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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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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

26 Useful Things to Learn Now That Will Change Your Life

26 Useful Things to Learn Now That Will Change Your Life

If you pay attention to your everyday life careful enough, you’ll know that you can learn from everything and everyone you come across. Our life is basically full of useful lessons that we should learn.

Here are 26 useful things to learn that Abhishek A. Singh shared on Quora. Let’s see how these life theories would lead you to live a different life.

1. Primacy and recency: People mostly remember the first and last things that occurred, barely the middle.

When scheduling an interview, ask the employer the time slots they do interviews and try to be the first or the last.

2. If you work in a bar or in customer service of any kind, put a mirror behind you at the counter.

In this way, angry customers who approach you will have to see themselves in the mirror behind you and the chance of them behaving irrationally will be lowered significantly.

3. Once you make a sales pitch, don’t say anything else.

This works in sales, but it can also be applied in other ways.

My previous boss was training me and just gave me pointers. I was working at a gym trying to sell memberships. He told me that once I got all the small talk out of the way and presented the prices, the first person to talk would lose.

It didn’t seem like a big deal but it actually worked. Often there were long periods of awkward silence as the person tried to come up with some excuses, but usually they bought.

4. If you ask someone a question and they only partially answer, just wait.

If you stay silent and keep eye contact, they will usually continue to talk.

5. Chew gum when you’re approaching a situation that would make you nervous, like public speaking or bungee jumping.

When we eat, our brain tell ourselves, “I would not be eating if I were danger. So I’m not in danger.” This has helped me to stay calm.

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6. People will always remember how you made them feel, not what you said.

Also, most people like talking about themselves; so ask lots of questions about them.

7. When you’re learning something new, teach it to a friend. Let them ask you questions about it.

If you’re able to teach something well, you will be sure that you’ve understood it very well.

8. If you get yourself to be really happy and excited to see other people, they will react the same to you.

It doesn’t always happen the first time, but it will definitely happen the next time.

9. The physical effects of stress — breathing rate and heart rate — are almost identical to the physical effects of courage.

When you’re feeling stressed in any situations, immediately reframe it : Your body is getting ready to be courageous, you are NOT stressed.

10. Pay attention to people’s feet.

If you approach two people in the middle of a conversation, and they only turn their torsos and not their feet, they don’t want you to join in the conversation.

Similarly, if you are in a conversation with a coworker who you think is paying attention to you and their torso is turned towards you but their feet are facing in another direction, they want the conversation to end.

11. Confidence is more important than knowledge.

Don’t be intimidated by anyone, everyone is playing a role and wearing a mask.

12. If you pretend to be something for long enough, you will eventually become it.

Fake it till you make it. Period.

13. Not to be creepy, but if you want to stare at someone unashamedly, look directly past them and wait for them to try and meet your eyes.

When they fail to do that, they’ll look around (usually nervously for a second) they won’t look at you again for some time. This is your chance to straight up stare at this person for at least 45 seconds.

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And as suggested by Brian Stutzman:

If you’re staring at someone and get caught, DON’T turn your head or your body to look away, because that just confirms that you were staring.

Just move your EYEBALLS off the person. Unlike turning your head, it’s instantaneous. And the person will think you were just looking at something behind them and that they were mistaken for thinking you were staring. Do it confidently, and ignore any reaction from the person, and you can sell it every single time.

After a second, you can even look back at them with a “Why are you staring at me?” look on your face to really cement the deal!

14. Build a network.

Become the information source, and let the information be yours. Even grabbing a beer with a former colleague once a year will keep you in the loop at the old office.

Former coworkers might have gotten a new position in that office you always wanted to work in, great! Go to them for a beer, and ask about the office. It’s all about connections and information.

15. If you are angry at the person in front of you driving like a grandmother…

Pretend it is your grandmother, it will significantly reduce your road rage.

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    16. Stand up straight.

    No slouching, hands out of pockets, and head held up high. It’s not just a cliche — you literally feel better and people around you feel more confident in you.

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    17. Avoid saying “I think,” and “I believe” unless absolutely necessary.

    These are phrases that do not evoke confidence, and will literally do you no good.

    18. When feeling anxious, clean up your home or work space.

    You will feel happier and more accomplished than before.

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      19. Always buy the first pitcher or round of drinks.

      You’d be surprised how long you could drink on the phrase “I bought the first one.”

      20. Going into an interview… be interested in your interviewers.

      If you focus on learning about them, you’ll seem to be more interesting and dynamic. (Again, people love to talk about themselves.)

      21. Pay attention parents! Always give your kid a choice that makes them think they are in control.

      For instance, when I want my son to put his shoes on I will say ,”do you want to put your star wars shoes on or your shark shoes on?”

      Pro-tip: In some cases, this works on adults.

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        22. Your action affects your attitude more than your attitude affects your action.

        As my former teacher said “You can jump and dance FOR joy, but you can also jump and dance yourself joyful.”

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        23. When a group of people laugh, people will instinctively look at the person they feel closest to in that group.

        Notice who you look at and who look at you when you laugh with a group of people!

        24. If you want to build rapport or gain someone’s trust quickly, match their body posture and position.

        If someone is sitting with her legs crossed, cross your legs. If they’re leaning away from you, lean away from them. If they’re leaning towards you, lean towards them.

        Mirroring and matching body position is a subconscious way to tell if someone trusts you or is comfortable with you. If you’re sitting with your arms crossed and you notice someone else is sitting with her arms crossed, that is a good indicator that you have/are successfully built/building rapport with that person.

        25. The Benjamin Franklin Effect (suggested by Matt Miller)

        I find the basis of the Benjamin Franklin effect is very useful and extends far beyond pencil borrowing. This knowledge is useful in the world of flirting too.

        Asking a girl in your class if you can borrow a pencil or her notes or to explain the homework will make her more likely to like you than if you let her borrow your stuff or are the one to help her. Even just asking a girl to buy you drinks (facetiously) leaves a much bigger impression than offering to or actually buying a girl a drink.

        The best part is it kills 3 birds with one stone: you get the advantages of the favor itself, the person subconsciously likes you more, and it makes them more open to future favors and conversation.

        26. Handle panic and anxiety behaviors by tapping fingers (Suggested by Jade Barbee)

        When you’re feeling stressed, worried or angry, tap each finger tip while thinking (or speaking quietly) a few specific words about what is bothering you. Repeat the same words while tapping each of your 10 fingers, including thumbs.

        For example, tap while saying, “I’m so angry with her…” Doing so will likely take the charge out of the feeling and return you to a more resourceful (better feeling) state of being. It’s called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or “tapping,” and it is useful in many life situations – emotional sadness, physical pain, food cravings, traumatic memories…

        Featured photo credit: Nicole Wolf via unsplash.com

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