Why Successful Habits Are About Structure, Not Effort

Full article from Fast Company can be found HERE

The number one driver of whether a habit change is a success or not  is how big the initial goal is. Because everyone, if they’re consistent, will eventually achieve something massive. But the people that end up failing are the people trying to achieve overnight success.

The idea is to start with something really, really small and let it grow into a bigger habit or routine. You could write your goal as “go the the gym.” Not “stay at the gym for an hour,” but just “get to the gym.” Put on your workout clothes. It’s not that you have to run five miles; what matters is that you just get your running shoes on three times a week. In a month or two months, you’ll be running as far as you want to run. That consistency ends up trumping everything else that you can do with goal setting.

You can be motivated, you can be able, but if you forget to do it, you’re not going to make any progress. Having a trigger in your life is a big part of that structure.


If you go to a gym, a lot of time it’s hard because you don’t know what exactly to do, you’re shy or uncomfortable around some of the machines. That’s why a lot of people get a coach at the gym, it makes it easier for them to get started. Then on the trigger part, you can link your goal to a pre-existing behavior.

For me, my number one productivity practice is to set priorities at the beginning of the day, before I get lost in the chaos that goes on around me. When I sit down at my desk, I set priorities. I’ve trained myself that that’s the trigger for this other goal that’s not as natural, but is actually really important to me. It was a major a-ha moment when I realized that productivity is about how important the things that I get done are. I used to count how many things I crossed off my to-do list. Now, much more importantly, I actually work in the prioritized order.

A common tactic applicable to any type of behavior change is picking a replacement habit. If you have a bad habit, the way to break it is not to just will yourself, which is a ton of effort, but to give yourself an alternative.


Study of Rich Habits vs. Poor Habits

I can’t verify the study, but more information can be found on this website

81% of the rich have a to-do-list; 9% of the poor do.

44% of the rich wake up 3 hours before work; 3% of the poor do.

88% of the rich read 30 minutes or more each day; 2% of the poor do.

76% of the rich exercise aerobically 4 days a week; 23% of the poor do.

70% make their children volunteer for 10 or more hours every month; 3% of the poor do

65% of the rich watch 1 hour or less of TV a day; 24% of the poor do

10% of the rich watch reality TV; 77% of the poor do

80% of the rich focus on accomplishing a specific goal; 12% of the poor do

79% of the rich network 5 hours or more each month; 16% of the poor do

6% of the rich say what’s on their mind; 69% of the poor do

74% of the rich teach good daily success habits to their children; 1% of the poor do

84% of the rich believe good habits create opportunity luck; 4% of the poor do

76% of the rich believe bad habits create detrimental luck; 9% of the poor do

Harvard Study: An Actual Formula for Happiness and Success

This isn’t just another feel-good chart or quote. Research shows that completing the simple tasks on this chart daily for 21 days trains your brain to retain a pattern of scanning the world for the positive, not for the negative. Dopamine has two functions: it makes you happier, AND it turns on all of the learning centers in your brain which, for those of you who don’t know, is pretty awesome.

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At this point, if there is any reader who still doesn’t see the benefit of this, feel free to watch this TedX presentation, which elaborates on it (and makes you giggle in the process, which is always fun).

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