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How To Stick With Good Habits Easily Using Paper Clips

How To Stick With Good Habits Easily Using Paper Clips

In 1993, a bank in Abbotsford, Canada hired a 23-year-old stock broker named Trent Dyrsmid. Within 18 months, Dyrsmid’s book of business grew to $5 million in assets. By age 24, he was making $75,000. 

At the very beginning, Dyrsmid was a rookie so nobody at the firm expected too much of his performance. Moreover, Abbotsford was still a relatively small suburb back then, tucked away in the shadow of nearby Vancouver where most of the big business deals were being made. The first popular email services like AOL and Hotmail wouldn’t arrive for another two or three years. Geography still played a large role in business success and Abbotsford wasn’t exactly the home of blockbuster deals.

And yet, despite his disadvantages, Dyrsmid made immediate progress as a stock broker thanks to a simple and relentless habit that he used each day.

On his desk, he placed two jars. One was filled with 120 paper clips. The other was empty. This is when the habit started.

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“Every morning I would start with 120 paper clips in one jar and I would keep dialing the phone until I had moved them all to the second jar.”
—Trent Dyrsmid

And that was it. 120 calls per day. One paper clip at a time.

Within a few years, outside firms began recruiting him because of his success and he landed a $200,000 job with another company.

Habits That Stick vs. Habits That Fail

When I asked Dyrsmid about the details of his habit, he simply said, “I would start calling at 8 a.m. every day. I never looked at stock quotes or analyst research. I also never read the newspaper for the entire time. If the news was really important, it would find me from other ways.” (1)

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Trent Dyrsmid’s story is evidence of a simple truth: Success is often a result of committing to the fundamentals over and over again. (2)

Compare Trent’s results to where you and I often find ourselves. We want to be consistent with our workouts, but struggle to make it into the gym. We know we should write more Thank You notes or eat healthier meals or read more books, but can’t seem to find the motivation to get it done. We’d like to achieve our goals, but still procrastinate on them.

What makes the difference? Why do some habits stick while other fail? Why did Trent’s paper clip habit work so well and what can we learn from it?

The Power of a Visual Cue

I believe the “Paper Clip Strategy” works particularly well because it creates a visual trigger that can help motivate you to perform a habit with higher consistency.

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Here are a few reasons visual cues work well for building new habits…

Visual cues remind you to start a behavior.

We often lie to ourselves about our ability to remember to perform a new habit. (“I’m going to start eating healthier. For real this time.”) A few days later, however, the motivation fades and the busyness of life begins to take over again. Hoping you will simply remember to do a new habit is usually a recipe for failure. This is why a visual stimulus, like a bin full of paper clips, can be so useful. It is much easier to stick with good habits when your environment nudges you in the right direction.

Visual cues display your progress on a behavior.

Everyone knows consistency is an essential component of success, but few people actually measure how consistent they are in real life. The Paper Clip Strategy avoids that pitfall because it is a built-in measuring system. One look at your paper clips and you immediately have a measure of your progress.

Visual cues can have an additive effect on motivation.

As the visual evidence of your progress mounts, it is natural to become more motivated to continue the habit. The more paperclips you place in the bin, the more motivated you will become to finish the task. There are a variety of popular behavioral economics studies that refer to this as the Endowed Progress Effect, which essentially says we place more value on things once we have them. In other words, the more paper clips you move to the “Completed” bin, the more valuable completing the habit becomes to you.

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Visual cues can be used to drive short-term and long-term motivation.

The Paper Clip Strategy can provide daily motivation, but you start from scratch each day. However, another type of visual cue, like the “Don’t Break the Chain” Calendar that I described in my article on the Seinfeld Strategy can be used to showcase your consistency over longer periods of time. By stacking these two methods together, you can create a set of visual cues that motivate and measure your habits over the short-run and the long-run.

Creating Your Own Paper Clip Strategy

There are all sorts of ways to use the paper clip habit for your own goals.

  • Hoping to do 100 pushups each day? Start with 10 paper clips and move one over each time you drop down and do a set of 10 throughout the day.

  • Need to send 25 sales emails every day? Start with 25 paper clips and toss one to the other side each time you press Send.

  • Want to drink 8 glasses of water each day? Start with 8 paper clips and slide one over each time you finish a glass.

  • Not sure if you’re taking your medication three times per day? Set 3 paper clips out and flip one into the bin each time you swallow your pills.

Best of all, the entire strategy will cost you less than $10.

  1. Grab a box of standard paper clips (here is a cheap set).
  2. Get two standard paper clip holders (here you go).
  3. Pick your habit and start moving those bad boys from one side to the other.

Trent Dyrsmid decided that success in his field came down to one core task: making more sales calls. He discovered that mastering the fundamentals is what makes the difference.

The same is true for your goals. There is no secret sauce. There is no magic bullet. Good habits are the magic bullet.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

FOOTNOTES
  1. I was introduced to Trent Dyrsmid through my friend Nathan Barry. The quotes in this article come from an email exchange I had with Dyrsmid on April 1st, 2015 and April 2nd, 2015.
  2. Related article: “Everybody already knows that” is very different from “Everybody already does that.”
  3. On a related note, visual cues can also be used to provide fear-based motivation. I have heard of weight loss clients moving glass marbles from one jar to another for each pound they lose. Once you move a marble over, you definitely don’t want to move it back.

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on August 10, 2020

15 Simple Things You Can Do To Turn Your Life Around

15 Simple Things You Can Do To Turn Your Life Around

Life can be difficult. It can seem like nothing goes your way and the world is against you. The world can be a very cruel and lonely place. But there are things that you can do to begin turning your life around.

Whether you’re in a job you hate, struggling with a loss, or just not on the path you expected, only you hold the key to turning your life around. Here are 15 simple things you can do to turn your life around.

1. Read Daily

Reading lets you escape to a different place within your mind. It can be relaxing and calming. And it helps stimulate brain activity and keeps you sharp.

Reading daily can help you spend time away from the problems of the day and allow you to escape into a world of endless possibilities. Changing your perspective can help you turn around your life, and reading is a great place to start.

Here’re some recommendations: 20 All-Time Best Motivational Books to Inspire You

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2. Put Your Goals in Writing

When thoughts are banging around in our heads, they can easily slip away. Walk from one room to another and you forget what you were doing!

Make sure your goals are concrete and written down. This will help you stay accountable to yourself and is the first step in completing your goal. By writing it on a piece of paper, you must put in the thought of how you should word it, what exactly you want to accomplish, and will make you consider if it’s truly worth it.

3. Prune Your Relationships

Too often, relationships can be destructive. This is often looked at through the scope of romantic relationships, but also consider life-long friends, family, and acquaintances. Are the people you spend time with bringing you down? Are they helping you achieve your goals or hindering? It can be difficult, but pruning your relationships can be the quickest catalyst in turning your life around.

4. Make New Friends

Don’t underestimate how a new person or group of friends in your life can change your outlook. Be open to meeting new people, both at work and in your personal life.

5. Get Healthy

When you feel great, good things seem to come your way. Working out helps you feel better about yourself and can help change your outlook on life. Eating right can help you have the energy to do more. Getting healthy can improve your entire outlook on life and help turn your life around.

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6. Start Saving

For many, financial struggle can weigh heavy and be the cause of many problems. Without a change of job or career, changing your financial situation will take time and effort. Start saving with each paycheck to help build toward your future. Even if it’s a small amount each check, consistency in saving can help you change your path in the future.

7. Start a Business

Working for others can be tough. You may be underemployed, under-utilized, and under-appreciated. Starting a business can help you take control of your financial future.

Understand that you don’t have to quit your current job to start a business. Find something you love and have skills at and do it in your free time. If you’re in creative services, freelance. If you’re great at carpentry, build tables to sell. If you are a talented painter or crafty, start an Etsy store.

You may find that your side passion business can turn into more. Or, if you have the opportunity and skills, take the plunge and go all in. Working for yourself is challenging, but a great opportunity to change your life.

Here’re some tips for you: How to Start a Small Business with Little to No Money

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8. Find Opportunities to Help Others

Helping others can change your outlook and help turn your life around. Changing the way you think about the world can play a part. But helping others can also open up doors you never had available. Being a good person can help you get out of a funk and can be the catalyst for change.

9. Learn a New Skill

When you have more skills, additional opportunities will be presented. If you’re tired of your blue collar job, take classes to learn computer skills. If you’re struggling to move up in your company, find a skill that makes you more valuable. And if you want financial freedom, learn a skill that can help you change your life. Knowledge is power.

10. Stop Watching TV

Watching TV can keep you distracted and take up a lot of time. Cutting out the time you spend watching TV and replacing it with more productive activities can help you accomplish more and stay focused.

11. Listen to Inspirational Content

You can learn much about yourself from others. Find inspirational and educational content that matches your needs and give it a listen. You may find that the advice from others in similar situations can give you the boost you need to change your life.

12. Stop Complaining

Negative thoughts and talk can turn people against you and make your outlook grim. Stop complaining so much and make the best out of your situation.

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13. Find or Rekindle Your Passion

Doing what you love can change your entire outlook on life. When you’re doing things you hate, you can be more stressed and make life much harder than it needs to be. Find things you’re passionate about and rekindle the love for what you enjoyed in the past. Doing what you love can turn your life around and make each day more rewarding.

14. Take a Vacation (or Staycation)

Sometimes, hitting the reset button is all it takes to improve your situation. Taking a vacation, or staycation, is a great way to get away from the stress of the daily grind and recharge your battery. A vacation can give you the perspective you need to change your life.

15. Re-evaluate Your Attitude

How you view the world will often reflect in how you treat yourself. Re-evaluate your attitude and ensure that you’re doing all you can to make the most out of every situation. A change in how you view your situation can often be the push that helps you change your life for the better.

More Tips to Help You Change Your Life

Featured photo credit: Conner Ching via unsplash.com

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