As an entrepreneur who has to juggle multiple things everyday, I find that it is very important for me to form effective habits on a daily basis in order for me to get things done. However, I initially struggled with forming habits, as the hustle and bustle of work and life took over, making it hard for me to keep to my goals. However, in true startup fashion, I started to explore a series of different experiments on what works for me, and how I can keep persevering in my habits.
Over the past 12 months, I have been able to keep to the goals and habits that I created for myself including exercising every single day, reading at least 1 new book every 2 weeks, and meeting at least 1 new person everyday. Initially, it was very challenging for me as I was often overwhelmed by the end of the day and just wanted to rest, or I wanted to sleep in later. However, through a combination of reading many different books, learning from other mentors, and a series of experimentation, I found a formula that worked and like to share in this article:
1. Be specific about your goal
You will need to be very specific about your goal. For example, here's one of my goal, "I will exercise every morning at 7am for at least 1.5 hours, starting off with a run". Here's another example, "I will read for 30 minutes before I sleep every night on my Amazon kindle". By being very specific about what you are doing, it eliminates any ambiguity of how you are planning to do it, and reduces friction. On the other hand, if your goal was very ambiguous such as "I want to exercise more". It is much harder to visualize yourself doing it, and hence chances of you completing the task will decrease.
2. Do it at the same time every single day
Surprisingly, our body remembers repetitive action very well. This is a function of coordinated reflex action. If you are repeating the same task at a specific time everyday for a certain amount, your body will automatically remember to do it. For example, I have been conditioned to wake up at a specific time every morning, and even if I do not have an alarm clock, I will automatically wake up every single morning at the same time. Also, by scheduling it at the same time every day, it ensures that you free up the time to do the task, be it reading a book or spending time with your loved ones.
3. Do it with someone else (who can motivate you)
This was one of the most effective strategy I used to start getting myself up early to exercise. I arranged to exercise with two of my neighbors who stays in the same building as me. I would arrange to meet with each of them 3 days each week at a specific time. Every morning when I get up, I still feel myself dreading to get off the bed, however, the thought that my friend is downstairs waiting for me, I will spring up from the bed and put on my running shoes. Similarly, when I ask my running buddy how he manages to get up, he said he had the mutual feeling that I would be waiting for him downstairs. Having a support group to motivate you to move forward with your task is essential and very helpful.
4. Make it fun
If you truly enjoy doing something, it will be much easier to keep doing it. For example, I enjoy writing, and I set a goal to write a new article every week. Writing to me is a way of self-expression, a conduit to express my feelings, and an avenue of communicating my ideas to the world. I truly enjoy it, and look forward to doing it. Many times, we try to get ourselves to learn something, for example golf, or Spanish, but we may or may not enjoy it, but are merely doing it because of a business reason, or because we are forced into it. In that way, it may be harder to sustain the habit, as you will find every opportunity to take a break from it, and delve into other more interesting or enjoyable endeavors.
5. Do not go 100% everyday (a trick I use on myself)
Conventional wisdom tells us that we should always do our best, give our 100%, and complete the last set of sit-ups. However, I found that by giving myself a bit of slack, and by not pushing myself excessively everyday, actually leaves me coming back for more the second day, in a more passionate and energetic method. For example, whenever I am in the gym, I will shoot to do 5 sets of bench press, sit-ups, shoulder raise and pull-ups. However, by giving myself some slack on the last set of activity, either by skipping the last set of pull-ups, or dong 30 sit-ups instead of the targeted 50, it makes me feel that I need to come back for more the following day. In essence, I came up with the strategy to execute 99% consistently everyday instead of 100%, but ensuring that the 99% is flawlessly executed.
A habit is defined as a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. Studies show that it takes at least 3 months of daily repetitive work before a habit is formed. Therefore, it is very important to just "show up" and actually execute the task that you have been wanting to do on a daily basis. Do not underestimate the importance of actions over words. If you are able to focus on consistently executing on a certain task daily, be it learning a new language, teaching yourself programming, or learning to ballroom dance, I am sure that you will be able to over time make progress.
Desmond Lim is co-founder and CEO of Workstream, an automated hiring platform for companies hiring hourly workers. He is a graduate of Harvard and MIT Media Lab, former product manager at WeChat, and investor at Dorm Room Fund. He is based in San Francisco and lived in Palo Alto with his wife and two young daughters.