The Leaky Boat Analogy

by Haider on December 25, 2008 · 2 comments

in Habits

We sometimes struggle in our search to find the causes of our bad habits and our inability to overcome them. Why can’t I wake up early in the morning? Why can’t I control my temper? How can I stop wasting so much time on email?

We search for major causes that could be responsible for our problems, yet overlook the minor causes that are, nevertheless, contributing to our bad habits.

When you’re on a leaky boat, you might search for a massive hole that’s bringing the boat down, even though you can see some small holes in the boat. You ignore them because you think that there must be something larger that’s causing the boat to sink.

However, it’s possible that the only cause for the boat sinking is the collection of small holes that you can already see!

Your obsession with a “hidden hole” that you have yet to discover distracts you from what you can already do with the problems (small holes) you know about. Even if there is a large hole that’s sinking your boat, addressing the small holes would mean that you are making progress in overcoming your problem.

Suppose you are struggling to wake up early. You might attribute this to lack of motivation, not having a strong sense of purpose or another “high level” reason. But the real cause could just be that you over eat during dinner (and, therefore, you feel sluggish in the morning), or drink caffeine late at night or you aren’t getting enough sleep, or a combination of these factors. These are visible factors that could be contributing to your bad habit and which you can easily do something about.

Rather than trying to motivate yourself to wake up early, make a few changes to your diet and your schedule, and you could easily overcome your bad habit with an ounce of willpower.

Don’t overlook the small changes you can make while searching for major causes of your bad habits. Small holes can have the same damaging affect as a big hole.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Crystal November 22, 2009 at 6:49 pm

I just came across your website while reading a guest post that you did on Zen Habits, I have to say that I love your site!!!! This is the first time that I have ever felt compelled to post a comment on a site but I just feel like I can really relate…or that you can relate to my problems. I especially enjoyed this post because I think that it is so true, at least for me, that I am always looking for that “hidden hole”. I have such a hard time waking up in the morning, I have such low energy all day and I waste my days doing nothing productive, I always thought I was just lacking will power or that people are just born “lazy” but the truth is that my lifestyle is probably the answer, it is all those little holes that I can see that are holding me back. I want to thank you so much for taking time to do this site, if it is worth anything I really appreciate it and you for it. I look forward to taking this long and hard journey with you. Thank you

2 Haider November 22, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Dear Crystal,

Thanks for taking the time out to leave me your comment.

I haven’t been writing much recently, but your comment, and some of the feedback I’ve been getting, is compelling me to get back to writing. So, yes, your comment is worth something, and I really appreciate it. ;)

I get really irritated by personal growth writers that try to excite and motivate their readers, when that’s not what we need. It’s not motivation that we lack, but often slight adjustments we need to make to our lifestyle that will help us move our lives forward.

I look forward to being your companion on this journey. :D

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