The breakdown of habit chains during transition periods

Let’s review. Who you are is defined by what you do. What you do is what you do every day. What you do every day is your routine. Your routine is a loose configuration of habit chains. A habit chain is a loose configuration of habits that occur more or less in the same order every time. Append the clause “except for sometimes” to all of those statements and you have a pretty good working model for where virtues come from.

There are periods in our lives where we have to form a lot of new habits at once. Relocating to a new home, for instance, means you have to settle into a completely different routine. All of the little details have changed. Maybe Costco is 45 minutes away instead of 15 minutes. And none of the old cues exist anymore (“antecedents” in behavioral terms) to remind you to perform basic tasks. Other examples of big transitions are starting a new job, having a kid, and starting or ending a serious relationship.

Transition periods an opportunity to completely revamp your routine and, eventually, become a totally different person who is defined by that routine.

Fortunately, transitions are accompanied by a huge release of willpower and physical energy, because our bodies and brains realize that we can’t survive on autopilot. Thus we feel very optimistic, positive, and energetic. All enjoyable things, but temporary (and energy-inefficient). The buzz wears off and you settle into a new routine.

It is imperative to have settled into a healthy routine by this time, because it’s your permanent baseline for as long as you’re in this new situation. If you’re watching Netflix every weeknight, that’s your new normal. You might decide to break this habit and spend a bunch of energy on it (which is good), but if you relapse it’s going to be a relapse back to this specific behavior. You aren’t going to relapse into some weird oddball thing you’ve never done before, like an addiction to painkillers, if you’ve never been addicted to painkillers before. Nope, you’re going to be back in front of that exact same laptop or TV every weeknight.

Better if your “relapse” is to hit the gym three or four days per week. You want your life to be defined by that sort of habit. Like the definition on these pythons: *FLEX*

This is why people get antsy and want to pick up stakes or get a new job. Their lifestyle has somehow become unsustainable and the opportunity cost of the transition starts to look smaller. In most cases for NW Europeans, I think it’s because people get stressed out from adding and adding and adding things to the schedule, and getting overextended. Willful people (high mental energy) get the wanderlust more often, for this reason. Whereas people with low mental energy need routines to keep them moving, and tend not to accumulate responsibilities.

On to practical matters. Let’s make it concrete: you just got a job and moved to the new location. Everything feels weird. Even the weather. You never really realized how different the world feels in 0% humidity. You’re highly stimulated by all of the strange sensory experiences, and feeling bubbly.

This is a great time to A) read through a couple of pre-approved self-help books and follow the directions, or B) DIY, you hack :-). DIY habit chains are riskier and more difficult (because they’re more or less pure Aeolitalk as far as I know), but the potential payoff is better because they’re customized to you and your situation.

About Aeoli Pera

Maybe do this later?
This entry was posted in life tips. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The breakdown of habit chains during transition periods

  1. Rime says:

    This good stuff. It’s a grownup take on self-help.

  2. Aeoli Pera says:

    Advice stolen from Berkeley Math Professor (


    I found that hanging out with people in the bottom half of the bell curve was a great way to develop social skills. It’s just not possible to communicate with them on an intellectual level, so it forced me to learn body language, facial expressiveness, vibe, teasing, smalltalk, flirting…all the bricks and mortar of enjoyable socializing. With my crutch of “interesting conversation” taken away, I was forced to focus on learning the nonverbal aspects where I once was very weak.

    One thing that fascinates me is humor at different IQ levels. …

    …It took me a while to figure out how to joke with people from the bottom half of the bell curve. I eventually figured out the secret: say a blunt truth about human nature, or an exaggeration, or a tease…that’s so obvious that I don’t find it funny at all. Once I got the hang of it, it became pretty easy to get the dumb girls giggling.

  3. Aeoli Pera says:

    That makes sense, but you’d have to stick to simple exercises rather than compound (no power cleans, for instance). I bet it’s a decent trade-off though.

  4. Pingback: Feeeelings | Aeoli Pera

  5. Pingback: Expanded: energy, momentum, focus | Aeoli Pera

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s