#021: Forget Goals! Focus on Habits Instead (Pt. 2 of 2)

Summary: This week's podcast is the last part of an important discussion on habit development techniques. I've brought in my colleague James Clear, who will delve deeper into the topic.

In the previous episode, I shared my recent experiments with habit development techniques ... and why I'm getting away from traditional goal setting.

Today's show is the second part of this important discussion. I've brought in my colleague James Clear to delve deeper into the topic.

James has done extensive research in the area of habits. He's also transformed his business and his life as a result of implementing cutting-edge yet simple habit-building techniques.

In this interview, we discuss James' 5-step habit building system, including:

  • Why it works
  • How to implement these steps
  • What to do when you slip
  • And how to develop and maintain long-term momentum

This is fascinating information you can put into practice immediately. And if you're participating in my 30-day "mini habit" challenge, I bet it will help you stay on track and keep you motivated.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

You've written extensively about habits. Why are you so passionate about this topic?

James’ background as an athlete taught him how practice and commitment can change outcomes.

His interest in behavioral psychology grew from his experience as an entrepreneur. He wanted to understand his customers better; and he ended up applying what he learned to writing and sports.

Which plays a greater role: inborn talent or habit?

It’s a mix of the two. Angela Duckworth’s research has found that about 30-percent of our capabilities is determined by genetics. But 70-percent comes from things within our control, such as education, practice and commitment.

About 40-percent of our behaviors are habitual. Are you making the most of these routines? Are your habits positive or negative?

Walk us through the steps you've developed to make habits stick

1. Start with something small.

Motivation and willpower are fickle. Start with something so small that even when you’re exhausted and your motivation ebbs, you can still do it.

clicktotweet Reduce the number of decisions you have to make in a day. "Decision fatigue" drains your willpower.

We often start with the result, e.g. “I want to lose 20 lbs. in the next six months.” But the results are only possible if you’re doing the habit. It’s better to ignore the results and focus on the habit, e.g. “I’m the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts.”

Motivation often comes after we start, not before. Once you get started, it’s easier to follow through.

Is it a good idea to set a goal for the outcome?

It’s great to have a vision and know where you’re going. But it’s less useful to try and predict outcomes. Focus on committing to the system, not the outcome.

What are the next steps?

2. Increase the habit in small increments.

Once you’ve built the routine of doing something consistently, increase the habit in tiny increments. This gives you the capacity to continue the habit when it starts to get hard.

clicktotweet Good habits are the result of many small good choices made over time.


3. Break down your habits so they remain easy for you.

All these tiny improvements start to add up. Keep things manageable, by breaking them into smaller chunks that require less motivation to maintain.

When you slip out of a habit, how do you get back on track?

4. Develop strategies for dealing with failure.

People tend to approach habits with an “all or nothing” mentality. If we skip a day or two, we feel terrible and shift our focus to something else.

Instead of feeling bad, make it your goal to never miss twice in a row. Doing some is better than none at all.

Develop an “if-then” strategy to get back on track before you slip up. Missing a habit one day has no impact on the long-term success of your habit—if you get back on track quickly.

We don’t want to think about failing. But we’re going to slip up occasionally, and we need strategies to deal with it.

The final step:

5. Set a pace you can sustain over the long run.

Amateurs do things when they feel motivated. Professionals do things on a schedule.

Set a pace you can sustain. Build in recovery time to make your habit more sustainable.

What do you say to listeners who’re inspired to start a number of different habits at once?

If the habits are very small and you can make changes to your environment to support them, then it might be okay to undertake several new habits at once.

But if you’re trying to create a new routine (e.g. daily activities such as prospecting, writing or going to the gym), then it’s better to start with just one habit. Once it becomes part of your lifestyle, you can move on to the next habit.

Where can listeners learn more about you and your work?

James’ website: http://jamesclear.com

Download James’ free guide, Transform Your Habits: http://jamesclear.com/habits