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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 March 30, 2020

What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

If you’ve got a big block of free time, the best way to put that to use is to relax, have fun, decompress from a stressful day, or spend time with a loved one. But if you’ve just got a little chunk — say 5 or 10 minutes — there’s no time to do any of the fun stuff.

So, what to do in free time?

Put those little chunks of time to their most productive use.

Everyone works differently, so the best use of your free time really depends on you, your working style, and what’s on your to-do list. But it’s handy to have a list like this in order to quickly find a way to put that little spare time to work instantly, without any thought. Use the following list as a way to spark ideas for what you can do in a short amount of time.

1. Reading Files

Clip magazine articles or print out good articles or reports for reading later, and keep them in a folder marked “Reading File”. Take this wherever you go, and any time you have a little chunk of time, you can knock off items in your Reading File.

Keep a reading file on your computer (or in your bookmarks), for quick reading while at your desk (or on the road if you’ve got a laptop).

2. Clear out Inbox

Got a meeting in 5 minutes? Use it to get your physical or email inbox to empty.

If you’ve got a lot in your inbox, you’ll have to work quickly, and you may not get everything done; but reducing your pile can be a big help. And having an empty inbox is a wonderful feeling.

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3. Phone Calls

Keep a list of phone calls you need to make, with phone numbers, and carry it everywhere.

Whether you’re at your desk or on the road, you can knock a few calls off your list in a short amount of time.

4. Make Money

This is my favorite productive use of free time. I have a list of articles I need to write, and when I get some spare minutes, I’ll knock off half an article real quick.

If you get 5 to 10 chunks of free time a day, you can make a decent side income. Figure out how you can freelance your skills, and have work lined up that you can knock out quickly — break it up into little chunks, so those chunks can be done in short bursts.

5. File

No one likes to do this. If you’re on top of your game, you’re filing stuff immediately, so it doesn’t pile up.

But if you’ve just come off a really busy spurt, you may have a bunch of documents or files laying around.

Or maybe you have a big stack of stuff to file. Cut into that stack with every little bit of spare time you get, and soon you’ll be in filing Nirvana.

6. Network

Only have 2 minutes? Shoot off a quick email to a colleague. Even just a “touching bases” or follow-up email can do wonders for your working relationship. Or shoot off a quick question, and put it on your follow-up list for later.

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7. Clear out Feeds

If my email inbox is empty, and I have some spare time, I like to go to my Google Reader and clear out my feed inbox.

8. Goal Time

Take 10 minutes to think about your goals — personal and professional.

If you don’t have a list of goals, start on one. If you’ve got a list of goals, review them.

Write down a list of action steps you can take over the next couple of weeks to make these goals a reality. What action step can you do today? The more you focus on these goals, and review them, the more likely they will come true.

9. Update Finances

Many people fall behind with their finances, either in paying bills (they don’t have time), or entering transactions in their financial software, or clearing their checkbook, or reviewing their budget.

Take a few minutes to update these things. It just takes 10 to 15 minutes every now and then.

10. Brainstorm Ideas

Another favorite of mine if I just have 5 minutes — I’ll break out my pocket notebook, and start a brainstorming list for a project or article. Whatever you’ve got coming up in your work or personal life, it can benefit from a brainstorm. And that doesn’t take long.

11. Clear off Desk

Similar to the filing tip above, but this applies to whatever junk you’ve got cluttering up your desk. Or on the floor around your desk.

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Trash stuff, file stuff, put it in its place. A clear desk makes for a more productive you. And it’s oddly satisfying.

12. Exercise

Never have time to exercise? 10 minutes is enough to get off some pushups and crunches. Do that 2 to 3 times a day, and you’ve got a fit new you.

13. Take a Walk

This is another form of exercise that doesn’t take long, and you can do it anywhere. Even more important, it’s a good way to stretch your legs from sitting at your desk too long.

It also gets your creative juices flowing. If you’re ever stuck for ideas, taking a walk is a good way to get unstuck.

14. Follow up

Keep a follow-up list for everything you’re waiting on. Return calls, emails, memos — anything that someone owes you, put on the list.

When you’ve got a spare 10 minutes, do some follow-up calls or emails.

15. Meditate

You don’t need a yoga mat to do this. Just do it at your desk. Focus on your breathing. A quick 5 to 10 minutes of meditation (or even a nap) can be tremendously refreshing.

Take a look at this 5-Minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime

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16. Research

This is a daunting task for me. So I do it in little spurts.

If I’ve only got a few minutes, I’ll do some quick research and take some notes. Do this a few times, and I’m done!

17. Outline

Similar to brainstorming, but more formal. I like to do an outline of a complicated article, report or project, and it helps speed things along when I get to the actual writing. And it only takes a few minutes.

18. Get Prepped

Outlining is one way to prep for longer work, but there’s a lot of other ways you can prep for the next task on your list.

You may not have time to actually start on the task right now, but when you come back from your meeting or lunch, you’ll be all prepped and ready to go.

19. Be Early

Got some spare time before a meeting? Show up for the meeting early.

Sure, you might feel like a chump sitting there alone, but actually people respect those who show up early. It’s better than being late (unless you’re trying to play a power trip or something, but that’s not appreciated in many circles).

20. Log

If you keep a log of anything, a few spare minutes is the perfect time to update the log.

Actually, the perfect time to update the log is right after you do the activity (exercise, eat, crank a widget), but if you didn’t have time to do it before, your 5-minute break is as good a time as any.

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Featured photo credit: Lauren Mancke via unsplash.com

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