Habits in Unlikely Places
by Steven M. Ledbetter
5 minute read
Bill Nye is a great teacher. He is witty, smart, and above all, incredibly empathetic. He has an uncanny ability to see the world through his students’ or readers’ eyes and craft his message to meet them where they are at. And he does this with superhuman patience, as demonstrated in his February 2014 debate with creationist Ken Ham at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Even in this very public arena, Nye had the patience and empathy to meet someone he completely disagreed with where they were at, and on their home turf. Why on Earth would he do that? [aesop_quote background=”#282828” text=”#ffffff” width=”100%” align=”center” size=”2” quote=”Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” cite=”Bill Nye” parallax=”off” direction=”left”]
Tynan (it’s a mononym) rubs me the wrong way. He is the consummate life-hacker, trying to manipulate his life and behavior into a system of personal awesomeness generation. And there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just not my style. He is a geek, who thinks like a geek, and I think (at times) has little sympathy for those that do not. Which makes him very appealing to his audience, who I am not, and again, that’s fine. And he is also a (former?) Pick Up Artist. He is heavily featured in The Game, _wrote _Make Her Chase You_, and who continues to defend Pick Up Artistry. I’m not saying that makes him a bad person, it just rubs me the wrong way and you need to know that it rubs me the wrong way before you read anything I write about his book, _Superhuman by Habit. I’m putting my biases on the table for this review, because I was striving to be like Bill Nye and meet Tynan where he’s at.
And I’m glad I did, because this book is pretty good.
As with every book on the market (with the exception of [Willpower _](http://www.amazon.com/Willpower-Rediscovering-Greatest-Human-Strength/dp/0143122231)and Thinking Fast and Slow and the books by Brian Wansink), _Superhuman by Habit is by a lay person, in this case experimenting on themselves. Much like Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, but without any references or interviews with experts. That being said, there is only 1 thing overtly “wrong” in this book (contrary to Tynan’s emphatic suggestions otherwise, missing 1 or 2 days of a new habit is not irreparable according to the seminal Lally, van Jaarsveld, Potts, and Wardle (2010)). And as an n of 1, if you think like Tynan, the book will serve you well. It’s a nice little (101 pages) refresher on the basics of why habits are awesome. And unlike Duhigg, Tynan’s book is actual quite practical.
He talks about the pros and cons of chaining well, provides a simple framework for understanding the phases that we go through as we learn habits (you can learn more in Gardner, Lally, and Wardle (2012)), and nearly 40% of the book is “Practical Analysis of Various Habits” organized by topic such as “Positivity Habits,” “Health Habits,” and “Organizational Habits.” If you are looking for a list of stuff to try out, Tynan’s book is a handy place to start. There are also some very handy tools for uncovering motivations such as Tynan’s Discovery Grid, which is pretty much exactly like Dan John’s Pain and Pleasure Grid that I’ve been using with clients for 3 years with great success. This is also the first book on habits that states something I’ve noticed for years: some people are just better at habits of subtraction and others are just better at habits of addition. Kudos for that, Tynan.
However, as I read this book, it became more and more apparent that Superhuman by Habit is not a great book for coaches. Probably for the simple reason that Tynan is not a coach. There is precious little information about working with other people. And while Tynan pays lip service to the importance of community and environment, he does not give many tools for crafting environment to cut down on spent willpower and maximize success. If you want to read more about that, check out Brian Wansink’s new Slim by Design. I spend most of my early time with clients laying groundwork for habit-formation and other successful coaches similarly frontload planning and preparation. I even spend time almost every session running clients through potential social scenarios in order to plan what they want to say to their friends in order to stay on track.
And like most people writing about habits today, Tynan seems to fundamentally misunderstand the power of community in forming habits. He talks about accountability and gives good practical advice on what phases of habit formation accountability works best in (these are really good tips, by the way), but he actually warns against getting help because it creates “a missed opportunity to build the habit of self-reliance.”
I cannot disagree more with Tynan on that point, since in 7 years I’ve never had a client who was too dependent on others for habit help and have instead seen hundreds of clients who were trying to stoically take everything upon themselves, flagellating themselves for every perceived failure, and panic-stricken at the thought of getting support from others (even though every successful system of habit change in the history of humankind has taken place inside intentional communities of dedicated support and common cause).
It’s kind of a cheap shot to criticize a book for things that aren’t in it, but as someone who works all day with clients and coaches teaching the skills of behavior change, I’m usually left wanting more from any 101 page book. Tynan’s is a good start, if you imagine yourself to be a self-starter life-hacker type or you can put aside those tendencies and read past to the practical advice inside. It also has the benefit of being hella short and free if you have Amazon Prime.