It’s about engineering your habits
Habit is a cable; we weave a
thread of it each day and at
last we cannot break it.
– Horace Mann
For most of my adult life, I’ve enjoyed
personal development books and
programs. But over the past few
years, I slowed down in my
consumption of them. They simply
ceased to motivate me the way they
What’s more, I had begun to believe
that my own ability to execute on
ideas had dwindled to almost nothing.
It had. I understood that small
actions, taken every single day,
become powerful habits which dictate
the results we get from life. And while
I came to appreciate discipline as the
skill necessary to engineer habits, I felt
that I had none.
One day, I might decide to stop
drinking coffee. I’d go two or three
days without, then find an excuse to
drink it again.
A few weeks later, I’d decide that I was
going to start writing every day. Or
running every day. Or reading or
saving money or playing chess or
keeping a clean workspace or
following a schedule or walking my
dogs more or checking email less.
I’d decide to change something (or
usually, many things at once) and
implement it immediately. I’d tell
myself that from this point forward,
things would be different. I would be
And invariably, I’d quit the next week,
disheartened and frustrated. So I’d try
harder next time, with more
ambitious goals, more changes to
make, only to fail again.
This was me .
What was I doing wrong? Was I really
this powerless? Was this just a fact of
adult life, that real responsibilities, a
family, and bills to pay simply must
render one inept at changing?
If you can’t spot what I was doing
wrong, you’re doing it wrong too
Over the past four months, I’ve
changed more things in my life and
had greater control over my actions
than ever before. The results are
snowballing, and it feels like I’m only
gaining momentum. And because of
some of the changes I’ve made, like
getting up earlier, I have more time
than ever to change even more
I discovered the fatal flaw in my
approach. It was my very enthusiasm
to change which undermined my
efforts to do so.
The ingredient I was missing was
I didn’t discover this on my own — I
don’t think that would have been
possible, since each failure only led to
my doubling down the next time to
make up for it.
Instead, I learned about it last June, at
the first-ever World Domination
Summit in Portland. There, I heard
Leo Babauta (author of the
aforelinkedto Zen Habits) speak.
In my notes from his talk, I wrote
One change at a time. Five
minutes at first.
Never before had I encountered these
ideas. I had read many times that I
needed to develop discipline, and that
my habits would come to define me.
And yet I had never learned how to
change a habit.
All of my life, especially recently, every
attempt I had made to change my
habits had been a dramatic one. And
in concert with others, so that each
time, what I was planning was nothing
short of a life overhaul.
But you’d never try to run 10 miles on
your first day back after a long layoff;
you know that it takes time to regain
your fitness, and that doing too much
could lead to injury or burnout. Same
with the gym — you don’t go in on
Day 1 and try to bench twice your
And yet that’s exactly the way I had
tried to change my habits. My “change
muscles” were extremely weak from
lack of use, and I was blowing them
out on the first day by attempting too
much, too soon.
Every single time.
Change just one habit a month, and
in three years you’ll have 36 new
It’s about engineering your habits