Habit Building, a personal reflection

Written by RADIUS Fellow Ashley Tanasiychuk. His bad habit is taking too many assignments for love and passion, rather than money. The proof is posted in his comprehensive CV.

It’s just a little habit

The habit I was trying to develop was a peculiar one. Especially to those who don’t know me, this habit would seem a bit weird and you’d wonder why I’d lose sleep over it.
My habit? Squeezing in time in every morning to update a spreadsheet with newly announced arts and culture events.
The idea was to spend 15-30min compiling events first thing every morning. Before showering. Before breakfast.
This meant setting my alarm 30min earlier than usual. Not a big deal, right?
Wrong. It only took a couple weeks before I realized that as much as I have good energy in the morning, I also need sleep.
In the end, I had proven to myself — as I wrote in response to one of Cole and David’s weekly emails — that waking up an extra 30min early to complete my habit was not making me happy. The reward of more sleep prevailed over the reward of compiling events & updating my listing.


Who are Cole and David? Why were they emailing me every week? And why was I torturing myself like this, anyway?


My name is Ashley Tanasiychuk. I’m an arts event documenter and promoter. I believe in the community-building strength of the arts, and am working toward helping Vancouverites feel more connected to their city’s arts and culture.
I am also one of the 20 people selected to be part of the first RADIUS Fellowship, a five month stint of personal, business, and networking growth in fields of social enterprise.


For two years, I’ve been running the art organization VANDOCUMENT and our online publication vandocument.com, where we post our photos, videos, and write ups about Vancouver’s emerging artists, musicians, theatre makers, and contemporary dancers.
It’s A LOT of work to keep on top of what’s happening in the city, but it needs to happen to keep our team in tune with, excited about, and ready to document our city’s events.

Cole, David, and The Habit Course

Cole Nakatani and David Kohler run The Habit Course, an “Immersive Course on How to Build and Maintain New Habits.” They were invited to present to the RADIUS Fellowship through two sessions.
Cole-HeadshotDavid-Headshot At the first session, we were introduced to the “habit loop:”
Cue -> Routine -> Reward -> (repeat)

Create-a-habitChange-a-habitBy the end of the session, we were asked to choose a positive habit and practice it every day for the next two weeks. This is when I chose to wake up early every day to update the Vancouver Events spreadsheet.
We were paired with an “accountability buddy;” we’d mutually help one another stick to our habits. We were encouraged to meet up once each week for an in-person check-in.

The emails

A few days later, we received an email from Cole and David. Titled “Habit Tracking and Resources,” it reminded us to meet with our accountability buddy, and was followed by questions such as:

  • How many times did you successfully complete your habit?
  • What worked when following through on your desired habit, and what prevented you from following through?

I responded: “Wake up early, spend 15-30min compiling local events into master spreadsheet. Cue: alarm. Routine: read emails/newsletters, data entry. Reward: relieving myself of the weight of doing it only 1/wk.” On this first one, though, I was already wondering whether the reward was strong enough.
The email also introduced the “Habit Scoreboard.” Type in “y” if you completed your habit, and it turned a “go/win” green, type in “n” if you didn’t, and your block turned a “stop/lose” red.

Session number two

Two weeks later, we learned about the basal ganglia, the part of the brain that stores habits so that the remainder of the brain can rest while executing habits. This explains why things that were difficult when learning them (a child tying shoelaces) seem mindless once you’ve built the habit. You feel like you aren’t thinking because you truly aren’t!
There was a section on “energy management” in which Cole & David expressed the importance of gauging what uses or drains our energy versus what recovers or restores our energy. We were also asked to brainstorm values that define each of us, and to choose one as our “keystone value.”

Follow up: emails, scoreboard, new habits

Following this session, Cole and David updated the questions in the weekly email. They added:

  • How did your Keystone Value impact your habit practice this week?
  • Did you practice an energy recovery activity this past week? What was the impact?

I responded: “Keystone value is: connectivity. I value building connections with talented & driven people; connecting those people with other talented & driven people who could be help each other out.”
I had introduced the new habit to check my banking & update my finances every morning. Cue: after breakfast. Routine: check banking & update spreadsheet. Reward: reduced stress, feeling on top of finances.

Habit building, the evolution

I made a huge leap when I activated Cole & David’s suggestion that trigger begets trigger (which is corroborated by Benjamin Spall in his 99U article “Stacking Habits: How to Finally Stick to Your Morning Routine”). I started to string together a series of fairly low-brain activity, yet immensely important tasks. I also made a leap when I shifted this habit from before breakfast (with the need to wake up extra early) to immediately following breakfast (no need to wake up extra early = happier Ashley overall).
I’ve also removed any strict connection to time. The point is the doing. And the doing gets done, because one habit leads to another. And another. And another.
A month on, my habit had become a string of routines cued by the previous. The reward: feeling on top of the things that stress me out because they often aren’t managed sufficiently:
1) checking banking 2) updating Mint & sole proprietor spreadsheet 3) adding notes to ‘thank you’ list 4) update event listing (20mins) 5) check emails (30min)
This helped define my Keystone Value of connectivity: “I am remaining connected by staying on top of events; both personally and for the VANDOC team I’m not missing out. I’m staying connected by staying on top of emails. I am also continuing/building REAL connections by thanking people for things worth thanking, both big n’ small.”

Feedback & Critique

Cole & David

Cole and David are a great duo. David’s delivery is direct; Cole’s softer personality and softer voice counters in a complementary way.
Their intentions are great, too: they want to help people understand habits so that bad ones can be broken and good ones made.

The Scoreboard:

Although I completed all 9 weeks of the “Habit Scoreboard,” I didn’t update it daily. I usually returned to it when prompted by the weekly emails. My habit was nearly 100% successful on weekdays, when I have a regimented morning schedule, and usually fell to the side on weekends.
David Kohler made an interesting observation about the Scoreboard: “The people who continued to fill it out long-term did it as pairs of accountability buddies, which highlights for us once again the power and effectiveness of this structure.”

The habit, moving forward

I’m continuing with the stringing and stacking. This has been key in making positive habit-building stick (string, stack, stick)!
I’ve been trying to add tasks such as:

  • job searching & applying
  • move completed project files to NAS
  • setting aside creative time to work on video edits

but these haven’t been as consistently successful as my finance/events/email routine, likely because by the time I’m done that morning routine, I need a break. Even if it’s just a few minutes away, I return to the computer and don’t start the exact same thing every time.
Guess I’m on the hunt for new triggers…