The very first thing you need under your belt before you can become a top performer, in what ever field you work, a sport or personal endeavor, is how to create good habits. Without the ability to create good habits and having good habits, you are flying blind. Top performers are there because they’ve already done the requisite work, built the skill and the muscle memory necessary to achieve great things. They didn’t land on great, they became great through the development of good habits.
This mini course is all about creating good habits. You could use it to create bad habits, but that would be stupid, that’s why I don’t call it just creating habits, because then it gives too much leeway. Only good habits are worth doing, so that’s the path you are about to learn.
So, what is the good way?
You start with the basics and work up from there.
How long does it take to develop a good habit?
Some research says 66 days, but doing 30 days works for the vast majority.
Can I develop more than one habit at a time?
Yes, but I wouldn’t recommend you do more than 2 or 3 at a time.
The 21 Day Habit Forming Myth
So you’ve probably heard a lot of pundits and performance gurus talk about the magical 21 days to form a habit. This was all started back in 1960 by a book written by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. In the 1950s Dr, Maltz was a plastic surgeon and he began noticing a particular pattern with his patients. he noticed it took about 21 days for his patients to get used to their new appearance, whether it was a new nose job, or even an amputated hand or arm.
This prompted Maltz to reflect on his own adjustment period to change and new behaviors, that it took about 21 days for him to create a habit. He wrote, “These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.” That quote is from his runaway best selling 1960 book called Psycho-Cybernetics. And that’s when all this 21 days stuff started. What people gal to see is this wasn’t a scientific study, just observations from a credible person, we seem to gloss over how Dr. Maltz was careful to say 21 days was the minimum, because even he didn’t know for sure.
It was subsequently repeated by every self-help and performance guru on the planet. People like Zig Ziglar ( I remember those cassette tapes), Brian Tracy and Tony Robbins. The myth perpetuated, and over time 21 days became the magic number. So now it’s universal knowledge that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. We all know if something is said enough times, even a lie, everyone will start to believe it.
The truth is that it is different for everyone, and highly dependent on the particular habit you’re trying to create. I would imagine the piano habit might take a little longer than drinking 40 ounces of water a day habit. 30 Days is average, and that’s what we’ll start off with, go longer if necessary.
How Long Does It Really Take to form a habit? Research shows on average it can take 66 days or two months, depending on the complexity of the habit and the person’s motivation. Here, download the research yourself.
Ok Lets Start Creating a Good Habit
Before we begin, let us realize that the research subjects didn’t have a method, they were given no instruction, other than to pick a habit they would like to create. The following is a method that uses psychological principles to imprint the behavior into your brain as quickly as possible.
The process is very simple. At first you’re going to start with an easy but essential habit so that you can get the process down. This habit is the genesis of all other good habits that you will learn on your way to becoming more organized and a top performer. So don’t take it lightly, and if you feel you have done a poor job after a month, don’t feel shame, just do the program over again. It’s vital you get this particular habit down, and the process that will get you to proficiency, or what we are calling here a “good habit.”
Step 1: Pick a habit. In this very first habit creation program you are going to pick writing down things you need to get done. In subsequent habit creation programs you will pick other habits. Don’t worry, for the first month you won’t need to actually do everything you write down, you just need to get good at writing it down in a very specific place or places if appropriate. In other words, some tasks that need to get done may be specific to some software system, and if that’s where you need to record it, then so be it.
You will find that your tasks can be broken down into many categories, the most basic might be work and personal, and within each there will be sub categories. This is not a problem. Try different ways to organize your tasks. It may take a few iterations before you discover a good system. But all this time never lose track of what the good habit is that you are trying to create…to write down things you need to get done.
Remember you don’t have to do the task, that will be part of another good task creation event.
Step 2: Pick a trigger. A trigger is something that you already do, or something you experience every day, preferably morning, that you will attach to the habit. It’s like the hypnotist and their key word that makes you cluck like a duck. You must find something that happens on a regular basis that will initiate your writing down things that need to get done. Repetition is the key, over time this trigger and the habit will get bonded in your mind and you will associate it with writing things down that need to get done.
The trigger can be anything, maybe it’s the very first thing you do when you wake up, perhaps it’s right after brushing your teeth. Or maybe it’s the moment you arrive at work, out in the parking lot or at your desk. It could be your first cup of coffee, or after you rinse out the coffee pot after finishing it off.
Step 3: Don’t break the chain. You can turn this into a game, like the Seinfeld Method (see my review here), where every day that you fulfill the duties of your habit, you can put a big red X on a calendar. Or any reasonable facsimile. Perhaps you can make it social proof by logging it in your Twitter account and letting others in on your task at hand, providing some social pressure or accountability. Maybe you can bet them if you miss a day, they get a monetary prize. Make it reasonably big so you won’t just scoff it off.
Do not stop the exercise until you can complete 30 days without breaking the chain. Once you’ve completed 30 days, you’ve achieved your first deliberate good habit. Now we have something to work with here. Let’s get onto making you a super performer!