First Published: September 25, 2021 | Last Updated: September 25, 2021

The gist: we talk so much about building new habits, but what happens after that? Here are the ways a habit can go, depending on how well you maintain it.

There's a LOT of talk about starting and building habits.

Hell, there's even a lot of talk about them on this very site.

But as I've gotten better at building habits, I've noticed a gap in the education:

What to do AFTER a habit is built.

How to maintain it, nurture it, and grow it if you wanna.

Every week in the Work Brighter Weekly newsletter, I share a story from my week and a productivity or self-care lesson you can learn from it (sidenote: are you subscribed to it yet?!).

So as I've built new habits this year, we've talked a little bit about the different directions they've gone AFTER they've been built.

Through those conversations, the Work Brighter community has come up with a few new habit theories.

You've heard of habit stacking, but get ready for more!

Because it's time to talk about habit drift, habit deflation, and habit snowballs.

Are you ready to start working brighter?

Productivity isn't black and white, it's personal as hell. And there's no single lifehack or framework to solve your problems. 

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Habit Drift: When Habits Fade Off the Rails

Habit drift is when a positive or happy habit slowly drifts into a more neutral or negative one, without you even realizing it.

It happens so gradually and so slowly, that you don't even realize the 2-minute weather check on your phone in the morning to plan your time outside (something positive), has turned into a 20-minute social media scroll (something negative).

This usually happens because of a lack of boundaries, whether those are physical, mental, or interpersonal.

For example, both Tiny Habits and Atomic Habits talk about how important your environment design and setup is to starting and maintaining habits.

But when my partner and I were first setting up our new apartment earlier this year, my environment was drastically changing every few weeks.

Every time we got a new piece of furniture or decided to adjust a room's layout, my habits slightly shifted.

Take my evening routine.

So far this year, it's gone from productive late night writing sprints at my new desk setup, to reading out on our balcony hammock, to reading in the living room once we finally got a couch.

Because the physical surroundings and boundaries for my evening routine kept changing, so did the routine itself.

But once I found the habit I wanted, I made sure to put the right habit setup and boundaries in place to keep it on track instead of drifting off again.

Habit Deflation: When Habits Slowly Shrink

Another way habits can start off strong, and then fade, is what I've dubbed habit deflation.

Habit deflation is when the air or steam slowly leaks out of a habit. And like habit drift, it can happen so slowly you don't even realize it's happening.

Maybe your morning journaling habit starts off strong. At first, you open it first thing in the morning and dutifully write your morning pages, easily getting your three pages filled.

But after awhile...your enthusiasm runs out.

You dilly dally a little bit on your way to your journal when you wake up.

You space out and lose focus while trying to get your morning pages done.

And they're usually just a page, if that, instead of your previous three.

In this case, the problem is usually a lack of inspiration or motivation.

It may be that you just need to reconnect with why you're doing the habit, or of the progress you've made because of it. That emotion and connection can re-inflate your balloon.

Or maybe trying to do those things helps you see that the habit isn't serving you any more, and you can subtract it from your routine.

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Tracking and managing your energy can straight-up change your life, without having to change much at all (no ridiculous productivity hacks needed!)

By better understanding your natural energy, peak hours, and existing habits, you can take advantage of it all to unlock new levels of productivity. 

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Habit Snowballs: When Habits Stack Effortlessly

The past two concepts are things you likely want to avoid. They happen when you don't fully nurture a habit the way it and you require.

But what happens when you do?

In that case, you might face a habit snowball. An avalanche, even!

This is the habit version of when you roll a snowball in snow and it sticks to other snow and gets bigger and bigger.

It's basically effortless habit stacking.

When your new happy habit is a snowflake "sticking" to similar snowflakes around it.

For example, my evening routine of reading before bed has snowballed into drinking a big glass of water, taking my meds, doing some skincare, and stretching. I do all of that literally WHILE I read, so it just naturally happens.

I'm sitting, reading my Kindle, and my cuticle cream is just out of reach, so I grab it. There's room to stretch out, so I do. And the water's there, so I sip.

Habit stacking brings to mind a laborious effort of stacking heavy blocks on top of each other. But I like to think of habit snowballing as more of a downhill coast.

How to Keep Up With Habits

To avoid habit drift or deflation, and improve your chances for habit snowballing, a few things you can do are habit tracking, rewarding yourself, and recognizing you WILL miss some days, but aiming to never miss twice.

For more help keeping up with new habits, check out our tips in the Happy Habit Toolkit.