How to End Habits Intentionally

In last week’s Leaf Node, we talked about how to form new habits, by figuring out details upfront, as well as doing trial runs to find  the right habit to commit to. There is a lot of advice specifically  focused on starting new habits (especially at the beginning of a year). But what happens after that? Most of us do not start habits with the intention of maintaining them forever, to the end of our days. All things come to an end. With habits we often let things fizzle out, the checkmarks slowly dwindle down, and our grids start to look sparse. But what if we intentionally conclude habits, retire them, while making sure to extract learning from the experience?

“The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom. We get bored  with habits because they stop delighting us. The outcome becomes expected. And as our habits become ordinary, we start derailing our  progress to seek novelty.” - Atomic Habit

There are some exceptions. I came across someone with a 5 year old daily running habit. Minimum 2 miles, every single day, for 5 years. Five years is not forever, but it is impressive. It’s impressive because it’s uncommon.

For most of our habits, since we know they are not meant to last forever, why not end habits intentionally instead of letting them fizzle out over time. Some good reasons for ending an habit intentionally:

  • You  have outgrown the habit. You’ve learned what you need to and you’re  ready to progress to a different stage with a different habit.
  • The habit is time-intensive or requires large physical, mental, or emotional effort. So you need a break. This may be something you could come back to after a month or two.
  • The goal of the habit is to try something new and see-for-yourself.  You’ve done that and are ready to move on.

It’s best to evaluate your current habits at the end of a fixed experiment  period (say 30 days). At that time you can decide whether you want to  continue, pause or conclude a habit. As an example, let’s take the habit “meditate for 5 minutes everyday for the next 30 days”. After 30 days, we have the following choices:

  1. Continue the habit as is - so in this case we can continue for another 30 days without changing time or effort required.
  2. Invest a bit more in the habit by increasing effort or time - so in this case we decide to do the mental exercise for 10 minutes everyday OR for 5  minutes 2x per day.
  3. Conclude the experiment - we decide not to invest more effort/time/money at this point. It was good to try  something but we choose not to adopt this habit and we conclude the  experiment.

All three options result in a decision and a positive feeling of conclusiveness. There is not much room for guilt  and such for letting a habit fizzle out. If we conclude with choosing not to adopt the habit, we can move to the next habit in our 'backlog' and start a new experiment.

If  you do some type of a monthly review, it’s a great time to add a quick  review of your habits then. Decide which ones to continue and which ones to conclude.

One last thing: for tracking habits, there are many apps and programs that do this. I prefer something that’s clearly visible off-screen. A simple grid on a piece of paper to add daily checkmarks. Here are some empty habit grid templates I made to share: Download Habit Grid Template

Tech Topic: Webmentions and RSS

I have this fantasy. I publish my ideas on a topic online, someone reads and has thoughts to add. They write their thoughts and publish a reply article on their blog, and tag my original post. I get notified, we have interesting conversations, learn things from each other and repeat.  (Yes I know posting and commenting on social media can be used like this. But that format doesn’t allow for long-form, higher quality, thoughtful exchange. The desire is for more than what we can express with a few minutes of thought.) Webmentions is an idea that could take us in this direction of better online conversations.

What are Webmentions?

Webmentions is a web standard introduced in Jan 2016. It allows authors to keep track of who is linking to, referring to, and commenting on their articles. Web pages can request notifications when someone links to them. So a Webmention is simply an @mention that works from one website to another! Instead of just within a single community or social site.

How to configure Webmentions?

I  have not found a standard implementation for this. There are services  that help. It does require a little bit of technical ability. Here is a rough outline of steps to configure a way to get notified when your article is mentioned on Twitter for example:

  1. Indicate in the header of your article that you are accepting webmentions, something like this: <link rel="webmention"href="...">
  2. Configure a service to send webmentions from likes/comments/retweets on twitter. (Bridgy is an option, though I haven’t used it)
  3. Receive  and display webmentions on a post. This can be done with a service that  hosts your webmentions and provides an API to retrieve them  ( is an option)

Here are more details on configuring webmentions. Things like Webmentions are not free from  risk of spam notifications. But they are better than other similar iteration (called pingback).  The protocol allows for the receiving website to verify that the  mentioning site actually has a link to the article in question, before passing on the webmention to the author.

I hope something like this evolves to be more common practice on the Internet to enable better, long-form, distributed conversations among creators.

The other related thing I want to talk about is RSS. Do you RSS? Do you use an RSS reader to read the web?

What is RSS?

If  you’re not familiar, RSS (Really Simple Syndication) allows users and applications to get updates from different websites in a standardized,  computer-readable format (XML). You use this by adding your favorite  website to a program called an RSS reader. After that you don’t have to visit the website, each time there is a new article posted you’ll get an  update in your RSS readers. Here is what you can do with an RSS reader:

  • Sort the sites you follow into topics or your custom areas of interest.
  • Read full-text articles and watch videos in a distraction-free, minimalist view.
  • Curate and aggregate content for research.
  • Some fancy RSS readers allow you to add notes to the content, highlight passages, search your feeds and add keyword alerts.

I started using Feedly to intentionally consume from select sources on the web. How about you? Do you use RSS or Webmentions?

That's all for this one. I hope you feel good about intentionally concluding  or pausing some habits. And hope you learned something new in the Tech  Topic section.

If you have tech questions to submit, please do that here by end of Jan 30.

Until next time,