Building Great Habits

My 5-step process to build great habits (and break bad ones)

How was I able to go from being in a gym 0 days a year to almost 365 days a year?

In 2014, I didn’t work out or step foot in the gym for a single day.

A few years later, I go to the gym EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

My family and closest friends know about my unique gym habit, so they often ask me, “how do you have so much discipline to go to the gym everyday?”

I actually lack discipline - I think most people do. By nature, I am lazy and it takes a lot for me to want to go do something. However, I have a system where if I want to create any new habit or break a bad habit, I can do it within 3 weeks. I’ve learned this from reading and following many people who talk about productivity & effectiveness, but James Clear has provided the most practical advice on how to achieve the results you want and achieve your goals.

Here’s my 5-step system of how I build or break any habit and become “disciplined” within 3 weeks:

  1. Create a new identity
  2. Start with the first step
  3. Reward yourself
  4. Stack your habits
  5. Don’t break the chain

1. Create a new Identity

Changing your identity is the most impactful change you can make because it changes the way that you view reality, hence it has the deepest meaning and most sustainable change.

There are 3 layers of behavior change.

First is changing your outcome, which is referring to changing your results. For example, “I want to gain 10 pounds of muscle this year.” This is the least effective way to achieve your goals.

Second, is changing your process, where you replace, “I want to gain 10 pounds of muscle this year”, with “I will lift weights 6 days a week”. This is slightly better, but still may not be effective if other priorities get in the way of achieving your goals.

Third, which is the most impactful, is changing your identity. This means that you are changing your beliefs, your world view, and your self-image. This is about the person you want to be, how you view yourself, and how you want others to view you. Now you replace the above statements of achieving goals and creating systems with “I am a healthy person that goes to the gym and doesn’t miss workouts”. This is the identity that I created for myself. Your ego is tied to this type of statement and that is a powerful force.

Change your identity and you change yourself as a person.

2. Start Small

It’s January 1st. You’re excited & motivated for a new year and one of your top resolutions is to lose 10 pounds this year. You plan to work out for 1 hour every day. You go purchase a gym membership, buy the newest Lululemon gear, and go to the grocery store and buy the best organic ingredients money can buy!

This motivation and action will only get you so far. By the 2nd week of the year, work has taken over and you have a huge project you’re working on with an upcoming deadline and so you sacrifice all your health and fitness goals.

The problem? You created this huge program that takes lots of effort, planning, and focus.

The solution? Start small. If you’re not in good shape, just start with 5 pushups at home. The next day try to add 1 one pushup. The next day add 1 more. Start your habits very small and make them extremely easy. Push yourself to just be 1% better everyday. If one day you don’t feel like going to the gym, at least just lace up your shoes and walk there - if you still don’t feel like it then turn around and walk back home - at least you put in the effort!

Starting small and improving your habit 1% each day will compound to a huge gain in the long-run. Extremely small amounts of progress every single day lead to massive returns in the future because of the power of compounding. As Charlie Munger says, “Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Day by day, and at the end of the day-if you live long enough - like most people, you will get out of life what you deserve.”

3. Reward yourself

You want to make your habit satisfying. Let’s say you have a sweet tooth. When starting off a new habit, reward yourself only after you’ve accomplished your habit. For example, after you go to the gym you get to eat that cookie in your pantry. If you don’t go to the gym, you don’t get the reward. It’s very simple - reward yourself for a job well done.

I reward myself with cheat meals every Friday night and all-day Saturday if I make it to the gym every day that week. These rewards can be a very powerful tool to help motivate and incentivize you to build your desired habit.

4. Stack your habits

One great way to build a habit is to stack it with other habits. “After {current habit}, I will {new habit}. For example, you have a habit right now that you brush your teeth everyday. Use this to your advantage - “After I brush my teeth, I will go to the gym.” It becomes much easier once you do this because it flows as part of your daily routine & habits.

I make it a habit to go to the gym first thing in the morning. My rule is that I don’t take any meetings, calls, or check any emails before I go to the gym.

5. Don’t break the chain

A young comedian once asked Jerry Seinfeld if he had any advice for a young comic. Seinfield’s response was,

“The way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.

“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”

It is amazing how well this strategy works. Focus on this system of being able to have a calendar which you can Cross of an “X” every day you accomplish what you wanted within your system. After a few days, you won’t want to break this chain. As the chain gets longer, you get even more motivated to never break the chain. It’s an amazing psychological trick.

Experiment with these 5 tools to build great habits or break bad habits. There’s so much unlocked potential within each one of us that all it takes is a little action and consistency. You can even start now! Like, right now! Whichever habit you’ve been trying to build or break - I suggest starting with the 2nd step right now. Start small. It’s your time - go!