What Earworms Can Teach Us About Creating New Habits

What can singing in the shower teach you about making good habits? More than you think.

When we learn song lyrics, we don’t just look at the written lyrics and know them, nor can we listen to a song just once and immediately sing it.

Learning the lyrics of a song is a process that often goes something like this:

1. Listen to the song, maybe look at the lyrics if you want.

2. Try singing the song a second time, but mess up a lot; when you mess up, you hear the correct version and so you know you messed up and know the correct way at the same time.

3. Repeat Step 2 a bunch of times, correcting as you go, learning more each time.

4. Try singing it without the song, and realize there are still holes in your knowledge.

5. Listen to the song again, filling in your knowledge holes.

6. Repeat Steps 4 and 5 until you can sing the song perfectly on your own.

For some people, this process comes faster than for others, and needs less repetition, but the process is usually something like this.

Other people don’t repeat some of the steps enough times to really get the song, but the process remains true--it’s just they only do part of it.

So this is how we learn lyrics.

How do we learn habits? It usually goes something like this:

1. Create a habit plan.

2. Try it.

3. Fail at some point.

4. Feel bad about it, feel like we aren’t disciplined. Give up.

If we compare it to the lyric-learning process, we can see that with habits, we give up at Step 2!

Other people try a few more times, but they’re really only at Step 3 or 4. Barely anyone persists until they finish Step 6.

The key is to keep repeating until you finish Step 6, and you have it down. Use other people who do the habit right as your example as you’re learning. Compare what you’re doing wrong to what they’re doing right, and correct yourself.

And keep repeating, filling in your knowledge gaps, until you get it right and can do it on your own without help.

Then go sing your song.

This post originally appeared on Zen habits, and is reprinted with permission.

[Image: Flickr user Torbakhopper]

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10 Comments

  • Adams

    Other people don’t repeat some of the steps enough times to really get the song, but the process remains true--it’s just they only do part of it.

  • Adams

    For some people, this process comes faster than for others, and needs less repetition, but the process is usually something like this.

  • Adams

    Other people try a few more times, but they’re really only at Step 3 or 4. Barely anyone persists until they finish Step 6.

  • Adams

    The key is to keep repeating until you finish Step 6, and you have it down. Use other people who do the habit right as your example as you’re learning. Compare what you’re doing wrong to what they’re doing right, and correct yourself.

  • Adams

    And keep repeating, filling in your knowledge gaps, until you get it right and can do it on your own without help.