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I’m Using These 3 Simple Steps to Actually Stick with Good Habits

I’m Using These 3 Simple Steps to Actually Stick with Good Habits

I have been trying a new strategy for building habits and it is working incredibly well. This strategy is remarkably easy and it is governed by three simple rules.

First I’ll tell you the three rules. Then, I’ll explain how I’m using this strategy and offer some other examples of how you can put these rules into practice.

Here’s how it works…

3 Rules For Actually Sticking to Good Habits

Here are the rules:

  1. You have to start with a version of the habit that is incredibly easy for you. It must be so easy that you can’t say no to doing it and so easy that it is not difficult at all in the beginning.[1]
  2. You have to increase your habit each day, but in an incredibly small way.[2]
  3. Even after increasing your habit, all repetitions must remain easy. The total habit should be broken down into easier pieces if needed.

Now, let’s talk about what this looks like in real life. Here’s how I’m using these three rules.

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The Pushup Habit

The more pushups I do, the leaner I get. For that reason, I recently decided to make pushups a daily habit. I decided to use the three rules I explained above to slowly and easily add more pushups to my routine.

  • The first day, I did 10 pushups, which only took 15 seconds or so. (Rule 1.)
  • The second day, I did 11 pushups. This was an very tiny improvement. (Rule 2.)
  • I’ve continued this pattern of adding 1 pushup per day, every single day. I did 21 this morning, which was still easy to do and took less than 30 seconds. (Rule 3.)

Once I get to higher numbers, I will break them up into smaller, easier sets. For example, to do 50 pushups, I might do three sets: 20, 20, 10. The next day, I’ll add one more and do 20, 20, 11.

There are few things are happening here.

First, because I started with a habit that was very easy in the beginning, I am building the capacity to do work. In other words, I’m focusing on volume first, which will allow me to handle the intensity of a bigger habit later.

Second, because I am increasing by a very tiny amount each day, my body is able to recover and grow. Meanwhile, if I had started with a difficult or more impressive habit, then I would have hindered my ability to adapt as the habit grew.

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Third, because I am breaking the habit down into sets that are always easy, I am reducing the mental burden needed to accomplish the habit. In a way, these easy sets are simply fun to do and require very little motivation to finish.

And most important, I am focusing on actually performing the habit rather than worrying about the outcome. I developing the skill of being consistent and that is a skill that is valuable in nearly every area of life.

How Can You Use This in Real Life?

Here are some other ways you can use this strategy to build new habits.

Meditation. Wish you would meditate consistently and be more mindful?

  • On day one, you’ll meditate for 60 seconds.
  • On day two, you’ll meditate for 70 seconds.
  • Continue this pattern, until you get to an amount of time that satisfies you or is too long to do at once. For example, 10 minutes of meditation might feel like a lot. Once you get to this point, break up your sessions into easier blocks. For example, meditate for 5 minutes in the morning and then 5 minutes in the evening.

Walking. Get a device that can measure the amount of steps you take in a day (a pedometer, FitBit, app on your phone, etc.)

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  • On day one, you’ll walk 1,000 steps, which most people already do each day.
  • On day two, you’ll add 100 steps and walk a total of 1,100 steps. An additional 100 steps could be walking down to your mailbox and back — not far at all.
  • Continue this pattern until walking more each day becomes time prohibitive. Let’s say that this point is 10,000 steps in a day. At this point, you may want to break up your walking time into shorter jogging sessions.

Reading. Wish you were reading more books?

  • On day one, you’ll read for one minute.
  • On day two, you’ll read for two minutes.
  • Continue this pattern until you’re reading for a period of time that either satisfies you or is too long to do at once. For example, maybe reading for more than 20 minutes at a time is a stretch for you. If you want to read for 30 minutes, you can simply break it down into smaller 10 minutes blocks.

Flossing. Not in the habit of flossing?

  • On day one, floss just one tooth. You are not allowed to floss two teeth.
  • On day two, floss two teeth.
  • Continue this pattern. After one month, you’ll be flossing all of your teeth each day.

Do Small Habits Actually Amount to Anything?

I know these small gains can seem almost meaningless, especially in the beginning. But small habits can actually deliver incredible progress very quickly.

If you performed the examples I listed above for one month, here’s what would happen.

  • If you started with 10 pushups and added 1 per day, you would do 775 pushups in 30 days.
  • If you started with 1 minute of reading and added 1 minute per day, you would have read for over 8 hours in 30 days (enough to finish a 400 page book every month).
  • If you started by walking 1,000 steps and added 100 per day, you would walk 77,500 steps (almost 39 miles) in 30 days.

Small, consistent progress adds up really fast.

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Try the Three Rules for Yourself

These three rules for sticking to good habits are simple, but they work.

Here they are again:

  1. You have to start with a version of the habit that is incredibly easy for you. It must be so easy that you can’t say no to doing it and so easy that it is not difficult at all in the beginning.
  2. You have to increase your habit each day, but in an incredibly small way.
  3. Even after increasing your habit, all sets must remain easy. The total habit should be broken down into easier pieces if needed.

Give it a try and see what you think! As always, I’m open to any feedback or criticism. Sharing with one another helps us all grow and learn.

Sources:

  1. Thanks to Leo Babauta for his ideas on habits. It was through him that I first learned the phrase, “So easy you can’t say no.”
  2. Thanks to Stanford professor BJ Fogg for his work on habits and in particular his Tiny Habits program, which originally laid out many of the steps in this post.

Featured photo credit: Athletic fit young woman jogging running outdoors early morning in park. Healthy lifestyle sports fitness concept. via shutterstock.com

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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 7, 2021

Productivity Boost: How to start your day at 5:00 AM

Productivity Boost: How to start your day at 5:00 AM

I have been an early-riser for over a year now. Monday through Friday I wake up at 5:00 AM without hitting the snooze button even once. I never take naps and rarely feel tired throughout the day. The following is my advice on how to start your day (everyday) at 5:00 AM.The idea of waking up early and starting the day at or before the sunrise is the desire of many people. Many highly successful people attribute their success, at least in part, to rising early. Early-risers have more productive mornings, get more done, and report less stress on average than “late-risers.” However, for the unaccustomed, the task of waking up at 5:00 AM can seem extremely daunting. This article will present five tips about how to physically wake up at 5:00 AM and how to get yourself mentally ready to have a productive day.

Many people simply “can’t” get up early because they are stuck in a routine. Whether this is getting to bed unnecessarily late, snoozing repetitively, or waiting until the absolute last possible moment before getting out of bed, “sleeping in” can easily consume your entire morning. The following tips will let you break the “sleeping in” routine.

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Relocate your alarm clock.

Having an alarm clock too close to your bed is the number one reason people simply cannot get up in the morning. If your alarm clock is within arms reach of your bed, or if you can turn your alarm clock off without getting out of bed, you are creating an unnecessarily difficult situation for yourself. Before I became an early-riser, there were many times that I would turn off my alarm without even waking up enough to remember turning it off. I recommend moving your alarm clock far enough away from your bed that you have to get completely out of bed to turn it off. I keep my alarm clock in the bathroom. This may not be possible for all living arrangements, however, I use my cellphone as an alarm clock and putting it in the bathroom makes perfect sense. In order to turn off my alarm I have to get completely out of bed, and since going to the restroom and taking a shower are the first two things I do everyday, keeping the alarm clock in the bathroom streamlines the start of my morning.

Scrap the snooze.

The snooze feature on all modern alarm clocks serves absolutely no constructive purpose. Don’t even try the “it helps me slowly wake up” lie. I recommend buying an alarm that does not have a snooze button. If you can’t find an alarm without a snooze button, never read the instructions so you will never know how long your snooze button lasts. Not knowing whether it waits 10 minutes or 60 minutes should be enough of a deterrent to get you to stop using it.

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Change up your buzzer

If you use the same buzzer day in and day out, you begin to develop a tolerance to the sound. The alarm clock will slowly become less effective at waking you up over time. Most newer alarm clocks will let you set a different buzzer tone for the different days of the week. If you change your buzzer frequently, you will have an easier time waking up.

Make a puzzle

If you absolutely cannot wake up without repetitive snoozing, try making a puzzle for yourself. It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that the longer your alarm is going off, the more awake you will become. Try making your alarm very difficult to turn off by putting it under the sink, putting it under the bed, or better yet, by forcing yourself to complete a puzzle to turn it off. Try putting your alarm into a combination-locked box and make yourself put in the combination in order to turn off the alarm — it’s annoying, but extremely effective!

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Get into a routine

Getting up at 5:00 AM is much easier if you are doing it Monday through Friday rather than sporadically during the week. I recommend setting an alarm once that repeats everyday. Also, going to bed at about the same time every night is an important factor to having a productive morning. Learn how much sleep you need to get in order to not feel exhausted the following day. Some people can get by on 4-6 hours while most need 7-8.

Have a reason

Make sure you have a specific reason to get up in the morning. Getting up at 5:00 AM just for the heck of it is a lot more difficult than if you are getting up early to plan your day, pay bills, go for a jog, get an early start on work, etc. I recommend finding something you want to do for yourself in the morning. It will be a lot easier to get up if you are guaranteed to do something fun for yourself — compare this to going on vacation. You probably have no problem waking up very early on vacation or during holidays. My goal every morning is to bring that excitement to the day by doing something fun for myself.

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As I previously mentioned, I have been using these tips for a very long time. Joining the world of early-risers has been a great decision. I feel less stressed, I get more done, and I feel happier than I did when I was a late-riser. If you follow these tips you can become an early-riser, too. Do you have any tips that I didn’t mention? What works best for you? Let us know in the comments.

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