What are your habits?
The answer to that question will determine your level of success in the future.
Many years ago, Aristotle said:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
If you work out like an athlete every single day, you will eventually reach the physical condition of an athlete. If you very work hard every day, you will eventually achieve the success that hard-working people achieve. If on the other hand you are lazy, lack courage, and give up too easily, you will become what such people usually become: unsuccessful.
Simply put, habits lay the foundation for your future self. What you do today will strongly affect who you are tomorrow. It won’t happen overnight, life is a marathon, not a sprint. But the quality of your habits will catch up to you. It follows then that if you want to build a successful future, you need to build high-quality habits.
If building high-quality habits were so easy, everyone would be doing it. If meditating, reading, writing, working hard, while at the same time living a balanced life was so easy, everyone would be a rockstar monk tech entrepreneur billionaire!
While things aren’t so easy, we are lucky that other people have already studied how to build good habits. There’s a wealth of research and studies, particularly in the form of books that give us all the information we need to form great positive habits.
Widely accepted as the two best books about habit-building is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Atomic Habits by James Clear. From them, we can break down forming good habits into a simple 5 step process.
(1) Make it so small you can’t fail
Most people start way too big when trying to build habits. They set a goal like “get a six-pack in 3 months” when they’ve never worked out consistently in their lives.
That’s a failing strategy.
If you’ve never worked out consistently in your life, it’s going to be really hard to go to the gym 6 days a week right away.
If you haven’t read a full book in years, it’s going to be really hard to read a book a week.
It’s far easier and more effective to start small, so small that it’s impossible to fail. Take your goal and break it down into the absolute smallest habit you can possibly think of and start with that.
If it’s getting a six-pack, start with just 10 situps a day.
If it’s reading, start with just 1 page a day.
Those habits are small at first, but very easy to adapt to. Eventually, they will compound over time to form big, life-changing habits and results.
(2) Get compound interest on your habits
If you were to stick to those small habits for years and years, you would eventually get better. But you can accelerate your progress even more by getting compound interest on them.
If you are able to improve your performance on a habit by 1% every single day, by the end of the year, you would have improved by 37%. After 2 years, you’re 1,427% better. After 3 years, 53,939% better…. you get the idea.
Look for ways that you can improve your habits every single day by just 1%.
Add 1 situp every day.
Add 1 extra page of reading every day.
Adding 1% is small in the short term. But after months and years, it stacks up like crazy with the power of compound interest. Eventually, your habits become unbreakable and you become UNSTOPPABLE.
(3) Break the big ones down as you grow
As you can tell, compound interest is your best friend with habits. Eventually, your habits will reach a bigger mega-size.
500 situps per day.
100 pages of reading per day.
As you grow, you’ll want to break your big habits down into a few smaller ones to make things easier.
Split up your 500 situps per day into 10 sets of 50.
Split up your 100 pages of reading per day into 50 pages in the morning and 50 pages in the evening.
You may also get to the point of diminishing. Doing 500 situps a day and 100 pages of reading is a lot, you might not even have the time for it. So you can mix things up a bit. Throw in some push-ups to add variety to your workouts. Read a different book or an audiobook, or take up a different learning habit entirely like going to conferences or taking online courses. You’re still continuing your habit, but you’re also finding new ways to get the most out of it.
(4) Never miss twice
Don’t be too hard on yourself.
There WILL be times where you make a mistake and forget to do your situps or are too busy to read.
That’s totally OK!
Remember, we’re in a marathon, not a sprint. The only thing you need to do is to keep going. Just try to never miss twice.
If you missed a workout or reading session, try to figure out why you missed it and then get it the next day. The number is not exactly important, you might even miss 3 or 4 days in a row. The important thing to remember is that missing those days doesn’t mean failure. You’re on a long journey, failure is OK. Just look at what happened, see how you can improve, and keep moving forward.
(5) Find a sustainable pace
Habits can take weeks or months to build, and that’s really the point. You’re building your future’s foundation. It needs to be strong. Strong things take time to build.
With that being said, you don’t want to tire yourself out too early.
Find a sustainable pace that you can stick to for a long period of time.
Don’t go full throttle 100% effort, trying to form 10 habits in a week.
Go at 80%. Find a balance.
Staying at 80% for a long time will be a lot more sustainable and frankly more enjoyable than going at 100% and crashing. You’ll be living a more balanced life and having more consistent progress.
You’re playing the long game here and things will take time.
But as you can see, even the tiniest 1% per day progress makes a big deal in the long run.
Start slow, stay consistent, and compound that interest over time. Eventually, you will build the future you so desire with the habits you start today.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Atomic Habits by James Clear