Habit Fragments: Are Your Good Habits Disconnected From Your Life?


We all have habit fragments. 

The word “fragment” has negative connotations as it goes against positive words like “whole” and “complete.” But in the case of good habits, it’s a huge benefit to have habit fragments.

Think about a good habit that you want. It can be something you’re currently working toward or one that you’ve struggled to develop. It could be your dream habit. With this hopeful behavior in mind, are there any individual times that you’ve done it? You’ll see where I’m going with this.

Hypothetically, let’s say that I want to develop a habit of doing 20 pull-ups every day, but that I’ve been inconsistent. What would you expect my problem has been? Based on your experience, what seems most likely of these three?

  1. When I miss, I only do a few pull-ups 
  2. When I miss, I only do 18 pull-ups 
  3. When I miss, I don’t do any pull-ups

Based on observation, I’d be willing to wager that more than 90% of people experience problem #3. That is, they either complete their goal or do nothing. Why don’t humans only do 35% of their target on some days?

The poisonous all-or-nothing mindset is certainly a factor, and there is a reason for it. Habit fragments.

The Pull-up Habit Fragment Exposed!

A habit fragment is a partially developed habit that’s missing the most important element: a reliable starting trigger. Example:

  • When I do pull-ups: I grab the bar from the closet and set it up in my doorway. I do pull-ups.
  • When I don’t do pull-ups: I don’t grab the bar from the closet. Nothing happens.

When I grab the pull-up bar, I’ve already succeeded, because that’s when my fragment begins. This fragment is strong enough to work every time for me, and I’m sure you have several similar examples of “when I begin X, I’m bound to continue until I do Y.”

If you can identify where your good habit fragments begin, aim for those (it’s MUCH easier). If I want to do pull-ups, all I have to do is grab the bar. That’s as easy as it gets! Compare that to an intimidating goal of pumping out pull-ups until muscle failure. The difference is incredible, but the result of doing pull-ups is the same.

Starting Activates Dormant Processes Of Habit Fragments

If you want further evidence that starting activates dormant habit fragments, when is the last time you only put one shoe on, or put them both on and didn’t tie them? And maybe for you, that fragment starts when you grab your shoes or when you move your foot into the first shoe. Habit fragments start at the point that you’re guaranteed to continue. 

Some might say that these are just plain habits, but there’s a key difference.

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