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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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Published on June 19, 2019

Your Beliefs About Success May Be Holding You Back

Your Beliefs About Success May Be Holding You Back
Pause for a moment and think about how you would describe success.

If your description is dominated by money or status, then your image of success is faulty.

For example, there are countless people who have these assets but don’t feel successful. Some of these people have enormous amounts of disposable income, but work so many hours during the day that they have no life beyond their work.

Would you regard these people as successful?

At first glance, I likely wouldn’t.

And, then there are the endless celebrities who go from fame to failure (think bankruptcy, addictions and worse).

Are they successful?

Probably not.

In truth, success is about happiness and fulfillment in life.

But, there is more than one definition of success. Just look at the above example of the person who worked too hard to spend their money. If they’re happy with their life, then we shouldn’t criticize their version of success.

So how about you? Do you have a clear definition of what success looks like for you?

If you don’t, you’ll be constantly chasing someone else’s idea of success, and could find yourself totally unfulfilled and miserable.

The good news is that over the next few minutes, I’m going to give you the tools you need to build a crystal clear picture of YOUR SUCCESS.

Positive Thinking

With the right attitude, anything can seem possible.

For instance, if you’re fed up with your job, but do nothing to change it, then you’ll likely be stuck there for years to come. But, if you see the job as a stepping stone to something bigger and better, then not only will you enjoy your work more, but you’ll have something positive to aim towards (e.g., a promotion or new job).

The example above demonstrates a little-known factor of success… suffering!

Yes, suffering may be a negative thing that most people go out of their way to avoid; but successful people use suffering as a springboard to big achievements. Mindset really does separate the losers from the winners.

Another thing you can do, is to gradually build up your positivity and confidence by tracking your progress towards your goals. And, each time you accomplish something – however small – be sure to celebrate it!

This is a great way to propel you towards success.

The Purpose of a Purpose

What is your purpose in life?

These are questions I suggest you spend some time thinking about. To help you find the answers, consider the following:

If you just seek a career, all you will find is a career.

But, if you seek a purpose, you’ll find something much more than a career – you’ll find your calling. And when you’ve found this, and you begin following it, you’ll be firmly in the middle of the happiness, satisfaction and success zone.

This is backed by science, with research showing that people who have a purpose and meaning in life have an increase in:[1]
  • Overall well-being
  • Mental and physical health
  • Resiliency
  • Self-esteem

But, don’t mistake seeking happiness and success as your purpose. These things are a natural result of following your purpose – but shouldn’t be your focal point.

Austrian Neurologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said it well:

“It is the very pursuit of happiness, that thwarts happiness.”

What about YOUR purpose?

If you’re struggling to identify it, look for the things in your life that you’re good at, enthuse you, and provide a benefit to the world.

Becoming a Better You

Are your beliefs holding you back?

If yes, here are three things you can do RIGHT NOW to break out of your mind trap:

  1. Boost Your Confidence: you can do this by overcoming challenges that come your way. For example, if you have a fear of public speaking, face this challenge head-on by agreeing to do regular presentations for your company, or by joining a public speaking organization like Toastmasters International. Speak in public often enough, and your fear of it will plunge like a river going over a waterfall.
  2. Develop Healthy Habits: I’m talking about positive habits that will serve you day in, day out. Habits such as lifelong learning, eating well, and waking up early. When these things are automatic for you, you’ll reap incredible benefits from them. Take eating well, for example. You’ll feel better. You’ll look better. And you’ll have way more energy to make things happen in your life.
  3. Invoke the Magic of Goal Setting: Without goals, you’ll drift through life like a plastic bottle in the sea. But with goals, you’ll be like a 100m sprinter running towards the finishing line. Goals really are powerful tools. They’ll direct your focus and energy, and will allow you to track your progress in life. I recommend the SMART goal-setting method (find out about this here).

And, always remember… don’t compare yourself to others; only compare yourself to who you were yesterday.

Each step you take forward is making you a better version of you.

Success Is Self-Love

I encourage you to take the tips I’ve shared in this article and put them into action in your life. Ideally, starting right now!

Firstly, transform your mindset by facing up to challenges and overcoming them. Then spend time to discover your purpose. And, once you’ve found it – start following it.

Becoming a better version of you will take some time, but will be worth the wait. Not only will you reach into untapped potential in your life, but you’ll also develop respect and love for yourself along the way.

So don’t let your beliefs hold you back anymore. BREAK FREE from them and start enjoying a happy, healthy and successful life.

Featured photo credit: Razvan Chisu via unsplash.com

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