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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 May 28, 2020

9 Things Successful People Do To Always Get What They Want

9 Things Successful People Do To Always Get What They Want

One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was to take on the job of hosting my own weekly radio show. My radio show is about finding some of the most successful people in the world and bringing them on my show to ask them about what they did to become so successful in life and business.

In this article, I’m going to share with you some of the key takeaways I’ve picked up from talking to – and reading about – thought leaders from various fields about the things successful people do. Here, you can get some insights on how to get what you want.

Ready to dive in? Let’s go.

1. They Know What They Want

The first and most important thing that successful people do to always get what they want is so simple that most people forget about it: they figure out what they actually want.

When you know what you want, you will also know how to get what you want. If you’re unsure about what you want in life and business, I’d suggest picking up some career and self-improvement books to help you gain some clarity and focus.

2. They Are Assertive

Successful people know that they need to be both bold and sincere. Balancing these two characteristics is the essence of assertiveness.

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Oh, and by the way – being assertive is not a natural talent someone is born with. Assertiveness is a learned skill and anyone can do it, including you!

3. They Learn

You may have heard of the old saying, “great leaders are readers”. For the most part, I’d say this is true.

Let me give you an example. On my radio show, I regularly ask successful people about their habits that lead to success. Do you want to know something really neat? Every single one of them reads books.

Successful people read and learn as much as they can about what they want so that they can get what they want. If you’re curious about how to get what you want, then start reading a book. If you’re low on time, subscribe to a book summary site to get the core concepts of the books in your industry quickly.

4. They Make Things Meaningful

One of the most powerful things successful people do to always get what they want is that they make things meaningful. That is, they ensure that whatever endeavor they decide to embark upon is meaningful to them (and not necessarily to anyone else). They know and understand that it’s only worth it if it matters.

5. They Ask

One big thing that successful people always do to get what they want is this: they ask.

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Most people are too shy to ask for what they really want. If you are too shy to ask, you may never know how to get what you want. So, don’t be like most people.

Here’s an exercise you can do to get over it: next time you’re buying something, regardless of what it is, ask for a discount. Just do it. The worst-case scenario is that you’ll get a chuckle from the Barrista at Starbucks. The best-case scenario is that you’ll get comfortable with negotiating when it’s time to buy your next car.

6. They Take Action

Insight without action is useless. Successful people know that to always get what they want, they’ve got to take massive action.

One of the most powerful exercises I’ve ever discovered is this: never leave the sight of a goal without taking some kind of action towards its achievement. In other words, as soon as you decide you want something or as soon as you set a goal of some kind, do something – anything – that shifts you closer towards getting it.

7. They Use Their Time Wisely

Have you ever heard of NET time? It stands for “No Extra Time”.

For example: when you’re driving and sitting in traffic, are you listening to Mylie Cyrus? Or are you listening to an audiobook?

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Successful people take NET time seriously. Get yourself some audiobook so you can start listening to the best business and self-improvement books available – all while you’re on your way to work in the morning.

8. They Choose to Lead

You don’t need to have formal authority to become a leader. You just need to choose yourself. All successful people know this, and so should you. Knowing how to get what you want requires knowing how to lead the way for others and yourself.

Don’t wait for anyone else to do it, because the truth is that most people want to be led anyway. So, just step up and claim authority. Be the leader you wish you always had.

9. They Contribute

Successful people know that to get what they want, they have to be willing to help other people get what they want.

What happens when you stop doing your job? What happens when you stop caring about your schoolwork? What happens when you become emotionally disconnected from a relationship?

You suffer – that’s what happens. Successful people know and understand that in order to succeed, they need to contribute. They need to add value to the lives of others. They need to do their best so that they can become the best.

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So, Now What?

I hope this article has re-ignited the fire that you already had within you to be successful at any endeavor. The reason why I’m stressing the fact that you’ve already got everything you need to succeed and get what you want is that you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t already motivated to be successful.

At the end of the day, however, all the insights in the world are worth nothing unless you combine them with action. When it’s all said and done, it’s your decision what you do with this list and how you apply it to your life and career.

But if I may, here’s what I would suggest you consider as you get started doing the things to help you succeed:

Review this list of the 9 things successful people do to always get what they want and then compare it with where you currently are at each one of these 9 things. Rate yourself in each one of the 9 things. Next, pick just ONE of them to work on every week.

For example, if you find that you’d like to learn more about the business side of the company you work for, then go read the best business books to help you do that.

Never stop learning. Always feed your mind with the knowledge you need to become as successful as possible within your area or industry. It doesn’t matter how busy you are. We’re all busy. Make the time to expand your knowledge.

And remember: every key learning should be immediately followed with action.

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Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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