My habits all seem to exist somewhere between a_stable_ and unstable equilibrium. This has been a useful way to think about my self discipline.

An ingrained habit is in stable equilibrium. For example, I brush my teeth every morning when I wake up and every night before bed. This is true when I travel, have a long day, or something interrupts me on the way to the bathroom sink. If extraordinary circumstances cause me miss one day of teeth-brushing, it requires zero effort—or even conscious thought—to resume the habit the next day. This habit is in equilibrium with my life. It continues without an energy requirement.

New habits, on the other hand are in an unstable equilibrium. For example, my nascent cold therapy habit requires all the self-discipline I can muster, just to turn the shower faucet full-cold. If I miss a day, resuming the habit is very hard.1 this habit is in unstable equilibrium with my life. It stays in balance, only with effort.

There are degrees of stability, too. For example, my normal diet2 is easily disrupted by travel or hard days at work, but I easily settle back into my routine when life returns to normal. This habit is in partial equilibrium with my life. It requires some energy to maintain balance, but it is generally stable.

This way of thinking about my habits has allowed me to be more practical in my self evaluation. I don’t beat myself up as much when I backslide, and instead, I look for ways to build better stability into new habits.

  1. In fact, I took a break (ironically, jbecause of a bad cold), and even though I’m pretty much all better, I’m still finding excuses to not resume what was a daily practice. ↩︎

  2. The details don’t really matter here, but for the curious: I eat one meal a day (a stricter form of intermittent fasting), and that meal’s only restriction is that’ carbohydrates come only from healthy vegetables (no bread/grain, no added sugar). I have three cheat meals at various times during the week, still intermittently fasting on those days. This may sound hard to do, but I eased into it. For that matter, send me an email if your struggle with your weight. I have test plan we can try, with some one-on-one coaching/cheerleading. ↩︎