I am BARRY HESS > Blog


Through my teenage years I spent a lot of time having fictional conversations with my brother using a high-pitched British accent. The characters of these conversations were female − usually our mother, grandmother, or sister. Through no planning us brothers developed a habit of representing women in our conversation with the feminine voice of Monty Python. The habit stuck for decades, annoying all of the beloved women in our lives.

Habits can be bad even when the general activities involved are good. Twitter has been a part of my daily life for the past four years. As a physically isolated developer of websites, it gives me a great opportunity to communicate with people I’ve met along the way as well as with people I wish to meet in the future. Damn if it isn’t addicting though.

Improving my relationship with Twitter over the past few months took incremental steps. First I used the concept of habit fields to address the muscle memory I had developed while working on my computer. Any lag in my work or even my thought process was an opportunity to see what the river of tweets had to offer. I finally blocked Twitter on my computer, making the activity entirely phone-bound. To build a true habit field, I began only checking Twitter from a comfy chair in my office. I started developing a location tied to my habit and it worked well.

As the habit field did its work, I took another week off the grid in March. Giving up the constant distractions was much easier this time. I was looking forward to it leading up to the week away. Two weeks off the grid, a habit field, and three months later I am now able to check Twitter only once every day or two. I don’t read unto completion, choosing to check my mentions and read ten or twenty recent tweets before dropping away. My time commitment to Twitter has been reduced by an order of magnitude.

A side effect of this is a drastic reduction in the number of articles being fed to Instapaper by way of my Twitter feed. There was value in the articles I was reading prior, but a man has only so much time to read. With the time saved I have read nearly as many books in the first quarter of 2011 as I had in all of 2010. Rediscovering long-form reading has been a joy.

Habit is a powerful behavior. It can make fine things for moderation become obsession. It can also help bring important activities to your daily schedule. Whether your habit is just annoying like the put-on voice of an English matron or actively intrusive to your precious time, the key is being aware of the habit. Then decide how you are going to hone it into healthy behavior.