I decided. From now, it’s time to drop the belly. I will go to the gym every single day.
The first day goes okay.
The second day is hard.
The third day you feel tired and the game is on… so you decide to skip it altogether.
By the end of the week, you are back on the couch with another failed resolution.
Raise your hand if this ever happened to you. I know that it did to me. Not once or twice, but a lot more times than I’m willing to admit.
So I went haywire, thinking there must be something wrong with me. Like, you can’t continually fail at building a habit and be it something else than my own self.
I was so wrong on so many levels. There are 5 big missteps we make when it comes to habit building that simply make us quit before we even (properly) start. If we eliminate these, we’ll be off to a great start and make a habit out of these actions.
1. Not doing one habit at a time
Do you know when we started to use the word multitasking? It was in 1965 when the word was first mentioned in the paper written by IBM.
Here is the definition of the word multitasking:
“The ability of a microprocessor to apparently process several tasks simultaneously.” The word apparently is important in the previous sentence. The paper continues:
“Computer multitasking in single core microprocessors actually involve time-sharing the processor; only one task can actually be active at a time, but the tasks are rotated through many times a second.”
This doesn’t apply to dual-core processing computers, but since we humans only have one processing core in our brain, we can’t actually multitask.
It’s like having a house on the seaside that your entire family owns. Only one family can be in it at the same time even though all of you own the house.
And screwing up multiple things at the same time isn’t multitasking even though most people call it that.
When it comes to habits and generating many great habits, we are like the Queen song. We want it all and we want it now.
Habits don’t work like that. The path to many leads through one and if you want to have 5 great habits in your life, you need to build them up one at a time or build none of them all the time.
Habits function on the basis of consistency, not intensity. So it’s about repetitions, not the amount that you do. That’s why building more than one at a time is a recipe for failure. You would need to change so much of your daily routine for a long period of time (voluntarily) to have it stick with you.
What I recommend is to do one habit at a time for a minimum of 3 months before you can take something new. None of that “21-66 days” time frame. Take 3 months and build a habit out of your activity, whether it’s reading, writing, gym, or working on your business before moving on.
This way you can build 3-4 new habits a year which is better than building none for years. We are playing the long game and we are looking for habits which change our lives on a consistent basis for a long time, not something to dispose of after we “hit our goals for the year.”
2. Not removing obstacles in the environment
You come home from work, all tired and exhausted. The only thing you want to do at this moment is to lie in bed and sleep everything off. But since you want to develop a habit of eating healthy, you drag yourself to the fridge to find something healthy to eat.
As soon as you open it, you scan the fridge and the only thing that resembles a healthy food are those two bananas that are starting to smell weird.
So you just go for those pop tarts and a ham sandwich formed from white bread.
Bye bye healthy habit, hello cholesterol and death at 57.
I know, I have been there in every single possible way. And the biggest problem why people quit building habits is their environment.
The environment is one of the biggest factors that affects our behavior. Yes, there are exceptions which prove that you don’t have to adapt to your environment and that you can still make it even if you come from a disadvantageous position (rags-to-riches stories), but we are here to make habit building as easy as possible and stack the deck in your favor.
The environment has always two effects on our habit building process:
It puts obstacles which prevent us from building a habit (unhealthy food in the fridge)
It removes the obstacles from our way which help us build a habit (no unhealthy food in the fridge)
Most of our bad habits are the results of poor environments where we picked them up in the first place.
If nobody in your family is going to the gym, then you probably don’t go (regularly) to the gym. The same applies to reading books, eating healthy, running, writing a journal, starting a business etc.
The way to hack your environment is to remove as many obstacles as possible from your path and to make the new behavior the only option to do (as easy as possible).
If I want to start playing guitar and want to build a habit of playing 30 minutes a day, the two things I will do are:
Unplug my TV so that it takes extra effort to turn it on (remove obstacles)
Put my guitar right next to my couch/chair where I usually sit (make it as easy as possible).
Environment plays a major role in building a habit, but not as much as the next point.
3. Not relying on discipline
“It’s not about how hard you get hit. It’s about how hard you get hit and keep on moving. That’s how winning is done…” Lines like these in motivational speeches make us feel great. We feel inspired, motivated, and ready to lift the entire world on our shoulders.
Fast forward 3 hours later…
We are still on YouTube getting motivated by motivational videos, using it as a procrastinator. Who here hasn’t done that? I know I did my fair of share.
But the problem here isn’t in motivation- motivation is great. It’s in having the reliability on to something stable and motivation is a fleeting emotion which is great but can’t be relied upon.
It’s like that one guy who stops by and you have an amazing night out by having a blast. He is gone in the morning and if you go out the next day expecting the same thing, you will be heavily disappointed.
To stop this from occurring, we need something to rely on. Something which is stable, consistent, and systematic.
Discipline is that one word we really don’t want to hear when we want to do something. It reminds us of drill sergeants yelling on troops somewhere. Who wants someone else to yell on top of their head. Nobody. It’s horrible.
But discipline isn’t that. Discipline is simply a system which helps you do the things you need to do even when you don’t want to do them. Hell, you already have a lot of discipline in your life if you have a job.
If you wake up every single morning and go to work, you have discipline. Nobody wants to wake up at 6 am to make breakfast and stand in crowded car lanes for 30 minutes to get to work. But you still do it. It’s because you have the discipline of waking up…. you don’t want to do it but you must do it.
And the best thing is that you get used to that. The more you use discipline, the more you get used to it. If you are motivated today to do your habit, that is great. On that day, you are building your “motivation muscle.” On the days when you don’t feel like doing it, you still do it because that way you are building your “discipline muscle.”
The more you train them, the better (stronger) they become and the action becomes easier.
So don’t rely on motivation, rely on discipline because that is in your control. But you don’t need to discipline yourself to do 4 hours of the gym today. You just need enough discipline to push a daily task.
You probably wonder, how much is enough discipline?
The next point covers that.
4. Not starting small
“I will run a marathon which is three weeks from now!” said every failed marathon runner ever. With any habit, the rule is to start small.
You might ask how small?
Let’s take the example of building a book reading habit.
“Small enough to do it easily every single day” will differ from person to person. Someone who is a slow reader and works 14 hours a day will make that 3 pages.
A college student on summer vacation can pick up 30 pages a day.
Consistency always trumps intensity and when it comes to habits, the amount of work you will do in a year of practicing a habit will 10x any effort you put in those five days of doing the habit. Do less today to do more in a year.
So take it slow and start small.
I started reading 20 pages a day because that was small for me (you will probably have different needs) and in one year, it accumulated into 47 books. That was more than I read in the past 10 years
The power is not in intensity, but in consistency and we know that by tracking our progress.
5. Not tracking your progress
When they asked Jerry Seinfeld what was the secret of his success, he answered:
“It’s a three-step process:
1. Write a joke every single day.
2. Mark it with a big X in the calendar if you did it that day.
3. Try not to break the chain.”
Some even call this “the Jerry Seinfeld” method. It doesn’t matter what you will use as long as you something. It can be a notepad, a calendar, an Excel sheet (like the one I use), or a Word document – whatever rocks your boat.
Tracking isn’t doing anything for your habit at the beginning, but later one it becomes a major motivator to keep the chain going. Tracking kept me in line so many times that I find it indispensable for building a habit.
If you would like to know more about building life-long habits, just leave your email here. I will make sure to send you some great material on how to exactly that.