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

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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 October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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