Get in the Habit of Setting Habits

Once you have an idea of your goals, you need to set yourself up for success.

I’m going to start by suggesting what this does not look like:

  • It does not look like you pushing yourself beyond your limits every day for the next six months.  Or three months.  Or thirty days.
  • It does not look like you depriving yourself for long… food, sleep, or otherwise.
  • It does not look like a single act of heroics, in which you accomplish your dream… while fireworks explode in the background, and a Celine Dion song plays louder and louder in the background.

If you want to give yourself the greatest chance of success, then make your approach look like this:

  • Small changes, only slightly different from what you currently do
  • Scheduled breaks from any changes or deprivation
  • Boring.  No fireworks, no music, and no single act of anything.

OK, most people should stop reading there.  See, we are conditioned (through movies, sensational news stories, and “a friend of a friend did _____”) to believe that accomplishing a goal is much like the first list.  So any idea that conflicts with that image will probably challenge beliefs and turn people off.  This is a much different approach.

I’m not against pushing yourself hard.  It’s certainly necessary to accomplish some things.  But for the majority of us, and the majority of your goals (like writing a book, or losing more than 5 pounds), pushing hard up front will result in short-term gains, long term failure, and discouragement.

The approach I’m recommending is for a new version of your former self.  A version that will be around forever.

If you’re looking for that permanent change, then try this approach:

Define the Habits
Define a habit you can repeat every day (or a few times every day).  If your goal is to write a book, then your first habit should be to write something every day.

Make the Habit Highly Repeatable
The more you repeat the habit, the better.  Writing 20 pages every Monday is not nearly as good as writing 3 pages every day of the week.  The more times you succeed at something, the more confidence and enjoyment you will have for that task.

Make the Tasks EASY
It’s tempting to ignore this.  Yes, you can write 10 pages of your first book in a single day.  And you can do it for a few days in a row.  The problem is that for each day you extend yourself, you are draining your energy reserves in order to get it done.  Eventually, you will put off writing for a day.  Then two days.  Then it’s next year and “write a book” is back on your list of resolutions.

This happens for two reasons.  Your energy to continue writing was way low.  And you pushed yourself so hard that your brain began to associate painful thoughts with the act of writing.  Combat this by making it easy and fun.  You will associate fun and enjoyment with writing.  Thus giving you more energy and more desire to write.  You can eventually build up to 5 or 10 pages per day.  Stephen King writes 10 pages every day.  What makes you think that you should be at his level on your first book?  Enjoy your time as a newbie.  This is where you get a healthy addiction to your goals.

Track Your Actions, not Results
Your habits should be based on actions required, and not the results desired.  Read that again, please.  This is the number one mistake in goal setting that leads to short term success, followed by permanent failure.

If you have easy, repeatable tasks set for one or more times per day, then you need to track how often you complete those small tasks.  Do not track the status of your book on the NY Times bestseller list.  Do not try to track the size of your publisher, or the languages your book is translated to.  These will be fun to reflect on; fun to enjoy.  And imagining yourself as a big deal can be motivating.  But if you set these goals and pay them attention, you will be tracking constant failure every day your unpublished book is not listed on Amazon.

Your actions should be tracked as a pass / fail every day.  Several times per day, if possible.

WARNING: corny but memorable fake equation to follow…

Tracking your Action = TRACTION

When I set out to take my body fat % from 23% to 13%, I set up a tracking spreadsheet.  The sheet was filled with gray zeros.  Each zero represented a healthy meal, or a workout.  When I did either, I replaced the gray zero with a big, bold, green “one”.  It may sound goofy, but that conversion made me really happy inside.  It reinforced that I was doing a good job.  It’s just like giving a dog a treat.  Except I was the dog.  And I was giving myself a mental treat.  Woof.

0   →   1

If you believe that the above will work, then it will.

Ignore your instincts that it’s too simple, or that the effort required isn’t “hard enough”.  These small successes will ensure you stay on the track of your goals, and you will not go big then fail.

Small successes are better than big failures


At some point, you won’t be able to resist the urge to measure your results.  Keep this at a minimum.  You’ll want to track 100 actions before measuring a single result.

Back to the weight loss goal.  If I track three meals and one workout per day, that’s four actions.  It will take 25 days for me to reach 100 measured actions.  Therefore the most frequent I should measure my body fat % is just that.  Once every 25 days.

I followed my own formula, I haven’t measured my body fat % more than once a month since I started a year ago.  I’m still on track, a year later.  With no signs of a weakened resolve.  And for those who think you need to push incredibly hard for results, my workout lasts between 20 and 30 minutes a day.  I enjoy it.  That’s why I’m still doing it.

Enjoy writing one page per day, and you can have a published 365 page book at the end of the year.

Enjoy running just a half mile each day, and you will have run 183 miles this year.

Enjoy cutting your calories by 100 every day, and you will have shed about 10 pounds by the end of the year.


Finally – I have an offer for you.

Post a comment below.  In it, specify the small habit (or habits) that you’re going to implement.  Be specific about them.  And I will make you a custom, spreadsheet to track your actions.  Complete with grey zeros and beautiful green ones!!

This Post is BobjectionableThis is a Great Bobservation! (No Ratings Yet)

Leave a Reply