Do you lose willpower when you feel you haven’t been fulfilling the goals or values that are most important to you? When that happens to me, I find I’m more likely to seek entertainment as a distraction, which in turn prevents me from doing what I would be proud of. This process creates a vicious cycle of depression.
To stop this downward spiral for myself, I’ve found some very small things I can do every day to contribute to the world around me in ways that fulfill my identity. These I compiled into what I call a personal code of behavior. I’m not hidebound by these daily rituals, though. Each one is based on a grander purpose, and if I see a more ambitious goal that fulfills one of those purposes, I can put the daily habit on hold and feel even better about myself for tackling something larger.
(Credit goes to Stephen Guise’s work on Mini-Habits for inspiring me to start small, and start now. He also has a new book out recently called Elastic Habits which deals with basing a habit on an underlying principle with multiple options for fulfilling it, in case one doesn’t work at the moment. I found out about the Elastic Habits shortly after I’d designed my habits to serve overarching values. It seems great minds do think alike, after all.)
My unique contribution to the field of habit architecture is a toolbox of concepts that can help people identify what larger values they most want to advance with their efforts, and what habits they can work on to get them going in a useful direction. Of course, as people accumulate experience, what we most value may change over time, and that’s to be expected. We can always update our chosen roles.
As we get more confident in our ability to bring value to the world on our own terms, we will be less easily controlled by the entertainment we’re led to consume. When accomplishing a goal or helping someone else do so requires some sacrifice of comfort, that won’t defeat us. We will develop agency, responsibility, and skills beyond those we need to follow the instructions for earning our food.
From there, our capabilities and self-respect will allow us to more effectively team up to launch constructive projects and maintain worthwhile living environments. To create vibrant communities based on evolving wisdom and understanding instead of ossified dogma, we will identify the roles any given group needs to stay healthy and how to equip people to fill those roles.
At least, that is my ultimate vision for this idea. For now, we can focus on empowering the individual. The first step is to start consistently spending time doing things that make you stronger. Even small activities make a surprisingly large difference versus more passive recreation. They give you something to build on.
I designed my own personal code to have a self level (“What do I want to do for myself?”), a community level (“What do I want to do for people I know?”), and a society-wide level (“What do I want to do for the whole world?”). The current version is below—the phrases in bold are concepts from my toolbox, so each has a functional definition to clarify how it works and when it is relevant.
- Code of Authenticity (self level): For the purpose of improving my self-image by fulfilling my major strength of sharing good ideas using perception mindset, I will find on average one good idea every day from my present or past. At least once a week, I will make a post explaining at least one of these ideas that I found in the past week.
- Code of Relevance (self level): For the purpose of preventing my own stagnation and reducing my mindless consumption of trivial entertainment, I will read five pages of an educational book or an educational article (or video or podcast) on every day I have off from work.
- Code of Bonds (community level): For the purpose of contributing something to my relationships with people, and being someone worth knowing, I wish to bring people new ideas and perspectives using education mindset, whether they be my own or not. Therefore I will pick one topic every week and in every social context (if appropriate) I will mention that I am reading about it. I may keep a journal of topics to keep track.
- Code of Legacy (society-wide level): For the purpose of contributing something to the world with my life, and for the betterment of society: I will keep fulfilling the above codes for now using responsibility mindset, which will lead to future opportunities and increase my ability to take advantage of them. I may fill in this code with something more substantial later when it becomes a limiting factor.
The more I keep my code, the less anxious I feel and the more confident I am that I can take on larger goals at a steady pace.
My personal code is just one example of how baseline habits that fulfill our values can help us keep moving forward. With the toolbox of concepts mentioned earlier, we can more easily identify the various roles we most want to play for the world, the diverse ways in which a role can manifest, and the subtle opportunities that exist for each one. Part of my role is to help you design (and redesign) your own. What do you want your life to mean? To the world, or even just to yourself?
Who do you want to become?