habit Substitution trick, and you’ll go far just by understanding that. But for even more power, add the following two ingredients:

4: Get your foot in the door – with Keystone Habits:

Some habits shake things up so much that they automatically trigger other changes. I believe that embracing Bike Transportation is one of these things, as explained in “What Do You Mean, You Don’t Have a Bike!?“. It eliminates spur-of-the-moment shopping, sedentary living, and weather wussiness all in one stroke. To make the change even easier, I once suggested starting by using bikes for just one initial purpose: getting your groceries. This has a keystone effect because you already live close to a grocery store, and you always need groceries at least once a week. By forbidding yourself from taking the car out for this errand, you automatically start to build a biking habit.

5: Reinforce habits with belief and community: This is the reason Alcoholics Anonymous works for so many people, and probably a big part of this blog’s success in changing habits as well. I tell stories of my own life to show that financial changes are not only possible, they are easy and fun to make. That creates belief. Then readers chime in with their own stories, much as JJ did recently, showing that others are achieving the same thing. The inevitable response is “Shit, if Mr. Money Mustache can do it, AND all these readers can do it too, then so can I”. Interestingly enough, both AA and MMM stumbled upon the success formula without much scientific study of habit change. But because we happened get certain parts of it right, we stuck around.

And thus my new understanding of habit has been born.

I used to wonder why I seemed to have less trouble than others with bad habits. Now I understand that certain people are more prone to habit-formation than others. For example, while others can drive to work automatically without even being conscious of what happened during the drive, I have always been hyper-conscious of every moment in the car, thinking about traffic speed, route selection, engine speed, and even wind direction as part of an always-on driving optimization game. Routines at home are rarely automatic as well – when I eat, I’m always tabulating nutrients, calories and protein in my mind and adding or subtracting components from meals in response to how much stored fat I see on the belly. Spending and investing has always been an optimization game too. So while the individual routines might not look like habits, I might be stuck in an overarching habit of Relentless Optimization of Everything.

Whatever your individual style may be, it seems that understanding habit formation is useful for everyone, so we’ll be using the new tricks around here often.

 

  • Mike March 19, 2013, 6:20 am

    Nice. I’ve begun to call our new habits our “new normal” and things that used to seem odd are just normal. We’re happier, out of debt (minus our mortgage, where we are paying double each month now), and our spending is way down. We’ve increased our incomes and we’ve nearly climbed our way out of a massive net worth crater. And we’re blogging the entire thing to keep us accountable. We still have work to do, but we’re much better off and at least part of that has to do with finding MMM one night…. so, well done and thanks!

    Reply
    • Mr. Bonner March 19, 2013, 9:06 am

      Your story is very similar to mine! I discovered MMM just last month and it has become part of my routine to check it out regularly. I also started a blog last week to share my experiences, which I think is another really positive habit (starting that blog was a direct result of reading the How To article here).

      Reply
  • Mr. Starter March 19, 2013, 6:31 am

    I recently stumbled across your bolg, as most first time commentators say, but have always been intrigued by us (humans) being creatures of habit. I enjoyed the post and plan to begin reading more into this myself.

    I also feel that this couldn’t be more relevant to parenting. I know you focus on the Mustachian lifestyle and early retirement, but know you understand the parenting piece as well. I am a father of three small boys (5, 3, and almost 2). Just thinking about some of my parenting habits that closely correlate to financial decisions is intriguing. With that in mind, I plan on seeking out the “bad” parenting habits that I have, altering them for the better, and watching the changes in my children. This, I believe would lead to the ultimate happiness for me. (Of course, while making changes to our financial situation now for the FI later.)

    Reply
  • Dan W March 19, 2013, 6:43 am

    Hey MMM!

    I came across your blog about a week and a half ago, and in that time I have read many (probably half or more) of your articles and spread the wisdom around to many of my friends and family.

    I certainly seem more excited by it than most of the people I have talked to, although that is not a surprise since I have been forming frugality habits for a long time now. I am only a year out of school (went to McMaster for Mechanical Engineering!), been working for eight months and will have my $27k student debt paid off next month.

    Luckily for me, I brought the idea up to my long-time girlfriend (5 years) and she is completely on board. I know she has some bad habits, but she also has a lot of good ones and we’ll work on things together. She is also a huge nature lover and that meshes really well with the whole concept.

    Even though I had a lot of good habits formed and a history of saving a big portion of my pay, I want to thank you for opening my eyes and creating a real sense of purpose behind it! Plus I probably would have bought a car soon, because everyone needs a car, right? So you’ve saved me quite a bit of money there!

    Cheers,
    Dan

    Reply
  • plain jane March 19, 2013, 6:51 am

    I think this is why fighting against lifestyle inflation is so useful. It’s telling people to stick with habits they formed when they had less money, instead of creating new habits that end up costing more (and not making you happier because of hedonistic adaptation).

    Also, I’d argue that you did have a habit – one of questioning/calculating. :)

    Reply
  • Bryallen @ The Frugal Graduate March 19, 2013, 6:52 am

    My morning habit is to trundle up the road to the bus stop. I bought a year’s bus pass in September, but I am planning on not getting one next year. The walk to Uni is about 50 minutes, but the bus trip takes round about that long too when you factor in the 15 minute walk from town to Uni and getting stuck in traffic!

    I have started walking home in the evening (for exercise), but getting the bus in the morning is too convenient when it’s prepaid. I need to set a new trigger in the morning and turn left to Uni instead of right to the bus stop!

    Reply
    • alex March 19, 2013, 7:06 am

      the obvious solution is a bike. based on the figures you gave, and the average walking speed of 3mph, it would probably take about 15 minutes to bike, saving you 70 minutes of commuting time per day.

      Reply
      • Bryallen @ The Frugal Graduate March 19, 2013, 7:34 am

        It definitely would be if it wasn’t such a busy route. I know, I know, complainypants, but there are an awful lot of accidents involving cyclists in my area. I kinda like walking anyway: gives you time to think!

        Reply
        • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2013, 7:50 am

          Yeah, nothing wrong with a 50 minute walk twice a day! You can also walk quickly, saving 25% of the time, or jog, saving 50%.

          If you reply with Google Maps link of your start/end points, we might even be able to find a safe bike route for you (this has worked several times in the comments section before, fixing several people’s lives).

          Reply
          • Mike March 19, 2013, 4:22 pm

            I ride my bike back and forth to work when I’m in a hurry, but on other days, I walk to work (can’t arrive all sweaty) and change there, and then change again and run home to get a run in for the day.

            I’m killing a few birds with one stone that way.

            Reply
        • Chipamogli March 19, 2013, 3:39 pm

          Heavy traffic and careless drivers are enough to scare me off and not bike, however luckily I now live in an area where I can bike to work using side streets. I have now been biking for almost five months and it’s awesome!

          Reply
  • BeatTheSeasons March 19, 2013, 7:00 am

    Fantastic and thoughtful post. It’s great to have a new framework for thinking about things.

    And self reliance is a bit like compound interest because success breeds success. That’s an extra positive feedback loop that you could add to a future version of your diagrams.

    It’s scary that habits stay with you forever and can only be suppressed. I guess this is one reason why advertising directed at children is banned in some countries and we’re all still living with the consequences of learning what is ‘normal’ when we’re kids.

    PS – please add a link to “What Do You Mean, You Don’t Have a Bike!?” in this article, in order to maximise the number of possible converts to that most excellent means of transport!

    Reply
  • Karl Nelson March 19, 2013, 7:13 am

    To your list of critical components for changing habits, you might also want to add repetition over time. In terms of changing health-related habits (e.g., quitting smoking) it has become standard to look at success rates at least 12 months out. With repetition, the new, healthier habits (e.g., taking a walk instead of smoking to relax) become easier to maintain. However, everyone has trouble maintaining new habits in the face of life changes (stressors). After multiple months of facing such changes, and maintaining the desired behaviors in the face of such changes, then we start to feel uncomfortable *not* engaging in the new habits.

    Reply
    • Emmers March 25, 2013, 6:58 pm

      This is related to weight loss as well – generally speaking, most diets (or even “lifestyle changes”) don’t result in wait loss maintenance 5 years out — people go back up to their original weight, or sometimes even higher.

      But if you’ve kept it off for 5 years, that’s probably a good indication that something permanent changed.

      Reply
  • BC March 19, 2013, 7:15 am

    I think that the problem of habits is why moving to a cash-only system when you’re first starting to learn how to control your spending is so powerful. At least it has been for us. It put us back in touch with the dollar bill and what it means to part with it. Research has shown that our brains have been programmed to get happy/excited at the sight of a Visa or Mastercard logo. But parting with cold hard cash sets off a feeling of pain in our brains.

    Moving to cash for grocery shopping and discretionary spending put some constraints on our behavior. Suddenly we didn’t like the pain of parting with cash at a restaurant. Cooking at home doesn’t cause that pain. A new habit of eating at home was born, that we now love for more reasons than just the savings. The old habit of eating out now causes pain. It has changed our whole world as it relates to spending money. A whole new pathway in our brains has been forged through a physical act. We don’t know how long we have to stay on this system, but we’ll stick with it as long as it takes to eradicate the bad habits that we had.

    Reply
  • Holly@ClubThrifty March 19, 2013, 7:21 am

    When we first started getting out of debt, we cut most of the fat out of our budget and started living on much, much less. Now that we are debt free, we have still kept the same habits. Why? Because we like them and our lives are now much simpler. No cable tv. Very few restaurant dinners. Very few expenses other than necessities such as food, shelter, healthcare.

    The result is that we are happier, richer, and more fulfilled!

    Reply
    • Mr. Bonner March 19, 2013, 9:09 am

      Reminds me of a great tip I heard years ago. Live like a college student as long as you can!

      Reply
      • Elizabeth March 19, 2013, 8:56 pm

        I love this idea. Been doing it for years, but it’s gotten harder as I hit late 30’s and ‘want more’ out of life. Turns out that ‘having more’ just means re-appreciating what I have already. Glad I ran into this community!

        Reply
  • Simple Economist March 19, 2013, 7:38 am

    I love post about habit change! I feel like this is one of the areas that is often not considered enough. Even if people know what to do habits are extremely powerful. I also tend to find myself reading a lot about habit formation and change (I’ve enjoy all the books you listed).

    One of the ways my wife and I try to disrupt habitual behavior is through a 30-Day challenge. We pick something each month like: Only biking to work, Drinking only water or Writing one sentence every day and try it out. Even if we fail we often realize how deeply ingrained our habits are and it helps us to break some of our oldest ones.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2013, 7:57 am

      Great point Simple E.. the 30-day challenge is indeed powerful and we need to do more of them around here.

      The short-term nature of it allows people to commit to trying it out (hey, it’s only 30 days!). But the period is long enough to provide plenty of repetition, that will start to burn in a new habit. And meanwhile you’ve got Community and Belief covered, because everyone around you is doing it too. Plus, the competitive nature makes it more like a game, and less like a chore.

      I’m starting to feel an April Cycling challenge coming on, where you record your car miles vs. bike miles, in order to encourage substituting bike for car.

      Reply
      • FitStash March 19, 2013, 9:16 am

        Yolfer started this monthly challenge a while back and has been maintaining the document for us.

        “Our cumulative mileage has topped 18,320 miles (29,484 km), the equivalent of going from New York to Sydney and back again.” – Yolfer

        Maybe he would be willing to add a car miles section?

        Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2013, 7:58 am

      Great point Simple E.. the 30-day challenge is indeed powerful and we need to do more of them around here.

      The short-term nature of it allows people to commit to trying it out (hey, it’s only 30 days!). But the period is long enough to provide plenty of repetition, that will start to burn in a new habit. And meanwhile you’ve got Community and Belief covered, because everyone around you is doing it too. Plus, the competitive nature makes it more like a game, and less like a chore.

      I’m starting to feel an April Cycling challenge coming on, where you record your car miles vs. bike miles, in order to encourage substituting bike for car.

      Reply
  • scarecrow March 19, 2013, 7:50 am

    I love bike riding, but often found myself driving somewhere and suddenly realizing that I could have taken my bike instead.
    After reading The Power of Habit last year, I made one little change that caused us to ride bikes a lot more than we used to.

    We have hooks for car keys right near the back door, and when walking out the back door, always grabbed the keys.

    I moved the keys into a cabinet on the other side of the kitchen, and believe it or not, that was enough to break the habit.

    Reply
    • Aaron March 19, 2013, 1:30 pm

      Another thing that works (though your idea seems simpler) is to park your bike behind your car. So if you want to take your bike you just leave, but if you take the car then you have to move the bike out of the way (i.e. you are consciously choosing to take the car over your “preferred” method of riding the bike).

      Reply
      • chad March 19, 2013, 3:28 pm

        That is a great idea! Right now my bike is harder to get to than my car. I don’t know I didn’t think of this one already!

        Reply
  • Rich Uncle EL March 19, 2013, 7:57 am

    I agree with what habits can become if people are not proned to think about changing them. I have the same genius or curse as you as I over think things and always look at the best possible solution for everything. You call it optimization, I call it perfectionism.

    Reply
  • Mr. Frugal Toque March 19, 2013, 7:58 am

    And, somehow, while giving me a new, giant reading list you left out the one Habit book I have read: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People?

    Of course, the psychological analysis of habits in 7 Habits is probably a lot simpler than what you’ve learned from the latest psych books. Covey tells us that it takes 30 days to change a habit and that we learn most of our scripts from our parents.

    Also, I noticed a few errors in Fig. 1. Shouldn’t there be a couple of stops at a Starbucks, McDonalds, gas station or donut shop in there somewhere?

    Reply
    • Jimbo March 19, 2013, 9:01 am

      You are quite wrong, sir!

      Each of these destinations gets its own separate, motorized trip!

      Because it is forbidden to do more than one stop before coming back home, and you only decide to leave 2 seconds after feeling the ‘need’ for coffee/food/junk/mindless shopping.

      Reply
      • Mr. Frugal Toque March 19, 2013, 9:20 am

        While I agree that needs perceived while in the home are acted upon one at a time in a habitual, Pavlovian-ringy-dingy style, I think you’re confusing perceived needs with impulse purchases.

        “My DVD player has slow tray ejection” -> drive to store!
        “Look, a Starbucks” -> buy $11 latte!
        go home “I have a blu-ray player” – > YAY!

        That would be one trip. Then this would happen:

        “I have a blu-ray player and only these old DVDs” -> drive to store!
        “Look, a Tim Hortons!” -> buy a dozen doughnuts!
        go home … “I’m gonna watch my blu-rays!” YAY!
        “And eat my doughnuts” -> more YAY!

        Reply
        • Ishmael March 19, 2013, 10:51 am

          Mmmm…. donuts….

          *munch*

          Reply
  • Jennifer March 19, 2013, 8:04 am

    This article really hit home for me. I had a habit of going out to lunch with a group of coworkers every day. I’ve always known this was not good for more reasons than one, but I justified it by telling myself that going out is a good socialization opportunity, convenient, the food tastes good, it’s nice to get away from the office for an hour, etc.

    A few weeks ago I finally put my foot down with myself and started bringing lunch in 3 days a week. I have to put an effort into planning and preparing what I’m going to bring, because if it’s boring or doesn’t taste good, I will not want to eat it when lunchtime rolls around – this ties in to your coffee/tea example in that the home cooked food needs to be a good substitute to the quality of restaurant food or the habit will not change.

    Much to my surprise, my coworkers have also started bringing in their lunch 3 days a week as well. We eat together in the lunchroom, and are still able to socialize and get away from the office for an hour. Now when we go out to lunch the other 2 days of the week, I find I really look forward to it, no longer take it for granted and appreciate it so much more than I used to.

    Reply
    • chad March 19, 2013, 3:30 pm

      Next step, negotiate a 1/2 hour lunch. I was sitting around for 40 minutes doing nothing after eating. In October I negotiate a 1/2 lunch from my employer and get to leave the office at 4:30 instead of 5:00.

      Reply
      • PFgal March 31, 2013, 9:40 am

        I was the opposite. I would eat quickly at my desk, then use the rest of the lunch hour to take a nice walk outside in almost any weather. My coworkers thought I was crazy to be walking when it was 25 degrees out, but I dressed for it. That way I got fresh air, exercise, and sunshine (on the sunny days) and was much happier for the rest of the day. On days with really bad weather, I would stay in and read my first personal finance books (little did I know what I was getting into!) I think the key is to make the most of the time so it doesn’t feel wasted, especially if negotiating a shorter lunchtime isn’t an option.

        Reply
  • My Financial Independence Journey March 19, 2013, 8:23 am

    I’m the kind of person who really likes habits and routines.

    Based on my experience, habits are easier to break if you take a break from your normal life. So when I take travel, I have to break my habits since I’m away from home. And it takes a bit of effort to reestablish them. Also, whenever I’ve moved, I found myself having to rebuild my habits from the ground up. When I was in grad school I could walk in every morning. Now, I have to drive.

    Habits also have to sync up with your personality and lifestyle and natural rhythms. For example, it’s easy for me to workout in the morning, since I’m a morning person. It’s almost impossible for me to workout consistently in the afternoon, because I’m starving, and have my mind focused on all the things that I need to do at home.

    Reply
  • Kaytee March 19, 2013, 8:31 am

    Before my husband switched to a french press for coffee making, every morning he would start the coffee machine and then feed the cat while it was burbling and chugging away. Post morning coffee is a rarity for us, usually coinciding with a guest, a long drive, or a late night. However, we did notice in true Pavlov dog style, that our cat would come running into the kitchen expecting to get feed anytime she heard the coffee pot running.

    Reply
  • Johnny Moneyseed March 19, 2013, 9:06 am

    This really made me think about the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. When you are stimulated by one of your trigger points, you have the ability to respond in whatever way you want. If you just let your ingrained habits take hold of you, you’re going to do things not just because you want to, but more because that’s what your brain is telling you to do.

    If you take an additional 2-5 seconds before you make any kind of decision you become “response-able”. Justify your response. If you still want the cup of coffee after making an active decision, then hell man, drink your coffee.

    This is exactly the reason I won’t let my kids watch anything with commercials in it. I’m not letting them become crybaby consumer zombies like the rest of the kids in the US.

    Reply
    • Mr 1500 March 19, 2013, 12:12 pm

      “This is exactly the reason I won’t let my kids watch anything with commercials in it. I’m not letting them become crybaby consumer zombies like the rest of the kids in the US.”

      Right on. The cheap, Roku box is worth it’s weight in gold.

      Reply
      • Holly@ClubThrifty March 19, 2013, 12:40 pm

        Totally agree! All my kids favorite shows are on Netflix via Roku. They rarely ever see a commercial unless they are at someone else’s house!

        Reply
        • Johnny Moneyseed March 19, 2013, 12:46 pm

          Our friends’ 5 year old was talking about commercials one day, and I was like “Holy shit, commercials actually work!” Thankfully we have a Roku at home as well ;)

          Reply
          • BCG150 March 20, 2013, 4:02 am

            Hell yes commercials work. One Saturday I was home and Comcast came calling at the door trying to sell us crap. My then 5 year old step son followed me to the door and was behind me while I spoke with them. After I closed the door he started rattling off some ‘Comcast business class’ commercial he had been hearing on TV.

            Luckily shortly after that our Internet/Cable company raised the price of our TV(cheapest option) which caused the wife to decide(agree) to get rid of it. Now that we don’t have TV in the house hopefully this will make it easier for me to keep it out of the house this time. Fucking commercials. I still hear about that damn John Carter movie my son wanted to watch when he saw the commercial.

            Reply
            • Jen March 21, 2013, 7:25 pm

              Good points, but my view is that one should expose kids to some amount of commercials – just to build their immunity. Otherwise imagine how they would react to commercials when they are older and you are not around to control what they watch.
              Same goes for junk food. I remember my friends, who are very committed to healthy eating and don’t allow any junk on their table. Their kids, however, spend their pocket money secretly buying potato chips and candy – the forbidden fruit. Myself, I take my kids to McDonald’s once in a while just for the exposure. They usually refuse any food there, just order an ice cream & later eat at home. So McDonald’s or any other junk food outlet becomes no big deal for them – not something to strive for.

              Reply
  • Raechelle March 19, 2013, 9:28 am

    Ha!!! This is excellent! Funny – JUST this morning I was going out to get “milk” in the ‘fridge and realized that the milk we see in the ‘fridge now feels “good” and “right” – yet it’s the same stuff I questioned not long ago (new, different, not-habit/not “normal”.) We have the need to purchase non-dairy, and reading all the food-industry issues, we’ve switched to almond, rice, oat, hemp etc. Now, these funny little boxes seem “normal.” I hate/abhor spending money unnecessarily. Buying organic was good for us, but caused me pain (actual, physical pain – yes, I am that much of a cheapskate now.) But I had to keep reading about what the “regular” stuff was doing to our bodies in order to continue making sense of purchases that cost more. Finally, we’re buying organic and making our own bread etc – because we’ve slowly built new habits. I am no longer in pain when shopping because of this new habit. (Seems ridiculous, but sometimes spending money IS better Our family’s health has improved drastically.) And of course we’ve done ridiculous amounts of research to determine who carries what at what cost. (And still save much of the money that we were spending before by NOT eating out — except recently we’ve been falling into that again. Insert face punch here.)
    The best part of this article, for me, was reading the questions you go through at each and every purchase. The blog articles help keep me on track with our new mind-sets. Reading the articles freqently helps reinforce new idealogoy. (habit-forming/repition/increased exposure) I love the idea of an April bicycling challenge. We are trying to form a new bicycle habit, however I really don’t like bicycling with my five little ducks (kids) as I feel it’s dangerous. I know though that with practice and repitition we’ll find safer ways and develop the experiences that the children will use to make bicycling less…fear-some. I’ve put off grocery shopping (we go to other places that are closer such as the library and school) because it’s further away, fewer sidewalks, no shoulder/bike lane, inexperienced child riders, fast driving teens (near-by highschools,) more danger, but I think this would help to kick us into gear to start tackling these fears.
    We need to continue working on forming new habits to continue decreasing our non-productive habits. Our worst habit is that we get over-tired and over-frustrated (we have lots of “legitimate” excuses – husband is working 7 days a week, I’m homeschooling, and added two more weeknight activities to the schedule etc, we’ve taken on too much) and everyone got sick… fall back into eating dinner out and buying convenience items(like disposable diapers when we don’t have cloth diapers washed – the cost is a MAJOR deterrent), driving to just get somewhere quickly. Now we are working on creating “easy” back up plans and habits like having pre-made meals or even more importantly – pre-made menus, with the basic prep work done ahead of time so there is less thinking through the week – leading to fewer last minute meals. As we add new habits/routines, these hectic schedules won’t cause us so much trouble.
    Keep up the good work – My family’s life has radically changed for the better as a result of this blog. It IS a lot of work changing habits, and we appreciate all the posts to reinforce this new mind-set. (I now have words to explain why I feel an overwhelming hesitation for enjoying some of my “old activities.” – after all, spending money isn’t necessarily part of the formula, but it always works out that way. Avoiding those activities altogether keeps me out of the “loop.” By the way, for me at least – the blog on Hedonistic adaptation was really our Ah-Ha moment.

    Reply
  • Joanna @ Our Freaking Budget March 19, 2013, 10:48 am

    We’ve gotten a reminder of the importance of habits since having a baby a couple months ago. Our sanity is totally dependent on teaching her good habits, like falling asleep on her own at night! And she seems to thrive off learning good habits as well. Now if my husband and I could just nix some of the bad habits we’ve formed since she was born, such as eating fast food and going to sleep after midnight! :)

    Reply
    • Johnny Moneyseed March 19, 2013, 11:05 am

      The two words fast and food when separated aren’t so bad, but when you combine them they form what may be the most disgusting, unhealthy and manipulative market in the world. I used to be a fast food eater. I can’t think about or smell a fast food joint now without getting at least a little bit sick to my stomach.

      And what am I saying.. fast = convenience and convenience = money. This pretty much applies to everything.

      Reply
  • Doug in London, ON March 19, 2013, 10:49 am

    Wow, what a great posting. I believe you are right about how everyone is habitual to some degree, and especially liked your drawings of the consumer habit loop and mustachian habit loop. Sums it up quite well. For most if not all my life I’ve been mustachian in how I manage money. When I question some people of why they do wasteful things they do, I often get negative responses like: I’m not going to deprive myself like you do (I never felt deprived in this affluent society), or I work hard and deserve these things, or similar comments. To this day I don’t know if these people really like working harder for all this stuff, or are just caught up in habits and resistant to change.

    Something else I should add, is some of us (myself included) have retained some of the curiosity about the world around us, that most people lose during their teenage years. We still ask questions like why are things the way they are? Thus the idea of questioning everything, rather than just accepting what “everyone else” does or thinks comes easier to us than most people. So thus, being mustachian also comes easier to us. Does that idea make any sense?

    Reply
  • Ross March 19, 2013, 10:51 am

    That in-depth type of thinking, processing, and observing details around one’s self certainly sounds like a software developer (and I’m one too so I can relate).

    Not sure if you’ve read/written about personality types before (don’t remember so but could be wrong), but you’d probably find the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator pretty interesting. A lot there can (obviously, in my opinion) be related to finances and spending habits. For example: being a strong introvert, I’m more prone to delay gratification, making things like spending and cutting out daily purchases easier because I can delay any immediate benefit with the greater benefit if I wait.

    Just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to personality testing. Fascinating stuff, in my opinion.

    Reply
    • Doug in London, ON March 19, 2013, 12:09 pm

      I think you have the right idea with these Myers-Briggs personalities. Introverts not only have an easier time with delayed gratification, but are also less interested in consumption for status and what care a lot less what everyone else thinks. Also, if your personality is one of the *NT* types, as you probably are, you are a more rational type (I am an INTP), and thinking through everything you do comes easier to you. It seems you partly answered the questions I asked above.

      Reply
      • Lina March 19, 2013, 3:34 pm

        If I remember correctly “NT”-types are also analytical doers that like questioning stuff.

        If you like to question how things are done and find “better” solutions I think it makes easier to change habits and become more mustachian.

        I like testing and tweeking stuff or how things are done so that it works better and better. If I walk into a restaurant I see stuff that they can improve. If I stay at a hotel same thing. Personal finance, yes. At work also. Sometimes it is quite annoying.

        Reply
  • Dragline March 19, 2013, 10:58 am

    This is one of your better posts and should go into your “best of” section (whatever section that is), because its almost universally applicable.

    I like to refer to positive habits as “disciplines”, but most people find that too negative a word. On the other hand, you can see how most people are simply undisciplined because they accept the habits formed from chance and circumstance as opposed to designing their own.

    Everyone has habits. The real question is whether you chose them consciously and whether those are the ones you really want.

    You may want to read “Thinking Fast and Slow” if you have not — it goes well with the books you mentioned and provides an overarching model of the mind (from a Nobel Prize Recipient) that incorporates what you are saying. More authorotay for your baddassitay!

    Reply
    • Eric E March 20, 2013, 9:40 am

      I would second this recommendation. Also, Predictably Irrational by Ariely is quite good.

      Reply
    • Kelly Damian March 26, 2013, 6:18 pm

      My favorite quote these days (sticky-noted to my computer) is “Discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most”.

      Reply
  • Brian March 19, 2013, 10:59 am

    We used to talk about things like this in track and field all the time. There are levels to your actions and how they can eventually become habit. You start to build it and eventually you move from conscious proficient to subconscious proficient, where you just automatically do it.

    Another thing we talked about was how long it takes to actually build a habit. I think the generally accepted timeline is 40 consecutive days. If you can do something for 40 consecutive days, it’ll be hard as hell to break it!

    I’m still getting myself to the whole cycling thing. Don’t want to just spend money on a bike when I can still walk to work!

    Reply
    • Doug in London, ON March 19, 2013, 11:24 am

      Who says you must buy a new bike? Look around at yard sales, second hand stores, on online buy and sell sites. Better yet, do something really mustachian and fish one out of the garbage if the opportunity presents itself, as I have done.

      Reply
      • Brian @ Stocks and Cents March 19, 2013, 2:37 pm

        Oh trust me, I’m not buying a new bike! I just try to not purchase anything at all without at least a month or so of hemming and hawing over the exact item I want. I don’t buy anything new these days :)

        Reply
    • HappyFund March 19, 2013, 1:38 pm

      What I learned are the four stages of learning, and I guess we can call the last two the habit-forming stages. The four stages are:

      1. unconscious incompetence
      2. conscious incompetence
      3. conscious competence
      4. subconscious competence

      Reply
      • Brian @ Stocks and Cents March 19, 2013, 2:41 pm

        Yes! That’s what we used to learn in Track. Thank you SO much for this. I’ve been racking my brain all day trying to figure them out. Thank you!

        Reply
  • VP March 19, 2013, 11:20 am

    The habits I changed due to the influence of this blog:

    – Bought a mini-fridge on craigslist for work to store my lunch. No more eating out! (savings $40-$50 wk)
    – Got a cheap commuter bike decked out with fenders, racks, lights etc. No more excuse to skip riding in to work in winter. (savings, $20/wk)
    – Recently performed my own car repair. After Googling for 5 mins, found the check engine light was due to a burnt brake light ($6). Probably saved $300-$500 bill at the shop.
    – Dug out our downspout drainage. Would previously have hired it out and they would have done the minimum required. It was a good workout and I built it to withstand the next 100 year flood (common in Seattle)

    Can’t thank you enough for the regular kick in the pants. Now if I could kick the night time obsessive blog reading habit…

    Reply
    • ECHFoCo March 19, 2013, 12:31 pm

      Those 100-year floods are more common in Seattle than elsewhere, huh?

      Reply
      • VP March 20, 2013, 3:31 pm

        Good point, that made no sense. I meant Seattle routinely gets the kind of precipitations that would be equivalent to a 100 yr flood in other cities.

        Reply
  • Silicon Sam March 19, 2013, 11:28 am

    Well said Mustache!! Even the perceived fear of face-punching from MMM is not enough to break powerful neural circuitry which operates below the level of conscious control. From reading some of the books you mentioned, it seems acquiring a new habit (like reading MMM blog daily) is much much easier than changing an already ingrained habit, like that $3 latte on the way to work. Habit replacement is the key and look forward to your suggestions given these new insights. As hilarious and entertaining as it is, threatening bodily harm and mocking readers for their shortages of willpower may not create more Mustachians..we need to change habits instead!

    Reply
  • Jamesqf March 19, 2013, 12:02 pm

    Excuse a bit of complainypantsness, but purple lines on a pink background? You really think that’s visible?

    Reply
  • Jeff March 19, 2013, 1:02 pm

    Great post. I am reminded of the best piece of financial advice I ever read. It is “Pay Yourself First” from The Wealthy Barber. Setting up an automatic savings deduction from your pay cheque would be a great example of a keystone habit. It also removes the trigger point (I have money in the bank therefore I can spend).

    Reply
  • Andrew March 19, 2013, 1:27 pm

    MMM,

    Glad to see you calling attention to the power of defaults. They rule us, so anything we can do to make those defaults empowering, is likely to have a compounding positive effect.

    You’re spot on with triggers, but to go even further, we should also consider:
    1) Having a minimum quitting point / low cost of entry
    2) Emphasizing frequency / quantity of practice over quality of practice, especially at first. It’s very easy for “quality paralysis” to keep someone from doing what they should, when they’d ultimately be better served by doing a crappy version of the habit more frequently at first.
    3) Using loss aversion to our advantage (e.g. you lose something valuable if you don’t do the positive action)
    4) Make public commitments and use a support network.

    I wrote about this in a post called “Beginner’s Mind, on Demand” which y’all may find useful: http://www.andrewskotzko.com/2013/02/02/beginners-mind-on-demand/

    Another great resource is this post by Buster Benson, one of the godfathers of using technology for positive habit change: http://wayoftheduck.com/habit-manifesto

    Rock on, Mustachians.

    Reply
  • Freeyourchains March 19, 2013, 1:28 pm

    A funny, yet very serious youtube video was being spliced together in short segments of the anti-mustachian actions mentioned above with a title, how not to be wealthy, when i was reading this article.

    Reply
  • Jenny March 19, 2013, 1:28 pm

    Another great thought-provoking post, MMM! I recently finished The Power of Habit, and found it a fascinating read. So much good stuff in it, but I remember specifically thinking of you and this website at one point.

    You often refer to a person’s Frugality Muscle, kind of the core of discipline we can use to get better and better at making good decisions. This makes sense to me, and I’ve noticed that smart choices often lead to more smart choices in my own life. However, I wondered what you thought about the studies that seem to suggest that willpower is more of a finite resource (e.g., the radish and the cookies experiment)? In your experience, do you ever find that the more you analyze and optimize in one area of your life, the more you “let go” in another? Or, alternatively, maybe you can say no to 5 different indulgences in a row, but you are so worn down by the 6th that you’re bound to say yes?

    Reply
  • Miss Stachio March 19, 2013, 2:33 pm

    The Power of Habit is a great book! I was just telling my friend, who is a nail-biter, about the nail-biting section of the book and about the habit cycle. When I was reading the book, it seemed funny to me that almost every single graphic was the same (illustrating the habit cycle) until I realized that by the end, I had established a habit of seeing that cycle when I think the word “habit”. And then I thought it was very very clever.

    Reply
  • HappyFund March 19, 2013, 2:47 pm

    This is absolutely true. Biking is my Keystone habit. I live in the sprawling, car-loving city of Houston. This highway-interlaced city trained me to drive everywhere. When I moved in what we affectionately call the inner loop, a lot of amenities suddenly were only a few miles away. Yet the habit was ingrained and I continued to drive everywhere. That is until I started taking MMM’s advice to use the almighty bicycle. Little by little, I am biking more. I ride my bike to the lap swimming pool 4.4 miles away and the grocery store 2 miles away. Now, I find myself biking for fun on the weekends to enjoy the scenery, to get some light exercise, or just to get out of the house. To demonstrate how powerful habit-forming is, I have committed to a 180-mile bike journey from Houston to Austin to raise funds benefitting the fight against multiple sclerosis. I always thought doing something like this would be neat but it was just a thought. Now it’s an action. I went from being bike-curious to using bikes for transport then for recreation and now for philanthropy! The rewards and benefits just keep compounding on themselves much like reinvesting stock dividends.

    Reply
    • SomeYoungGuy March 20, 2013, 1:16 am

      Someone needs to coin that phrase ‘bike curious’

      Reply
      • HappyFund March 21, 2013, 9:26 am

        It’s actually a South Park reference :). Look for an episode about Harley motorcycles.

        Reply
  • Tabatha March 19, 2013, 3:02 pm

    Nice post.

    I’ve followed zenhabits.net for a few years and the last year or so Leo’s been going on about habits from the same angle as you are here. He’s fine-tuned some ideas on how to adopt new habits, such as making it too easy not to (like doing one little pushup a day). I’ll be interested to see if you come to similar conclusions.

    Reply
  • Nick March 19, 2013, 4:02 pm

    Mr. Money Mustache,
    I’m not sure if you will get to read this but if you do you may find it entertaining. First I would ask if you have seen the movie “Primer” and if you haven’t I recommended it. This movie will stretch your mind to the limit. Anyway it got me talking with a co-worker about how you could go back in time and change something you did without screwing up the whole timeline and creating causality loops.
    Bringing it home, I decided that if this someday becomes possible then the future me must have gone back in time to the past version of you and explained my theories to you and urged you to one day share these is such a forum that current me might find them and benefit greatly. I find that I have agreed with you on so many things and have learned a great deal of things that I had yet to discover but that are the logical progression of my current beliefs.
    All this is just a long way of saying in reading your stuff you remind me so much of myself it is almost creepy. You are doing a great job here fighting the good fight. I’m just 24 but I’m confident that I’m on the way to eventually being a hardcore mustachian success story.

    Thanks and keep up the good work.

    Reply
  • Nick March 19, 2013, 5:30 pm

    This may be exceedingly obvious, but I’ve found the best way to change habits is gradually. Over the past year, I’ve gone from driving to work every day, to biking to work almost every day. It’s not a particularly long ride, but it does include two pretty brutal hills. When I first got the bike, I aimed to just bike enough to qualify for my company’s “commuter rewards card”, a $25 gift card you receive by commuting at least 10 days a month in something other than a car. Despite being in pretty good shape, dealing with the hills was pretty rough for the first few months, even though I was only doing it two or three days a week. But after some time, it seemed reasonable to make it three days every week. Then before long, doing 4 days on a week when the weather was nice didn’t seem so bad. Then 4 days every week became the norm. Now the norm is just to bike every day unless there are serious mitigating circumstances.

    Had I tried to jump straight to biking every day, I think I might have burned out and decided to scrap the idea entirely. But by starting with something manageable, I was able to gradually change my habits over time. And they’re still continuing to change; my definition of what circumstances justify driving has been getting more and more strict and hopefully will continue to do so.

    Reply
    • MrSporty74 March 20, 2013, 6:40 am

      I agree Nick, I started riding my bike to work last spring 2-3 times a week. (25 minutes each way, 2 steep hills) Like you, I’ve gradually lowered the bar as to what kind of weather is making me drive my car. I live in Norway, and it’s sometimes cold and windy in the winter, but I’ve bought some new clothes, gloves etc to keep me warm and dry and nowadays I really miss it when I drive to work! The fresh air and the excercice makes me a different person when I arrive at work. And mind you, I’m really a B (or C)kind of person who likes to stay up late at night, even on week days…
      I would never have imagined myself this just a couple of years ago when all I could think about was what kind of new luxury car I was going to buy next…

      Reply
  • My Own Advisor March 19, 2013, 5:59 pm

    Sweet post MMM.

    As I age, I enjoy understanding (or at least trying to) the psychology of money much more than before. This post was a great example of what I’ve been thinking about lately myself.

    I enjoyed the Mustachian Habit Loop.

    Reply
  • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies March 19, 2013, 6:48 pm

    I loved the Power of Habit when I read it last year – so I’m a bit surprised there’s no mention here of the unprecedented access that Duhigg had to a member of Target’s behavioral analysis marketing department. When we have bad habits, or are going through periods where our habits are susceptible to influence – we are most vulnerable to subtle marketing techniques.
    I think preventing these periods of susceptibility are just as important as cultivating good habits.

    Reply
    • DaftShadow March 21, 2013, 12:42 am

      Well put!

      For anyone interested in seeing how the Targets and Walmarts of the world are understanding and influencing your behavior before you ever step into the store, read duhigg’s article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html .

      We are *all* susceptible to it…

      Reply
  • perthcyclist March 19, 2013, 9:40 pm

    I love this post. Cycling to work is definitely a habit for me, I’ve been riding pretty much the same route for 3 years and some mornings I barely notice it! I guess I have to be mindful of that when I start telling everyone they should cycle to work and that it is easy. For some people it is not!

    Reply
  • Just call me Al March 19, 2013, 10:18 pm

    In direct ref. to #5…the 12 steps of the mustache, w/ humor of course:

    1. We admitted we were consuming and living unconsciously—that our lives had become reflexive. SHIT!
    2. Came to believe, and to accept, that we needed a face punch, beyond our awareness and resources, to restore us to sanity through the example of those like MMM.
    3. Made a decision to exercise our collective wisdom and resources with those who have searched before us, like those in the MMM community.
    4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and the way we live—had a WTF epiphany.
    5. Admitted to ourselves, without reservation, and to other mustachian brothers and sisters the exact nature of consumer wrongs, when that information can assist in another’s transformation and be conveyed respectfully.
    6. Were ready to accept criticism in letting go of all our defects of character, shit canned our incorrigible consumption, complainypants ways, and started living locally for the benefit or our own health, happiness, and the good of our neighbors.
    7. With humility and openness, sought to eliminate our shortcomings by blazing new trails, on our bikes and our feet of course, with hopes to set an example for others.
    8. Made a list of all debts we owed, and became willing to unshackle ourselves from them with full blown badassity.
    9. Made direct amends with our bottom line, allowing for necessities and experiences that inspire and produce true contentment and the betterment of ourselves and society.
    10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it and correctted it through our own, whenever possible, action. (We’re not all engineers and handymen).
    11. Sought through reading and interaction to improve our awareness and our understanding of a minimalist way of life and to discover the power to carry out the way of a “good” life through learning and trying.
    12. Having had an awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to debtors and consumers, and to practice these principles in all our daily affairs.

    Reply
  • Huck March 19, 2013, 11:06 pm

    Another great read is Robert Cialdini’s, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. He calls these little habit programs our “click whir” response because of an experiment done on geese using tape recorded baby gosling sounds. He focuses on and gives numerous examples of how we are persuaded to do things by others capitalizing on these habits. My favorite story is about how G Gordon Liddy supposedly got others to agree to his Watergate plan.

    Reply
  • Jackson March 20, 2013, 12:11 am

    “Booze, drugs, cigarettes, TV watching, video game playing, procrastination, unhealthy eating, sedentary living, convenience and comfort-seeking and unnecessary shopping”

    Why would you lump video-game playing in with all of those other things? Playing video games at a high level takes a ton of skill, effort, and practice. Video-game playing isn’t harmful to the body like drugs and unhealthy eating. Playing video games isn’t passive like watching TV. The mind has to strategize (and communicate and cooperate in multiplayer games) when playing video games. Granted, playing video games doesn’t generate income, but damn.

    Reply
    • Emmers March 25, 2013, 7:06 pm

      At a guess — it falls under “sedentary living.” It’s a fine hobby, and certainly better than the other things on that list, as long as it doesn’t take over. (Moderation, etc.)

      Reply
  • Hanne van Essen March 20, 2013, 12:52 am

    Great post MMM! Very important and useful insights! I would recommend the book ‘Willpower’ by Roy Baumeister. This provides some extra information about the reason why we need habits so very much. This is because willpower is limited, and the less decisions you have to take, the more willpower you save. So you have to form your life so that you don’t have to take a lot of hard decisions. Not going to the store for example, or taking care you don’t have foods in the house which you should not eat.
    Forming new good habits costs willpower. When you are in a stressfull period, a new job, or something, you will not have extra willpower left to form new habits. At the end of the day, when you are tired or hungry, you don’t have willpower left to exercise. If in a period when you are less tired, you form the habit of exercising in the evening, then it will cost you less willpower every day.

    Reply
  • Ricki March 20, 2013, 5:25 am

    Hi MMM,

    Great article on habits!

    If you are looking for more books on psychology, habits and persuasion, then you should check out Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. ( http://www.amazon.com/Influence-Psychology-Persuasion-Business-Essentials/dp/006124189X/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1363777898&sr=8-8&keywords=science+of+persuasion )

    It’s a pretty eye-opening book on how reciprocation, crowd psychology and various other techniques are used to persuade us to buy and do stuff.

    -R

    Reply
  • Carol March 20, 2013, 3:37 pm

    Pretty awesome when a post makes you think AND laugh out loud. I am a long time reader and sent this one along to my wife to demonstrate that I am NOT the ONLY relentless optimizer out there and that there is actually someone MORE optimization-crazed than me! :) Ironically, that is a habit I am trying to break. It does have its benefits but anything “relentless” should be questioned in my opinion. Thanks for all you do and especially for your role as a community organizer so that we all know we’re not alone and can continue to learn from each other.

    Reply
  • Giddings Plaza FI March 20, 2013, 6:08 pm

    You hit on one of the top habits I’m forming right now, and let me tell you, it’s a drag. You wrote “Have a problem with your house? Begin worrying immediately as you try to find a professional who can fix it for you. ” Doing my own home repairs–even more complex ones, is something I started doing in the last year. I HATE it–I get that whiny feeling of “I work so hard, waaahhh, why can’t a trained professional do this for me, waaaah.” But I’m sticking with it, and learning new skills. AND saving money to be FI.

    As far as the coffee habit: the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is the promise of coffee. I’m going to this of this as a healthy habit.

    Reply
  • Marz March 20, 2013, 9:11 pm

    Just gotta say, I love how Mr MM’s blog serves as a focal point, bringing other awesome blogs out of the woodwork. Every day there’s a new blog to discover and inspire.

    This post was all sorts of brilliant, loved the diagrams – the expression on the wise Mustachian’s face is hilarious, kind of “wise with a dash of sneaky”.

    I’ve also been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s books. “The Tipping point” I found had too little substance, and too many “Oh here’s another cool story”, but Blink was very interesting. Since reading “Blink” I’ve been more in tune with those “Eureka” moments, when your mind just solves a problem in an instant.

    So good habits we’ve formed :
    -Walking every day at 2 during work has become a very welcome habit.
    -Making a slow cooker meal to last us 3 evenings every Sunday was a brilliant idea on my part, even if sometimes I grumble about doing it.
    -We now think about purchases – do we really want it, what else can we spend the money on, would we rather plug it into some investments instead?

    Bad habits I really want to kill/ Good habits I want to form:
    – Really want to start riding my bike every day.
    – Really want to do something awesome every weekend outside, like run up a mountain or explore a new beach/forest/park.
    – Want to start a new hobby, like baking or knitting.
    – Have to stop wasting so much time reading blogs… There’s better things to do than surf the Internet all evening, c’mon!

    As an example of a powerful habit – I’m gluten intolerant, so I avoid wheat like the plague because it makes me pretty sick. When I consider “going back” just a bit, the thought of the effort required to actually start eating wheat full-time is just overpowering. I’m so used to eating the things I do, enjoying my maize breakfast, my weird lunches, my gluten-free supper and snacks, I can’t imagine going back to what I knew as “normal”. So if you ever wonder “How do you survive not eating XYZ???”, now you know – it’s a powerful habit formed from the combination of feeling really good without it, and feeling really bad eating it!

    Reply
  • Jennifer March 21, 2013, 1:33 pm

    This is the one area I know my husband and I both struggle with the most. I have listened to The Power of Habit on tape, and found it very eye opening. And now I think I need to sit down and read it and really spend some time with it. And then read it to my husband. While he’s sleeping.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 21, 2013, 2:42 pm

      Wow.. did you really have it on Tape? You mean like those plastic cassettes that you pop into a “tape deck” and press play? Here I was getting nostalgic about the long-ago DVD days, and CDs before that, and you bust out Tapes! :-)

      Reply
  • bogart March 21, 2013, 8:13 pm

    A fun and useful read relevant to this topic is Don’t Shoot the Dog!. Written by an (accomplished and respected, I am told) animal trainer, it basically looks at how creatures respond to reinforcement — positive and negative. Though it draws heavily on the author’s experience working with animals, it also has (and she specifically provides examples) a lot of relevance for anyone interested in thinking through how reinforcements affect human behavior — those of the people we interact with and our own as well.

    Reply
  • Keith March 21, 2013, 11:59 pm

    These habits are engrained early on. When my daughter was two and still had not stopped immediately crying on waking up during the night, we promised her that if she would not do this for a week we would buy her any toy she wanted. We thought it was a clever idea to break a habitual cycle, i.e. to replace the circuit ‘wake up and feel the urge to cry, then cry’, with ‘wake up and feel the urge to cry, think of toy, don’t cry, go back to sleep’. And it worked. So were we instilling a consumer habit there, or a habit of delayed gratification? On current form I fear it was the first!

    Reply
  • Pam@Pennysaverblog March 22, 2013, 3:45 pm

    Good article. It’s true that it really does become a habit once you learn how to properly handle money and your spending. I find it funny that you found it hard to spend money foolishly – that’s certainly a good thing, but it’s quite comical, really.

    Reply
  • Daddy Pig March 23, 2013, 5:05 pm

    I’m going to attempt to use this info to form a new habit starting this week. I’m going to carry no money OR debit cards with me Monday through Thursday. That will mean no I unscheduled visits to the work cafe. No stops by the vending machine. No instant gratification of any kind. I’m finding it is taking a lot of planning this weekend but hoping to save $40-$80.

    Reply
  • Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce March 25, 2013, 4:53 pm

    MMM, I am so happy that you have mentioned habits here, because that is what it ultimately comes down to as far as life-changing personal finance (or anything, for that matter) is concerned. Some people have expressed disappointment that my blog has “evolved” from a personal finance to a “habits based” one. MY contention is that anyone can take the “correct info” and pour it into a listener’s (or reader’s) brain…we all know what we are supposed to do… Only a few of us are able to modify behavior in order to execute! It’s all behavior-based education, and I am glad to see you embracing it!

    Reply
  • Mark Ferguson March 27, 2013, 8:35 am

    Great article. Habits are what make us who we are. Breaking those habits and doing things that are uncomfortable help us grow and become better people.

    Reply
  • Sarah April 3, 2013, 1:44 pm

    So I read this yesterday and went to google maps to see if I could get from my house to work without dying multiple times. Turns out there is a bike trail that runs pretty close to parallel with the road I drive. The bad news? It’s 21 miles. The good news? There’s a shower at my office. I’m going to have to work my way up to it and I make no promises for bad (especially cold) weather. But the seed is germinating. For good measure I went home last night and busted out the bike to ride 4 miles round trip to the store for beer.

    Reply
  • Kevin April 6, 2013, 1:53 pm

    Hey there Mr. MM!

    I’ve been reading a myriad of personal finance blogs over the past week, came across yours today. Great article, I know about habits all to well. I like the idea of walking or biking more. Unfortunately when your destination is 10-15km away it’s a little harder to do so. Last summer I experimented parking 1-2km away from my destination and walking the rest. I’ll have to start picking this back up again now that spring is here. :) Every little bit will add up.

    Another change for me to make is going to a cash only method of payment. Start leaving the ole credit card at home.

    Reply
  • Matt September 3, 2014, 11:49 am

    Can’t believe I hadn’t read this excellent post before – thanks for featuring it. I will have to dedicate some time to pondering some of my habits and seeing where they can be modified.

    On another note, minor nitpick from a Cincinnatian (where P&G is headquartered) – it’s Procter and Gamble, not Proctor. It feels wrong because proctor is a word and procter isn’t, but Procter is a surname in this case.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

To keep things non-promotional, please use a real name or nickname
(not Blogger @ My Blog Name)

The most useful comments are those written with the goal of learning from or helping out other readers – after reading the whole article and all the earlier comments. Complaints and insults generally won’t make the cut here, but by all means write them on your own blog!

connect

welcome new readers

Take a look around. If you think you are hardcore enough to handle Maximum Mustache, feel free to start at the first article and read your way up to the present using the links at the bottom of each article.

For more casual sampling, have a look at this complete list of all posts since the beginning of time. Go ahead and click on any titles that intrigue you, and I hope to see you around here more often.

Love, Mr. Money Mustache

Ads

$25 Unlimited Smartphone
The Lending Club Experiment
A $500 Signing Bonus... WTF?
How to Start a Blog

latest tweets