How to Start (and Keep) a Healthy Habit How to Start (and Keep) a Healthy Habit
The far better, and more encouraging, plan is to run a little bit more today than you did yesterday. Do a little bit more... How to Start (and Keep) a Healthy Habit

The far better, and more encouraging, plan is to run a little bit more today than you did yesterday. Do a little bit more than you did yesterday, even if it’s only a tiny bit more. Read 21 pages instead of 20 pages, walk for 11 minutes instead of 10, and so on. Incremental progress is the goal.

Incremental progress is part of the reason I don’t take days off from new habits and I recommend you don’t either, at least for the first 90 days. Your body could benefit from rest days if your habit is exercise-related, but don’t stop for the first 90 days. Depending on which study you want to cite, it takes anywhere between 60 to 243 days to build a new habit. I’ve had good luck with about 90, and strongly recommend you go at least that long on your first try.

On the internet of yore, there was an apocryphal story about Jerry Seinfeld supposedly giving advice to software developer and would-be comedian Brad Isaac. Isaac asked him if he had any tips on becoming a comic. Seinfeld’s answer amounts to, well, build a habit of writing jokes.

That’s fairly obvious, but Seinfeld had a technique. He reportedly told Isaac to get a big wall calendar and said every time he sat down and did the work, he should make a big 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 next is to not break the chain.”

Even if it’s apocryphal, it’s still excellent advice. It also sounds like something a Seinfeld character would say.

Try Reducing Friction Even More

One of the reasons we have trouble changing our habits is that we’re highly emotionally invested in the habits we have. I like doing nothing in the morning. I don’t want to read/workout/cook/etc. Overcoming this inertia and resistance to change is difficult, especially since this resistance is often not entirely conscious. 

This is partly why I have avoided suggestions about stopping habits you don’t like (grab Clear’s book if you’re interested in stopping a bad habit; he has plenty of good advice on that score) and focused on creating new habits—there’s generally less emotional baggage.

But what if you could reduce your emotional baggage? That way, you could stop focusing on specific habits and train your will instead. This is a common theme in older texts ranging from Catholic meditation guides to the New Thought Movement of the early 20th century. 

The will is like a muscle, and you need to build it up through strength training. I’ve seen countless versions of this exercise, but they all go something like this: Sit down in a chair facing a wall. Pick a spot on the wall. Get up out of chair and go touch the spot in the wall. Return to the chair and sit down again. Rinse and repeat. Most books tell you to start out doing this 10 times and work your way up from there.

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