If you’re anything like me, you have a collection of empty grocery bags scattered under your kitchen sink. Since they tend to fill up the space quickly, I pack them into a bag every few weeks. It’s oddly satisfying to see them compress to a fraction of their original size, from occupying an entire closet to just a single bag. I recently realized that habits work the same way - compaction makes them more manageable.

Initially, a new habit can be overwhelming. It occupies an inordinate amount of space in your life, requiring both time and energy. However, it begins to compact over time.

For example, say you want to start working out.

It requires effort to just start. Since you haven’t experienced the benefits yet, all you can see is the work that has to be put in. You don’t know what’s on the other side of the hill. As a result, you face resistance. It doesn’t help that there are so many unknowns either. Every new question is an opportunity to back out. Which gym do I register for? What exercises should I do? How do I warm up? Should I get a trainer? Can I get injured? The ambiguity is paralyzing. Your only way out is through - by mustering the willpower to overcome your resistance.

It also demands room in your schedule. Before you can even start, you need time to prepare. You have to research the exercises, buy your gear and register for a gym. When you finally start, it still takes much longer than it should. There are kinks that have to be ironed out. On the bright side, these are just one-time costs. For example, you had to wait for every machine because you went at peak time. As a result, you learn to arrive earlier to avoid the rush. You address the inefficiencies one mistake at a time and streamline your routine.

Every successive repetition makes the habit easier. Over time, it becomes second nature. You don’t face resistance. Since you’ve experienced the benefits, you focus on the outcome instead of the effort. It also becomes more efficient. You figure out how to squeeze it into the nooks and crannies of your schedule as you optimize it. This is habit compaction at work - it occupies less time and energy as you repeat it, leaving more room for you to add new habits on top.

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