Habit Gym

This is the final segment of a 4-part manifesto about my business. The last three pieces established the core principles behind it.

As a recap, here’s a summary:

  1. (Part 1) Bias towards action: Knowledge is merely potential energy. You must act in order to see gains.
  2. (Part 2) Failure is an opportunity: Reflection is a force multiplier. Learning from your mistakes enables you to act with greater efficacy.
  3. (Part 3) Tighten the feedback loop: Repeat 1 and 2 consistently to accelerate your progress.

This post explains how they come together to form a cohesive product: Habit Gym. In doing so, it lays out a blueprint for how to apply the principles in your own life - with or without Habit Gym.

I enforce these principles using three essential tools: weekly check-ins, accountability and community.

Weekly Check-Ins

Weekly, written check-ins are the cornerstone of the product. They are curated journaling exercises that lubricate the engine of growth, i.e the cycle of action and reflection.

They instill a bias towards action by prompting you to set measurable goals. This makes you immune to productivity porn. When you have a well-defined goal, self-help resources become a means to an end; as they should be.

They reframe failure as an opportunity by probing for lessons learned. This allows you to adopt a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset. The obstacle is the way - only when you understand what went wrong can you put a plan in place to address it.

They tighten the feedback loop by imposing a consistent cadence of reflection. Every week, you apply your newfound learnings. This compounds quickly, resulting in accelerated progress.

Accountability

Accountability is a critical tool in enforcing the weekly check-ins. It fills in for the lack of intrinsic motivation that many of us suffer from. Unless there’s something on the line, we tend to rationalize and defer our responsibilities. There’s no cost to back out of a commitment that you made solely with yourself. Accountability solves this problem by adding skin in the game.

My product uses two forms of accountability: financial and social.

My approach to financial accountability is what separates Habit Gym from similar platforms. We differ along two dimensions: failure criteria and alignment of incentives. From my last post:

First, they charge you the penalty if you fail to hit your goal. However, failure is inevitable. By penalizing failure, they penalize trying. My solution: I only require users to reflect every week; not to hit their goal. This way, they embrace failure instead of fearing it.

Second, they have misaligned incentives. Their business model is to take a cut of your penalty. They only make money when you fail. My solution: users are charged to charity (not me) if they fail. They pay me for the service only when they have completed a program and witnessed the results. As a result, I only make money if they succeed.

I foster social accountability through community. Users are divided into small cohorts that serve as their social support group. Every week, their check-ins are published to the group. Due to the intimate group size (up to 8), members can hold each other personally accountable to their goals.

Community

Though I built it with accountability in mind, the community serves many other purposes too. (So much that it deserves its own section here.)

It’s a focal point for like-minded individuals. Intimate groups combine the reach of the internet with the accountability of real-world relationships. Traditional internet forums (e.g Reddit) are not effective at holding you accountable - it’s too easy to recede into the shadows when the going gets hard. Though the real world offers greater accountability, it also imposes geographical constraints - it’s difficult to meet others with a shared interest in self-improvement. Small social support groups are the best of both worlds.

It’s a positive environment. Members encourage and support each other in their goals.

It’s a safe space. Everyone accepts that they are not perfect; they are there to improve. As a result, you can be vulnerable without fear of judgment.

It compounds growth through shared learning. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

It yields valuable insights. Your check-in is for your group as much as for yourself. As a result, you are forced to be more articulate. Since writing is thinking, this prompts deeper reflection and enables you to better understand your behavior patterns.

It’s a shared experience. Self-improvement is an individual journey, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. Doing it together disillusions you of the process. You learn that everyone fails, not just you. It’s not only inevitable, it is the process.

As a side-effect, it exposes the stark difference between your internal monologue and external advice. When you fail, you direct loathing inwards. “I’m not capable or worthy of achieving this.” When others fail, you extend compassion outwards. “It’s ok, everyone has setbacks. Just try again - you can do this!” By revealing this dichotomy, it nudges you towards the correct mindset of self-compassion.

How It Works

Due to diverse personal preferences, there are several offerings of Habit Gym.

Here’s how the flagship “sprint” service works (catered to new users):

  1. You register for a 30-day program.
  2. You are placed in a private cohort, up to 8 people.
  3. You start by:
    • Analyzing your current status
    • Establishing a goal for the month
    • Setting a challenge for the coming week
  4. During the week, you work on the challenge that you set.
    • Use your cohort for support, accountability and shared learnings!
  5. At the end of the week, you are sent a “check-in” to help you:
    • Reflect on your progress in the past week
    • Set a challenge for the upcoming week
  6. You must submit the check-in every weekend.
    • Do it anytime before the deadline - it’s a journaling exercise that only takes 15 minutes.
    • You are charged $100 (to charity) only if you don’t submit it, not if you fail at your goal.
    • Your answers are shared with your cohort.
  7. Repeat steps 4-6 until the final week.
  8. You end by:
    • Taking stock of your overall progress during the 30 days.
    • Paying what you want based on the benefits you observed.
    • Deciding whether to repeat or participate in the “marathon” version.

Surrender to the Technique

The above program is required for first-timers.

It was inspired by Vipassana’s concept of “surrendering to the technique”.

Though check-ins only take 15 minutes, many people are intimidated by the $100 penalty. However, this is a feature, not a bug. Without the stake, the success rate is less than 15%. With it, it’s greater than 95%.

The rigid structure allows first-time users to commit for the duration necessary to experience the benefits of the process. From “Vipassana”:

Surrender to the technique to give it a fair trial. For the duration of the course, do it the way the creators intended. It has been thoughtfully designed to give you a complete introduction to the discipline. At the end, you can conclusively determine if it was beneficial. If not, you can move on without lingering doubts about whether you did it correctly.

Marathon Version

Once you have completed the first-timer program, you are eligible to participate in the “marathon” variant for alumni. Since it’s designed for long-term progress, flexibility is baked in. Self-improvement is a marathon, not a sprint.

Features include:

  • Persistent cohort so you can grow together
  • Two free misses every month for when life comes in the way
  • Custom stake to cater to different accountability preferences

Lone Wolf Version

There are also “lone wolf” sprint and marathon variants for those that prefer not to be part of a community. It works the same except you do it yourself - there is no cohort. You just complete a check-in every week or have your stake enforced. First-timers must complete a “sprint” before they can take part in the more flexible “marathon” version of this.

Next Steps

Looking to apply this yourself? Make weekly reflections a part of your ritual. Do it with your friends or ask them to hold you accountable.

Need us to provide the accountability, community or structure? Check out Habit Gym!

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