📚 Habits and diminishing returns

First Published: 2023-04-29

From the other side of self-improvement

I discovered the online genre of self-improvement videos in my late teens. Now I'm in my early 20s. One of the main things that self-improvement gurus lament about is the importance of habits and I'm not here to disagree with them. But there comes a point of diminishing returns. A point where you've implemented most of the easy routines as well as several of the larger, more impactful habits. Once you hit that point, building more habits becomes a form of procrastination. Being promised gains in productivity, well-being, or some other metric of a desirable life, you chase after the next increment.

Let me illustrate with the example of cold showers. A frequently recommended habit with unusually quick payoff. My first 3-4 cold showers were rather intense, and left me very refreshed and energised. The next dozen or so were still notably different from what I was used to. After that point it was just very cold for a few seconds before feeling almost lukewarm. At that point, the cold showers reward reduced to less dry skin, a slightly cleaner feeling and the achievement of having overcome the initial hesitation. But at the cost of the comfort and relaxation a hot shower provides. Then, after I catched a cold earlier this month, I switched back to hot showers and have mostly stuck to them since.

There are other examples, but I believe this is sufficient to communicate the point I'm trying to make. Don't make habits your bucket list. Don't go online searching for the "top 50 habits" to keep yourself occupied. Many of them won't have as big of an impact on you as they did on others. Many will slightly diminish, instead of improve, your quality of life.

In place of only following some gurus advice online, contemplate and decide for yourself what the best use of your time is. Often that best use of your time won't even be productive in the strictest sense: play video games or watch movies if you enjoy them. Sure, reflect on your trajectory every so often, but stop obsessing about little details with marginal payoff.

You can't sharpen your axe forever, at some point it's chopping time.


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