Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day – Neither Are Habits

It’s natural for us to get excited about starting a new habit, especially one which can add to our lives. It’s also natural for us to want to go all in and do as much as we can in the shortest amount of time possible.

But there is a problem with this approach, we begin with the habit and within 2 – 3 weeks we stop doing it. At the beginning of the habit we feel pumped up and have all of this determination. We put in so much effort at the start that we end up feeling uninspired and burnt out to continue.

This is why people who want to lose weight fast end up falling back into old habits. We stop doing it because we haven’t strategically planned how to make habits stick for the long term.

It also doesn’t help that we live in a society that encourages us to lose X amount of weight within 3 weeks, build a business almost instantly or become a professional boxer in a year. Basically we have been conditioned to expect immediate results but life just doesn’t work this way.

All these people who have made massive amounts of progress and have reached great heights, have done so thanks to taking small steps over and over again. If you asked all of the top performers in any industry how they got to where they are now, what are the chances they will say “I achieved this overnight, or “I just picked up the guitar and became excellent at it?” … The chances are extremely slim.

It takes years and years of practice and persistence to become really good at something.

This is most likely how it actually occurred…

They decided what it is they wanted to become good at
They created a goal which they wanted to achieve
They figured out what the small daily steps they can take each day
Then they gave 90% of their energy and focus to the routine of daily actions
Over years of dedication to the process, they made lots of progress

Why is starting small the solution?

You might say – “Why do I have to start small? Will it actually make a difference? The answer is it makes all the difference. It’s what stands between us keeping up with the habit over the long run and stalling. Starting as small as possible is the best way to start because we don’t have to burn ourselves out by jumping straight into the deep end. And we can build massive momentum because we will create the mentality of feeling successful just by taking really small steps.

In the beginning, it’s not really about how much you do. It’s about maintaining the behaviour long enough so that it becomes a habit.  Research says it takes 66 days to form a habit which should then last a lifetime. So it makes sense to start as small as possible. How small is small? I’ve used this example before and I’ll use it again.

Start as small as possible with one habit at a time

Try this exercise and report back to me with your progress.

Whatever area of life you want to improve, let’s say your health, start ridiculously small.

Focus on just this area first with a new habit. Let’s say you want to run for 30 minutes each day. For the first 66 days, start as small as possible so it gives you the effortless willpower to drive you through.

When we try to bite off more than what we can chew, we automatically feel like a failure because we couldn’t manage all of it. It’s obvious why this is the case but we still beat ourselves up and quit.

There is a way to avoid this. And that it to start really, really small and build momentum.

As an example, you could start by running for 5 minutes a day for 66 days. Why 66 days? Because research suggests that it takes roughly 66 days to form a new habit. We used to think it was 21 days, but as it turns out that was far too optimistic.

Remember the point isn’t about how much we can do in the beginning. It matters that we focus just on doing the actual behaviour of running.
If we can be patient and determined enough to do this, we will create new habits with relative ease. Once the behaviour has become a habit, then we can think about increasing the frequency. It’s very easy for us to get impatient with taking baby steps and trying to bite off more than we can chew.

Until then though, keep it as small as possible. Once you feel that running has become an automatic behaviour, then you can include another habit you want to adopt. We can repeat this method as much as we want and it will always work. In fact it cannot ever fail us because we are building the right foundation to form habits.

If we have a weak foundation of getting all pumped up with the attitude of taking on much more than we can actually handle, then what does this mean to our foundation? It means it will crumble and give way.

So if we apply and stick to this better method then what you will find is that we will have a number of healthy and empowering habits to serve us effortlessly through life.

You see, most of us live negatively or unhealthy by default, thanks to our bad habits. By building healthy habits into our lives we can live healthy by default. Our default way of moving through life can become healthy and empowering. How awesome is that?

To summarise this article:

  • Start really small so that it’s impossible to not do
  • When we feel that it’s become a habit (something we do without thinking about) then we can increase the amount we do.
  • Focus on building one habit at a time so we don’t bite off more than we can chew
  • After a while of implementing this method, we will have a nice set of beneficial habits