Photo: NY Times

Small habits give a 100x return on your effort — here’s how to start

You have insider information.

You’re at your local convenience store, there’s a lottery for $5,000. Your insider information is that the chance of winning the lottery is 50% — the same as flipping a coin.

Would you buy a lottery ticket for $1? Of course, you would.

In fact, you’d keep buying tickets until you won the $5,000. (Buying 5 tickets would mean you’d almost certainly win.)

You’d be spending less than $5 to win $5,000.

What if the probability of winning was 10%? Would you still buy tickets?

You might — according to the laws of probability, you’d get the money if you bought 25 tickets. You’d only have to spend $25 to win $5,000.

This is what having a new habit buys you

And if the probability was 5%? You’ll need to buy 51 tickets. You could spend $51 and win $5,000. That’s 100 times your investment.

Would you do that?

It’s not even a gamble

Let’s talk about being happy. You can wait and see what happens, or you can do something about it. Either way, time will pass — the only difference is what you’ll have at the end.

A good way to increase your happiness is to make some small improvements in your life. And it’s not even a gamble. It will happen. And the payoff is huge.

The superpower you already have

Good habits are worth a lot. Here’s why:

  • Once you establish a habit, you don’t notice it. The habit takes no effort because you do it without thinking about it. It bypasses the problem of using up willpower (you only have a certain amount of it each day).
  • Over time, the benefit of the habit snowballs past all expectations (like the miracle of compound interest).
  • And the habit pays you back for the rest of your life.

Less work than you think

It makes sense that the larger the intended action is, the longer it takes to make it a habit.

According to one research study, it takes about 20 days to turn to drink a glass of water after breakfast (a healthy action) into a daily habit.

Taking a 10-minute walk every morning (which will greatly improve your life) will take longer, about 50 days — but it’s worth it. The benefits are immense — you will greatly improve your mood, your health, and a lot more, for the rest of your life.

Think about it

That lottery ticket: $50 to increase your money by a factor of 100.

A healthy habit: 50 days — less than two months — to significantly increase your happiness for the rest of your life.

There are all sorts of useful habits — some take seconds, others take a few minutes — that will improve your life, for the rest of your life.

Here’s part 2 of this article; it’s about a simple technique that helps you develop your habit much faster — and you’ll have your pick of 31 easy-to-learn habits you can try. It’s worth a click and a read. You’ll be glad you did.


Dear Reader, Medium’s decision to allow 1 to 50 👏🏽s is crazy. So I think of clapping as a 1-to-5-stars rating, with 10 claps = 1 star.

I clap 10 times — or 20 — for the articles I read. Not clapping at all feels bad.

Please help me out. It helps me reach more people like you. Thanks!

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Gregg Williams, MFT

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12K followers. Passionate about helping you become happier & lead a better life. Go to FindYourBetterLife.com — click Follow & you'll get everything I write.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +469K people. Follow to join our community.