What Is the Secret to Keeping up Good Daily Habits?

(Plus Five Steps to Realizing the Awesomeness of Good Habits)

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The whole secret comes down almost entirely to developing them in the first place.

Well, maybe a pinch of patience is also needed. Keeping up good habits is little to no work comparing with creating those habits. So once you have them, you keep them. It’s almost automatic.

You see, if you cultivate a good daily habit, it’s both smart and easier to keep it and enjoy its benefits than to quit and start from scratch later on. However, you must grasp the connection between your habit and its benefits. It’s very easy to discount your good habits if you don’t pay attention.

It’s easy to sleep eight hours a day and say you are effective, because you are such a cool person. But if you had actually measured your performance, you would have noticed in no time that you are much “less cool” when you sleep six hours a day.

The Compound Effect

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Another trouble with making this habit-benefit connection is that habits’ benefits are compounded in their nature.

It takes a lot of time to notice them, as it takes a lot of time to observe that a shoot sprouted from the seed. But unlike with the sprout, the benefit of your habit will not appear by itself. You must input your energy regularly to cultivate your habit to gain its advantages.

The good news is that it’s enough to make this connection ONCE to grasp the whole concept. When I started transforming my life, I wasn’t convinced at all that habits are the right vehicle for success. I was persuaded by a wise book, so I started several habits on probatory basis.

A month into practicing my habits, I measured my reading speed. It doubled! I had been practicing speed reading for only 10 minutes a day, and I was able to read twice as fast as a month ago.

I couldn’t put a finger on a single benefit of my other habits, like studying the Bible for 10 minutes a day, but I was convinced that I would see them down the road.

Once you truly internalize how beneficial and omnipotent your good habits are, they become addictive.

Thus “the secret” is to realize how insanely beneficial your habits will be down the road. Here are five steps to achieve that:

1. Extrapolate.

You are at the beginning; you don’t have a good habit. But you have your existing habits and life experience.

Ponder this: if you will continue living your life without this habit, how will your life look in one year? In 10 years? When will you be retired?

The Slight Edge chart; failure part

This simple mental exercise forced me to completely change my life. I extrapolated our financial situation and concluded that I would never enjoy nice things, great vacations and a quality life if I continued doing what I had been doing for years to come.

2. Imagine.

If you have a rich imagination (I don’t), imagine how your life would be if you have this habit. 
How much could you achieve, if you sleep regularly over seven hours a day and weren’t constantly sleep-deprived? 
How would you feel if you exercised every day? 
How much weight could you lose if you ditch junk food from your diet and introduce more raw vegetables into your daily menu? 
How would that weight loss affect your self-image? 
How would others react to it?

Imagine the end effect and all of its consequences. Imagine your life enriched not by one, but a dozen good habits. Get excited about the change that is coming.

The Slight Edge chart; success part

And imagine also yourself enjoying the process of building and practicing the habit regularly. Otherwise, you can lull your subconscious into thinking that you’ve already achieved those benefits. Remember, your subconscious mind hardly discerns between imagination and reality.

3. Prepare for the Long Haul.

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The only half-sensible research about how long it takes to develop a new habit concluded that it’s from 18 to 254 days. The medium scientists came up with was 66 days. It means that 50% of people develop a habit between 18 and 66 days, and 50% of people develop the habit between 66 and 254 days!

I like to prepare for the worst-case scenario. I have some doubts about the way the research was performed. If I were you, I would double their numbers to be on the safe side. Then, I would assume that you are the most habit-resistant person in the world and aim for the longest possible period: 508 days.

Repeat the activity 508 days in a row, and you can tell you have a new habit.

If you think with exasperation that 508 days is too long, stop right now!

Once you build a habit, it will remain with you till the end of your life. Do you plan to live only 508 more days? I guess not.

So, if you intend to live 10 or 50 more years, assuming that you develop this habit, you will repeat it thousands and thousands of times. 508 is small potatoes. The long haul, remember?

4. Limit Your Expectations.

It’s a part of preparing for the long haul, but it deserves a separate point, considering how often it leads to failure.

We live in the era of instant gratification. Everything is available right now, especially if you have enough money. But money is available right now too (credit cards).

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This screwed up our society’s attitude big time. It screwed up your mindset as well because you are part of this society. To make it even harder, instant gratification is something your subconscious mind grasps at the gut level. It knows only the present. Future is a foreign, misty concept for your subconscious.

You expect the results of your habit too quickly. After 18 days, not 508.

As I said, habits’ effects compound.

Depending on the habit, you may see no difference between day #1 and day #18 or day #118.

That’s why, in the period of developing your habit, you should forget about the results at all. Focus on your daily action and ONLY on your daily action. Do not obsess on whether you are getting smarter, more fit, healthier, lighter or more wealthy.

Focus on the process, and the results will come. Focus on the results, and the process will frustrate you to the point of quitting.

5. Track.

I’ve just said I want you to forget the results, and now I want you to track your results? Yes and no.

First and foremost, track your daily activity. You need a written track record: Have you done your discipline today or not? If your new habit is in any way countable, record your activity. Have you written 200 words or 250? Have you done 30 pushups or 43? Have you eaten two raw vegetables or seven?

My habit tracked in Coach.me

Only when you have a written track record can you see your progress from the right perspective. Not from the point of excessive ambition dictated by instant gratification, but from the point of solid reality.

Is doing 100 pushups in a row a big feat? Well, it depends if you did 99 yesterday or if that was a year ago. Your track record anchors your progress in time. When you look back at your performance a month ago, you squash the frustration and start enjoying the process.

You cannot enjoy your results immediately because they take time. But with your track record, you can see your progress, and progress is all human beings strive for. It will help you enjoy developing the habit.

Originally published at www.quora.com.