Make it Impossible for Yourself to Fail

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When people read the story of how writing 1000 words a day change my life, some of them immediately try to adopt the habit. They do it for a day, or a week and then it becomes an afterthought. This is a bit like saying you’re going to run 5 miles a day when you’ve never run around the block. You set yourself up to fail before you even start.

A while back, I interviewed James Clear about what he refers to as identity-based habit creation.

One of his readers had the goal of losing weight. In order to lose the weight, he needed to exercise regularly. But to go from never exercising to making it a daily habit was too much of a stretch. So James advised him to change the goal from exercising regularly to driving to the gym daily and walking in the door. Once he walked in the door he realized he might as well exercise. By making the goal nothing other than driving into the gym and walking in the door, he set the bar low. He made it impossible to fail.

I didn’t start out writing 1000 words each day. The only goal I had was to sit down and get words on the page. If I sat down and opened a notebook, I considered it a success. Once you sit down and open your notebook, you realize you might as well write. Eventually, that turned into a daily writing habit. I try never to sit down with the goal of producing something amazing, and as a result it’s impossible to fail. Now, the only goal I have is to hit my word count. As I’ve said before, the secret becoming a good writer is to become a prolific one.

Developing Standards that Make it Impossible to Fail

In Tony Robbins Personal Power II Program, he talks about the standards that we set in order to feel successful. He tells the story of two of his seminar attendees.

  • One attendee says that “every day I’m above ground, I feel successful.”
  • Another, who is a company CEO says “In order to feel successful I need X% body fat and I need to make three million dollars a year.” At the time, he was only making a million dollars a year.

Often we hold ourselves to impossible standards.

Imagine waking up every day, sitting down to write, and considering the day a failure if you didn’t produce something worthy of being published in the New Yorker. Or imagine expecting to be in the same shape as an Olympic athlete after a week or two at the gym.Putting that kind of pressure on yourself each day will make adopting any new habit a struggle.

As counterintuitive as it might seem, one of the secrets of developing new habits is to set the bar really low, and make it impossible for yourself to fail.

When you set the bar low and actually accomplish what you intend to, you teach yourself and reinforce the idea you’re capable of change. You develop the kind of momentum that creates a ripple of change throughout your life

I’m the host and founder of The Unmistakable Creative Podcast. Every Sunday we share the most unmistakable parts of the internet that we have discovered in The Sunday Quiver. Receive our next issue by signing up here.