A few days ago somebody wrote a comment on one of my articles here on medium saying they planned to implement all my ideas from the article immediately. I responded by recommending that he only try to implement one of the ideas in the article. So it only made sense to do a follow-up piece on why you should only try to change one habit at a time.
Most research has shown us that it takes about 21 days for a habit to stick. We also know that we’re typically overwhelmed by decision fatigue. The problem with trying to implement multiple habits at once is that the attempt to change is so overwhelming that we end up not changing any of our habits at all. We’re back at square one feeling like shit, thinking we’re unmotivated and that we’ll never be James Clear or many of the amazing people he writes about in his articles.
A Note on Comparing Yourself to Productivity “Monsters”
In a recent interview, Ben Austin who also writes about habit change on Stop.Start.Do said he believes on some level people write about things they struggle the most with.
Believe it or not, one of my biggest struggles when I was younger was paying attention.
I couldn’t sit still in a meeting.
I couldn’t focus in class.
If a cute girl walked into the room I didn’t care what the professor said and the next hour was shot to hell.
If I was in one of those god-awful hotel ballrooms at a conference, all I could think about was when the day was over so I could go to happy hour.
This was all before the era of smartphones. Given my capacity for distraction, I have to take measures that are probably more extreme than the average person. And paradoxically, most of the body of work I’ve been building here on Medium has been around focus, deep work, and habits.
Bridging the Gap Between You and Your Ideal Self
In our heads, we all have an ideal version ourselves.
The one that wakes up at 5am meditates, doesn’t get pissed off in traffic, is charming, charismatic, seductive, athletic and poetic. That one that could build a unicorn while flying a Pegasus. Kind of like Bradley Cooper in the movie Limitless.
In an attempt to become the ideal version of ourselves, we make New Year’s resolutions to go to the gym every day, eat vegetables, drink less, lose weight, or whatever your version is. We try to change multiple habits at once only to say “to hell with it, this is too hard.” The solution to this: Change only one habit a time.
Make it Easy for Yourself to Succeed
Let’s say you’re somebody who hardly ever works out. If you decide that you’re going to start working out for an hour every day, the odds of failure are high.
Your best bet is to just put your shoes on and drive to the gym. Make that your habit first. Once you’re in the parking lot you’ll be tempted to go in. Once you set foot in the gym you’ll likely workout. But your only goal each day is to drive to the gym. That’s it.
Another one I get asked about regularly is writing. Much like going to the gym you have to make it easy for yourself to succeed.
Don’t try to write 1000 words.
Don’t try to write a book.
Make the habit idiot proof. Commit to simply opening a notebook. Once you open the notebook you might as well write. In that sense, it’s a lot like going to the gym.
If you can succeed in changing one habit, you’ll start to believe that you’re capable of change which will eventually create a ripple in all your other habits.
If you’re interested in a more insightful discussion on habits, check out these two interviews from Unmistakable Creative.