• David Shoults

How to make new habits with a handful of kernels

I'm like anyone else - I have bad habits that have stuck with me through it all. Biting my nails and fingers when I'm stressed, buying stuff I don't need, over-snacking... you get the picture. And, of course, there are habits I should have by now but don’t (I'm 28 years old at the time of writing this): brushing my teeth twice a day, not lying to my dental hygienist about flossing, actually flossing, making my bed, etc.

While I'm proud of what I have accomplished so far in life, I am not proud of my habits.

But I've figured out how to change my habits, and it will work for you too.

It all started when I read The Essentialist by Greg McKeown. While this post isn't specifically about essentialism, it does pull on some of the same themes: conscientiousness, accountability, and a desire to live without that which you do not need.

"The way of the essentialist involves doing less, but better, so you can make the highest possible contribution" - Greg Mckeown

After finishing the book, I found myself motivated to be more active. Maybe I’d start running! So naturally, I thought a Fitbit would be in order. But then I considered what I had just learned from The Essentialist, and realized that while owning a Fitbit may get me excited about running, it was not essential, nor would it be a long term solution to forming better habits.

Fitbits can’t form a new habit for me. Only I can do that.

This understanding brought me to the following question: how can I be accountable to myself for losing bad habits (i.e. impulsively buying new gadgets) and forming new, better habits (i.e. running)?

This led me to what I call Habit Currency. Here's how it works:

  • By performing a task that I would like to make a habit (i.e. flossing), I add one popcorn kernel into my kernel bank.

  • Each kernel I gain represents $1 that I allow myself to spend on non-essential purchases (i.e. Fitbit)

  • If I want to buy a non-essential purchase, I must spend as many kernels as dollars, which are then deposited into my spent bank.

The goal of Habit Currency is to put a tangible metric to your habits. When you spend kernels to buy a bag of chips, you realize you had to floss, make the bed, do the dishes, and clean out the kitty litter (in addition to spending $4) to get that bag of chips.

Not only will you think twice before buying things you don't need, but you'll be more likely to do the things you need to so that you can treat yourself to the non-essentials.

The best part is when you choose to reward yourself with a treat, whether it be a gadget or donut, it's a choice, and you don't feel like you're breaking the rules.

There is something truly satisfying about taking back the choice to manage your spending, or snacking, or what have you, rather than letting clever marketing decide for you.

That's Habit Currency in a nutshell. There is no one-size-fits-all for this model, so I recommend setting aside time to sit down and write out the habits in your life you want to drop, gain, or improve. Keep in mind, this practice can be adjusted to accommodate any of your habit-forming desires.

Perhaps you're already responsible with your spending but you want to cut back on snacking - kernels could be spent on your goodies! Or maybe you want to cut back on watching Netflix - kernels could be spent on screen time.

Whatever the case, having a tangible way to keep yourself accountable is the key to improving your habits.

As of writing this post, I am two months into my Habit Currency experiment, and I've already seen tremendous improvements in my habit formation and my spending. I know it's working because there are some habits that I now do out of habit and even forget to give myself kernels for.

Here's a breakdown of my model:

Tasks worth 1 kernel:

  • Get up at 7 am; brush teeth in the morning; take allergy meds; floss; do 20 push-ups; cook dinner; try a new recipe; tidy a room in the house; shower; shave; empty litter box; make the bed; do the dishes

Tasks worth 2 kernels:

  • Go for a run; stretch for 20 minutes

Targets (kernels vary):

  • Run 10km in one go (50 K); be able to do the splits (50 K); release new music (10 K); fix something (5 K)

There you have it - that's my Habit Currency. I would love to hear about the habits you're trying to form. Let me know in the comment section below how your habit practice is going.

I would like to finish by thanking everyone who has been part of our journey at Little Symphony so far.

If you’re new, click here to learn more about our music. I hope our playlists will help you connect with nature, relax, and maybe even support your habits, like following a sleep schedule or meditating every day.

Thanks for reading,


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