I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time. — Charles Dickens
Building great and consistent habits is difficult. Breaking bad habits and sticking to new good ones over a long period of time can be insanely hard. It’s easy to get motivated but it’s hard to stay disciplined. Jim Rohn once said “motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going”.
If you’re trying to build a new habit, chances are you’re going to break it. Most of the time, “getting started is the hardest part”. And staying consistent is even more harder. A significant part of habit formation is having the mental energy needed to actually commit to the new habit.
This strategy was once known as the “Seinfeld Strategy”. But Jerry Seinfeld has openly said on Reddit that he didn’t come up with this idea. Regardless, it’s still a great way to stay disciplined and committed when you start a new habit.
The simple cross calendar approach:
- Get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. If a whole year calendar is too much to handle on your wall, stick to the monthly calendar. And get yourself a red marker.
- Choose your habit, starting today. To achieve consistency, choose a habit that’s really easy to start. Focus on an easy start and pick up the intensity as you progress.
- For each day you write even half a page of your next ebook, make even the smallest progress on your passion project, eat something healthy, read 2 pages of your favourite book, or do something insignificant to advance your meaningful work, you get to put a big red X over that day. You don’t have to join a gym yet if you want to exercise. Or change your entire diet at the very beginning. You can start with something small. Micro steps. Small wins will keep you going. That way you can actually do something.
- After a few days, you would have built a consistent chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. When you get a few weeks under your belt, it will feel good, especially if you stay consistent. Your only job is to not break the chain.
To maintain the consistency you expect:
Choose tasks that are simple to maintain and capable of producing the outcome you want!
Don’t break the chain, and you will build consistent routines that helps you achieve your long-term goals. Whatever they may be. You will probably have a couple of false starts but don’t let that get the best of you. Sustained effort over time makes the real difference.
Here is what James Clear says about the “Seinfeld Strategy”:
Don’t break the chain on your workouts and you’ll find that you get fit rather quickly.
Don’t break the chain in your business and you’ll find that results come much faster.
Don’t break the chain in your artistic pursuits and you’ll find that you will produce creative work on a regular basis.
So often, we assume that excellence requires a monumental effort and that our lofty goals demand incredible doses of willpower and motivation. But really, all we need is dedication to small, manageable tasks. Mastery follows consistency.
The idea of the cross calender approach to building consistent habits is to prove to yourself that you can stick to something small for the next 30 or more days. Once you are on a roll, mastered the chain and remaining consistent over time without a break, you can start increasing the difficulty.
Don’t aim for performance in the beginning. Focus on sticking to the chain. That’s why picking something easy helps. Because you can get it done without breaking a sweat. Doing something impressive once or twice won’t matter if you never stick with it for the long-run.
Micro gains, small wins. That’s the goal.
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