James Clear http://jamesclear.com Why tiny gains make a big difference in health and in life. Sat, 18 Apr 2015 20:43:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Announcing the 2015 Motivation and Willpower Seminar (Live Event on April 22nd) http://jamesclear.com/announcing-2015-motivation-and-willpower-seminar http://jamesclear.com/announcing-2015-motivation-and-willpower-seminar#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 03:27:35 +0000 http://jamesclear.com/?p=9879 Today I am excited to announce the 2015 Motivation and Willpower Seminar, which is a live online class that I will be hosting on April 22, 2015.

Spring and summer are upon us and habits have a tendency to fade away when summer vacations and outdoor activities slide back into our schedules. It’s the perfect time to re-energize your efforts and learn how to maximize your willpower and motivation for the middle of the year.

If you’re wondering, “Is this different than the Habits Seminar?” Yes, the Motivation and Willpower Seminar is a completely different class.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before I explain the seminar, let’s talk about why you would want to attend…

How Willpower and Self-Control Impact Your Life

Here’s the deal: researchers at top tier institutions have been fascinated with success for decades. And this research obsession has led to one very clear conclusion:

Success and self-control are twisted together tighter than two strands of DNA.

  • One study at Stanford, which I covered here, has spent the last 40 years uncovering the link between self-control and success. The result? Self-control determines long-term success in life, work, and health more than any other metric.
  • Another study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania discovered that grit (perseverance toward long-term goals) was the biggest predictor of success for military cadets, spelling bee competitors, high school students, and nearly everyone in between.
  • Research from Finland has uncovered the importance of Sisu, a quality of mental toughness and willpower that is closely related to grit, for long-term accomplishment.

Here’s the bottom line:

The people who can master self-control and display willpower on a consistent basis are more successful than those who can’t. Simple as that. Success usually comes down to choosing the pain of discipline over the ease of distraction.

If you were going to create a seminar on one topic that 1) directly led to success in the real-world and 2) has been proven by academic research, then self-control and willpower would be the best pick. And that is exactly why I’m hosting the 2015 Motivation and Willpower Seminar.

The 2015 Motivation and Willpower Seminar

Why does understanding your willpower and self-control lead to increased success?

Consider the following examples:

  • Writers who have the self-control to sit down churn out words day after day will produce more work (and better work) than those who don’t.
  • Athletes who have the willpower to put in an extra hour of practice will outlast their competition on the field.
  • Managers who understand how to motivate their employees to deliver on a more consistent basis will drive results through the roof.
  • Students who have the discipline to study for an extra 20 minutes each day will get higher test scores.
  • Individuals who have the self-control to miss fewer workouts and turn down extra snacks will build more muscle and burn more fat.
  • Sales Teams that have the willpower to make more calls each day will end up driving more revenue.

The solutions to our problems are all around us. We know what to do. Now we need to know how to do it more consistently. This seminar will help with that. I guarantee it.

Learn More and Register

The seminar is on April 22nd. Early Bird pricing ends on April 20th at 11:59PM EST. (Use offer code: EARLY)

Click here to learn more and register for the 2015 Motivation and Willpower Seminar.


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How to Declutter Your Mind and Unleash Your Willpower by Using “Bright-Line” Rules http://jamesclear.com/bright-lines http://jamesclear.com/bright-lines#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 05:49:48 +0000 http://jamesclear.com/?p=9756

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”
—The Miranda Warning

IN THE SPRING of 1966, a man named Ernesto Miranda was arrested in Phoenix. The police had very little to go on, but they suspected Miranda of kidnapping and raping an 18-year-old woman ten days earlier. The officers interrogated Miranda for two hours and were rewarded for their effort: Miranda admitted to the rape charge and signed a confession paper.

There was just one problem. During the interrogation, Miranda had been alone and at no point was he informed that he had the right to legal counsel.

When the case went to trial, Miranda’s written confession was used as evidence. He was quickly convicted, but his lawyer appealed because Miranda had never been informed of his rights and thus, according to his lawyer, the confession was not voluntary. The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the decision, but eventually the case made it to the United States Supreme Court.

The United States Supreme Court overturned the Miranda ruling by a vote of 5 to 4 because “The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.” 1

The Supreme Court had just created a bright-line rule.

The Power of Bright-Line Rules

A bright-line rule refers to a clearly defined rule or standard. It is a rule with clear interpretation and very little wiggle room. It establishes a bright line for what the rule is saying and what it is not saying.

The Miranda ruling is one example. If a police officer fails to inform a defendant in custody of their rights, then the suspect’s statements are not admissible in court. Plain and simple. Clear and bright.

Most of us, myself included, could benefit from setting brighter lines in our personal and professional lives. Consider some common examples:

  • We might say that we want to check email less frequently.
  • We might say that we want to drink moderately.
  • We might say that we want to save more for retirement.
  • We might say that we want to eat healthier.

But what do these statements really mean?

  • What does it mean to check email less frequently? Are you going to “try to be better about it” and hope that works? Will you set specific days or certain times when you will be unavailable? Will you check email on weekends? Will you process email only on your computer?
  • What, exactly, is moderate drinking? Is it one drink per week? Five drinks per week? Ten drinks per week? We haven’t defined it, so how will we know if we are making progress? 2
  • What does it mean to save more? More is not a number. How much is more? When will you save? Every month? Every paycheck?
  • What does eating healthier look like on a daily basis? Does that mean you eat more servings of vegetables? If so, how many more? Do you want to start by eating a healthy meal once per day? Twice per day? Every meal?

It can be easy to make promises like this to yourself, but they do not create bright lines. Fuzzy statements make progress hard to measure, and the things we measure are the things we improve.

Now, do we need to measure every area of our lives? Of course not. But if something is important to you, then you should establish a bright line for it. Consider the following alternatives:

  • I only process email between 11AM and 6PM.
  • I enjoy a maximum of 2 drinks per night.
  • I save $500 per month for retirement.
  • I eat at least two types of vegetables per day.

These statements establish bright lines. These statements make action steps precise and obvious. Vague promises will never lead to clear results.

Using Bright Lines to Break Bad Habits

The examples I outlined above focused primarily on building new behaviors, but bright-line rules can be used just as effectively to break bad habits or eliminate old behaviors.

My friend Nir Eyal proposes a similar strategy that he calls “Progressive Extremism.” To explain the concept, Nir uses the example of being a vegetarian. If you were interested in becoming a vegetarian, you might start by saying, “I don’t eat red meat.” The goal is not to change everything at once, but to take a very clear and extreme stand in one small area. You are establishing a bright line on that topic.

Over time, you can progressively move your bright line forward and add other behaviors to the mix. (i.e. “I don’t eat red meat or fish.” And so on.)

How Bright Lines Unleash Your Hidden Willpower

Establishing bright lines in your life can provide a huge boost in daily willpower.

Here are two reasons why:

First, bright lines shift the conversation in your head from one of sacrifice to one of empowerment. When you don’t have a bright line established and you choose not to do something, the tendency is to say, “Oh, I can’t do it this time.” Conversely, when you do have a bright line clearly set, your response can simply be, “No thanks, I don’t do that.” Bright lines help you avoid making just-this-once exceptions. Instead, you are following a new identity that you have created for yourself. 3

Second, by establishing clear decisions in your life, you conserve willpower for other important choices. Here’s the problem with trying to make daily decisions in muddy water: Without bright lines, you must decide whether a situation fits your standards every time. With bright lines, the decision is made ahead of time. Because of this, you are less likely to suffer from decision fatigue and more likely to have willpower left over for work, relationships, and other health habits.

P.S. New! The 2015 Motivation and Willpower Seminar

I’m hosting a live online seminar about the science of motivation and willpower. Just like this article, the seminar will be filled with practical strategies for boosting your willpower and delivering more consistent performances.

I’ll have full details coming later this week, but if you know you want to join, feel free to grab an early bird ticket here.

  1. Ernesto Miranda didn’t escape prison for long. He was soon sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison for a robbery he committed during a separate crime.

  2. I want to give credit to Brian Johnson for originally developing this drinking example and for sparking my research on bright-line rules, which led to this article. Thanks Brian!

  3. Related reading: How to Say No, Resist Temptation, and Stick to Your Health Goals

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How to Stick With Good Habits Every Day by Using the “Paper Clip Strategy” http://jamesclear.com/paper-clips http://jamesclear.com/paper-clips#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 10:00:33 +0000 http://jamesclear.com/?p=9447 In 1993, a bank in Abbotsford, Canada hired a 23-year-old stock broker named Trent Dyrsmid.

Dyrsmid was a rookie so nobody at the firm expected too much of his performance. Moreover, Abbotsford was still a relatively small suburb back then, tucked away in the shadow of nearby Vancouver where most of the big business deals were being made. The first popular email services like AOL and Hotmail wouldn’t arrive for another two or three years. Geography still played a large role in business success and Abbotsford wasn’t exactly the home of blockbuster deals.

And yet, despite his disadvantages, Dyrsmid made immediate progress as a stock broker thanks to a simple and relentless habit that he used each day.

On his desk, he placed two jars. One was filled with 120 paper clips. The other was empty. This is when the habit started.

“Every morning I would start with 120 paper clips in one jar and I would keep dialing the phone until I had moved them all to the second jar.”
—Trent Dyrsmid

And that was it. 120 calls per day. One paper clip at a time.

Within 18 months, Dyrsmid’s book of business grew to $5 million in assets. By age 24, he was making $75,000. Within a few years, outside firms began recruiting him because of his success and he landed a $200,000 job with another company.

Habits That Stick vs. Habits That Fail

When I asked Dyrsmid about the details of his habit, he simply said, “I would start calling at 8 a.m. every day. I never looked at stock quotes or analyst research. I also never read the newspaper for the entire time. If the news was really important, it would find me from other ways.” 1

Trent Dyrsmid’s story is evidence of a simple truth: Success is often a result of committing to the fundamentals over and over again. 2

Compare Trent’s results to where you and I often find ourselves. We want to be consistent with our workouts, but struggle to make it into the gym. We know we should write more Thank You notes or eat healthier meals or read more books, but can’t seem to find the motivation to get it done. We’d like to achieve our goals, but still procrastinate on them.

What makes the difference? Why do some habits stick while other fail? Why did Trent’s paper clip habit work so well and what can we learn from it?

The Power of a Visual Cue

I believe the “Paper Clip Strategy” works particularly well because it creates a visual trigger that can help motivate you to perform a habit with more consistency.

Here are a few reasons visual cues work well for building new habits…

Visual cues remind you to start a behavior. We often lie to ourselves about our ability to remember to perform a new habit. (“I’m going to start eating healthier. For real this time.”) A few days later, however, the motivation fades and the busyness of life begins to take over again. Hoping you will simply remember to do a new habit is usually a recipe for failure. This is why a visual stimulus, like a bin full of paper clips, can be so useful. It is much easier to stick with good habits when your environment nudges you in the right direction.

Visual cues display your progress on a behavior. Everyone knows consistency is an essential component of success, but few people actually measure how consistent they are in real life. The Paper Clip Strategy avoids that pitfall because it is a built-in measuring system. One look at your paper clips and you immediately have a measure of your progress.

Visual cues can have an additive effect on motivation. As the visual evidence of your progress mounts, it is natural to become more motivated to continue the habit. The more paperclips you place in the bin, the more motivated you will become to finish the task. There are a variety of popular behavioral economics studies that refer to this as the Endowed Progress Effect, which essentially says we place more value on things once we have them. In other words, the more paper clips you move to the “Completed” bin, the more valuable completing the habit becomes to you. 3

Visual cues can be used to drive short-term and long-term motivation. The Paper Clip Strategy can provide daily motivation, but you start from scratch each day. However, another type of visual cue, like the “Don’t Break the Chain” Calendar that I described in my article on the Seinfeld Strategy can be used to showcase your consistency over longer periods of time. By stacking these two methods together, you can create a set of visual cues that motivate and measure your habits over the short-run and the long-run.

Creating Your Own Paper Clip Strategy

There are all sorts of ways to use the paper clip habit for your own goals.

  • Hoping to do 100 pushups each day? Start with 10 paper clips and move one over each time you drop down and do a set of 10 throughout the day.
  • Need to send 25 sales emails every day? Start with 25 paper clips and toss one to the other side each time you press Send.
  • Want to drink 8 glasses of water each day? Start with 8 paper clips and slide one over each time you finish a glass.
  • Not sure if you’re taking your medication three times per day? Set 3 paper clips out and flip one into the bin each time you swallow your pills.

Best of all, the entire strategy will cost you less than $10.

  1. Grab a box of standard paper clips (here is a cheap set).
  2. Get two standard paper clip holders (here you go).
  3. Pick your habit and start moving those bad boys from one side to the other.

Trent Dyrsmid decided that success in his field came down to one core task: making more sales calls. He discovered that mastering the fundamentals is what makes the difference.

The same is true for your goals. There is no secret sauce. There is no magic bullet. Good habits are the magic bullet.

P.S. The Motivation and Willpower Seminar

If you enjoyed this article on habits and motivation, then you may want to attend the upcoming Motivation and Willpower Seminar. It will be filled with practical strategies, just like the ones we covered in this article.

Over 1,000 people attended the last seminar and this time we’re going to dive into the science of what really motivates us and what you can do to strengthen your willpower muscle and stick to good habits even when you don’t feel like it. Full details are coming next week, but if you already know that you want to sign up, you can learn more and grab early bird tickets here.

  1. I was introduced to Trent Dyrsmid through my friend Nathan Barry. The quotes in this article come from an email exchange I had with Dyrsmid on April 1st, 2015 and April 2nd, 2015.

  2. Related article: “Everybody already knows that” is very different from “Everybody already does that.”

  3. On a related note, visual cues can also be used to provide fear-based motivation. I have heard of weight loss clients moving glass marbles from one jar to another for each pound they lose. Once you move a marble over, you definitely don’t want to move it back.

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April Reading List: 3 Good Books to Read This Month http://jamesclear.com/april-2015-books http://jamesclear.com/april-2015-books#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 03:23:14 +0000 http://jamesclear.com/?p=9507 Welcome to another edition of my reading list.

In addition to the books below, you’re welcome to browse my complete list of the best books I’ve read. As always, I only share books that I have finished myself.

With that said, here’s what I’ve been reading recently.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful by Marshall Goldsmith

Print | Kindle | Audiobook

The Book in Three Sentences: Behavioral problems, not technical skills, are what separate the great from the near great. Incredible results can come from practicing basic behaviors like saying thank you, listening well, thinking before you speak, and apologizing for your mistakes. The first step to change is wanting to change.

5 Key Ideas: This is a list of key ideas that I recorded while reading the book. These notes are informal and include quotes from the book as well as my own thoughts.

  • The higher you go in an organization, the more your suggestions become interpreted as orders.
  • You can’t control the outcome, but why wouldn’t you want to try to control what you can? Even if the cards are stacked against you in life your best bet is to try your hardest.
  • Create a list of people you should give recognition to and then review that list each week to see if you should send someone praise.
  • The question to ask yourself when making a destructive or critical comment about someone is not, “Is it true?” But, “Is it worth it?”
  • Forgiveness means letting go of the hope for a better past.

Read all my notes and takeaways here.

3 Reasons to Read This Book

  1. You’re already successful, but you’re know you’re not perfect.
  2. You already successful, but you think you are perfect.
  3. You’re serious about improving your flaws and you’re willing to take criticism and feedback seriously.

Buy This Book: Print | Kindle | Audiobook

The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life by Thomas M. Sterner

Print | Kindle | Audiobook

The Book in Three Sentences: All of life is practice in one form or another. Actively practicing something is very different from passively learning. You will never reach a level of performance that feels complete, so learn to love the art of practicing your skill.

5 Key Ideas: This is a list of key ideas that I recorded while reading the book. These notes are informal and include quotes from the book as well as my own thoughts.

  • All of life is practice in one form or another.
  • Actively practicing something is very different from passively learning.
  • Judging your work is wasted energy that can’t go into the work.
  • There is no point of performance you can achieve where you will feel “done”.
  • Make time to just sit. You need relaxing time.

Read all my notes and takeaways here.

3 Reasons to Read This Book

  1. You want to be reminded of the simple path to mastery.
  2. You need a wake up call on why practice is important and why you can’t just roll out of bed and expect success.
  3. You want to reframe your mind so that you stop obsessing over results and start focusing on the daily habits that will lead you to your goal.

Buy This Book: Print | Kindle | Audiobook

The Art of Profitability by Adrian Slywotzky

Print | Kindle | Audiobook

The Book in Three Sentences: There are many ways to make profit and it is unlikely that your business all of them. People will pay different prices for the same thing in different situations (think: Coke in the grocery store vs. Coke in a nice restaurant). Good profit models are easy to brainstorm and hard to execute.

Key Ideas: This is a list of key ideas that I recorded while reading the book. These notes are informal and include quotes from the book as well as my own thoughts.

  • Always do the math yourself. Too many people take numbers from unreliable sources.
  • There are 4 levels of learning: Awareness, Awkwardness, Application, Assimilation
  • Entrepreneurial Profit: Operate lean and avoid all the wasted resources that major corporations can afford to have. “We can’t afford to subside non-entrepreneurial activity.”
  • Installed Base Profit: Initial sales margins are slim, but money is made on the follow up sales. (Think: revenue from cars vs. revenue from car repairs.)
  • Local Leadership Profit: Be everywhere and then every store is like a billboard (Starbucks, Walmart, etc.)

Read all my notes and takeaways here.

3 Reasons to Read This Book

  1. A list of ways to make more profit for your company sounds interesting to you.
  2. You like being reminded of business strategies you should be using, but aren’t.
  3. You are an entrepreneur.

Buy This Book: Print | Kindle | Audiobook

How to Get Free Audiobooks

Listening to audiobooks is another great way to finish more books. Right now, if you start a 30-day free trial with Audible, you can get your first 2 audiobooks free. Audible is a great service, but here’s the best part: You get to keep the 2 audiobooks, even if you cancel the trial. It’s a no-brainer. You can sign up here.

More Book Recommendations

Looking for more good books to read? Browse the full reading list, which lists the best books in each category. I’ll be back next month with more reading suggestions.

Happy reading!

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The 2 Types of Growth: Which One of These Growth Curves Are You Following? http://jamesclear.com/growth-curves http://jamesclear.com/growth-curves#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 07:11:40 +0000 http://jamesclear.com/?p=9360 We often assume that life works in a linear fashion.

People will say, “You get out of life what you put into it.” The basic idea is that for each unit of effort you put into a given task, you get some unit of return. For example, if you make $25 per hour and you work for two hours, then you’ll make $50. If you work for 4 hours, you’ll make $100. Put more in. Get more out.

There is just one problem. Most of life doesn’t actually follow this linear pattern. Don’t get me wrong, hard work is essential. However, if you expect your life to follow a linear trajectory, then you may find yourself feeling frustrated and confused.

Instead, most areas of life follow two different types of growth. This is something I learned from my friend Scott Young. Let’s talk about these two patterns now.

Which one of these growth curves are you following?

Type 1: Logarithmic Growth

The first type of growth is logarithmic.

Logarithmic growth increases quickly in the beginning, but the gains decrease and become more difficult as time goes on. Generally speaking, logarithmic growth looks something like this:

Logarithmic growth curve

There are many examples of logarithmic growth in daily life.

  • Fitness and Strength Training: The “beginner gains” come quickly at first, but then it becomes more difficult to get stronger each week.
  • Literacy: Children and young students make massive leaps as they learn how to read. Meanwhile, college students and well-educated adults have to put in a focused effort to expand their vocabulary beyond commonly used words.
  • Language proficiency: Learning how to speak even a rudimentary level of a new language opens up a whole new world. However, there are only meager gains left for fluent speakers to discover.
  • Weight Loss: It may be relatively easy to shed five pounds within a week or two, but then the progress slows. Each successive pound of fat loss is more stubborn than the last.
  • Musical skill: Improvements come quickly for a novice guitar player. Improvements come very slowly for a concert pianist.

There are thousands of other examples. In fact, most skills (writing, programming skills, juggling, running, etc.) fall into the logarithmic growth category.

Type 2: Exponential Growth

The second type of growth is exponential.

Exponential growth increases slowly in the beginning, but the gains increase rapidly and become easier as time goes on. Generally speaking, exponential growth looks something like this:

Exponential growth curve

You will also find exponential growth opportunities in daily life (although I think they are less prevalent).

  • Investments and wealth: Thanks to the power of compound interest, your retirement savings start out as a small treasure in the early years, but balloon in size during the final decade or two of savings.
  • Email subscribers and website traffic: New websites receive just a trickle of traffic here and there, but as the weeks and months roll on those trickles can build into a raging river of visitors and subscribers.
  • Entrepreneurship and business growth: The assets that you build for your business stack on top of one another and revenue compounds throughout the life of a successful business.
  • Social media followers: When you only have 100 followers, getting another 100 followers may take six months. Once you have 1,000 followers, however, getting the next 100 may only take one month. Once you have 100,000 followers, getting another 100 probably takes one day. Your growth rate snowballs.

The Challenges of Each Growth Curve

Neither type of growth is good nor bad. These growth patterns are simply the way certain things work. However, it is important to understand the growth pattern of your task so that you can set your expectations appropriately.

Don’t expect exponential returns when you’re playing a logarithmic game. Similarly, don’t expect quick wins when you’re building something that has an exponential curve.

When dealing with logarithmic growth, the challenge is to avoid feeling discouraged as your improvements decrease. Improvement will come easily in the beginning and you will become accustomed to enjoying small wins each day. Soon, however, those small wins will become smaller.

Logarithmic growth requires you to have the mental toughness to play a game that will, by definition, become more challenging to win as time goes on. You will feel like you have plateaued. You will question yourself and your abilities. If you want to succeed with logarithmic growth, you have to learn how to fall in love with the boredom of doing the work if you want to maintain consistency as your improvements dwindle.

When dealing with exponential growth, the challenge is to continue working through the early period when you have little or nothing to show for your effort. Exponential growth requires you to be remarkably patient and diligent (often for years or decades) before enjoying a significant payoff. There may be 10 years of silence before you hear the sound of success.

Equally important, you need to give your best effort even when you’re getting average results. Exponential gains only result from sustained effort in the early years.

How to Accelerate Your Progress

Once you understand the type of growth curve you are dealing with, there are two ways that you can accelerate your progress on a given curve.


The first option is to break the task down into smaller tasks that can be mastered more quickly. In other words, by getting very specific with the task you are working on, you can increase the rate of growth (i.e. smaller tasks have steeper growth curves because they are easier to master). This strategy works especially well for accelerating your progress on tasks that experience logarithmic growth.

Smaller growth curves

Dave Brailsford’s aggregation of marginal gains is a great example of this. By improving every small task related to cycling by just 1 percent, Brailsford was able to guide his British cyclists to massive success. Mastering these small tasks led to incredibly fast growth.


The second option is to play a different version of the game. More specifically, play the version of the game that has the highest growth curve. This strategy works especially well for tasks that experience exponential growth.

Take entrepreneurship, for example. You could build a candle shop. All of the statements about exponential growth hold true for a candle shop. Given enough time and a good product, you could eventually produce candles at scale, develop new product lines, and otherwise build assets that lead to exponential growth years later.

However, if you played a different version of the entrepreneurship game and started a software company, then you may reach the exponential growth threshold much faster. There are a variety of reasons for this: reduced overhead and manufacturing costs, faster industry growth overall, higher margins, and so on. The end result is that both companies have exponential growth curves, but one has a much steeper slope.

Highest growth curve

The Bottom Line

Most things in life have some type of growth curve and very rarely is that curve a straight line.

Understand the type of curve you are dealing with so that you can set your expectations appropriately. And if you aren’t happy with the type of growth curve you’re on, then start playing a game with a different curve. 1

  1. This article contains many of my own insights, but I want to make sure that all the credit for the two types of growth concept goes to my friend Scott Young. I am simply building upon his work.

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Do More of What Already Works http://jamesclear.com/checklist-solutions http://jamesclear.com/checklist-solutions#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 05:34:54 +0000 http://jamesclear.com/?p=9241 In 2004, nine hospitals in Michigan began implementing a new procedure in their intensive care units (I.C.U.). Almost overnight, healthcare professionals were stunned with its success.

Three months after it began, the procedure had cut the infection rate of I.C.U. patients by sixty-six percent. Within 18 months, this one method had saved 75 million dollars in healthcare expenses. Best of all, this single intervention saved the lives of more than 1,500 people in just a year and a half. The strategy was immediately published in a blockbuster paper for the New England Journal of Medicine.

This medical miracle was also simpler that you could ever imagine. It was a checklist.

The Power of Never Skipping Steps

The checklist strategy implemented at Michigan hospitals was named the Keystone ICU Project. It was led by a physician named Peter Pronovost and later popularized by writer Atul Gawande. 1

In Gawande’s best-selling book, The Checklist Manifesto (audiobook), he describes how Pronovost’s simple checklist could drive such dramatic results. In the following quote, Gawande explains one of the checklists that was used to reduce the risk of infection when installing a central line in a patient (a relatively common procedure).

On a sheet of plain paper, [Pronovost] plotted out the steps to take in order to avoid infections when putting a line in. Doctors are supposed to (1) wash their hands with soap, (2) clean the patient’s skin with chlorhexidine antiseptic, (3) put sterile drapes over the entire patient, (4) wear a sterile mask, hat, gown, and gloves, and (5) put a sterile dressing over the catheter site once the line is in. Check, check, check, check, check.

These steps are no-brainers; they have been known and taught for years. So it seemed silly to make a checklist just for them. Still, Pronovost asked the nurses in his I.C.U. to observe the doctors for a month as they put lines into patients, and record how often they completed each step. In more than a third of patients, they skipped at least one.

This five-step checklist was the simple solution that Michigan hospitals used to save 1,500 lives. Think about that for a moment. There were no technical innovations. There were no pharmaceutical discoveries or cutting-edge procedures. The physicians just stopped skipping steps. They implemented the answers they already had on a more consistent basis.

New Solutions vs. Old Solutions

We have a tendency to undervalue answers that we have already discovered. We underutilize old solutions—even if they are best practices—because they seem like something we have already considered.

Here’s the problem: “Everybody already knows that” is very different from “Everybody already does that.” Just because a solution is known doesn’t mean it is utilized.

Even more critical, just because a solution is implemented occasionally, doesn’t mean it is implemented consistently. Every physician knew the five steps on Peter Pronovost’s checklist, but very few did all five steps flawlessly each time.

We assume that new solutions are needed if we want to make real progress, but that isn’t always the case.

Use What You Already Have

This pattern is just as present in our personal lives as it is in corporations and governments. We waste the resources and ideas at our fingertips because they don’t seem new and exciting.

There are many examples of behaviors, big and small, that have the opportunity to drive progress in our lives if we just did them with more consistency. Flossing every day. Never missing workouts. Performing fundamental business tasks each day, not just when you have time. Apologizing more often. Writing Thank You notes each week.

Of course, these answers are boring. Mastering the fundamentals isn’t sexy, but it works. No matter what task you are working on, there is a simple checklist of steps that you can follow right now—basic fundamentals that you have known about for years—that can immediately yield results if you just practice them more consistently.

Progress often hides behind boring solutions and underused insights. You don’t need more information. You don’t need a better strategy. You just need to do more of what already works.

  1. Although he is one of my favorite authors, calling Gawande a writer is a bit of a misnomer. He writes best-selling books in his spare time. His day job is working as a surgeon at a large hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Use This Simple Daily Habit to Add More Gratitude to Your Life http://jamesclear.com/gratitude-habit http://jamesclear.com/gratitude-habit#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 05:51:26 +0000 http://jamesclear.com/?p=9159 I have a simple gratitude habit that I have been following nearly every day for three years. I want to share it with you here.

First, let me set the stage.

The Minor Tragedy

The other day I ordered takeout from one of my favorite Indian restaurants for dinner. My family had a tight timeline that night, which meant we would only be together for an hour before everyone had to run off in separate directions.

We picked up the food and drove home, but when we opened the bag we realized that the restaurant had forgotten to include one of the main dishes from our order.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal. Missing half of the dinner that you bought from a nice Indian restaurant in suburban America is a classic example of a first world problem. That said, we had an issue at the moment. Either someone had to drive back and get the food while the others packed for their trip later that night or we had to settle for eating half of the dinner we ordered. It seems frivolous in retrospect, but this is exactly the type of little hassle that can ruin the mood and pull everyone into a negative spiral–especially when you are in a rush.

I wasn’t going anywhere later that night, so I volunteered to drive back to the restuarant and pick up the missing food while everyone else packed their bags for their trip. When I returned 40 minutes later, we finally sat down to eat dinner with about 20 minutes to spare before we needed to get back in the car and leave. Basically, it was a rushed evening.

So, this was the mood in the room–frustrated, rushed, and stressed–when our simple gratitude habit came to the rescue.

The Daily Gratitude Habit

The habit is super simple. Here it is…

When I sit down to eat dinner, I say one thing that I am grateful for happening today.

On this particular day, after the frantic rush of the evening, I said that I was grateful for a short shopping trip earlier in the day because it allowed us to spend time together that we didn’t get to spend later in the evening.

Everyone else contributed their own grateful moment from the day. And in those 10 seconds, the energy completely reset in the room. It was like we all breathed a deep sigh and said, “Ok, that was annoying, but we’re over it now. We live a very good life and it’s time to move on and enjoy the moment.”

Now, let’s talk about why this gratitude habit is so effective.

Why It Works

After using this mini-habit for three years, here are my biggest lessons learned.

  1. It is a really good idea to force yourself into a positive frame of mind at least once per day. Everyone has bad days and frustrating moments, myself included. But no matter what happens each day, when I sit down for dinner I am forced to think about the good in my life for at least a few seconds. The result is that there is not a day that goes by without me specifically stating something positive that is happening around me. Positive thinking opens your eyes to more opportunities.
  2. The individual impact of any one piece of gratitude is small, but the cumulative effect is huge. The power of this habit comes from a multiplier effect that takes hold after practicing it for a month or two. You begin to realize that nearly everyday is a good day (at least in a small way).
  3. You start to realize how insignificant monetary things are for your day-to-day happiness. The majority of my grateful moments don’t cost a dime: time spent with friends and family, something nice someone said, a good workout that day. That’s not to say money is unimportant, but there is something comforting in realizing that the moments you’re actually grateful for each day are free.
  4. I have stuck with the habit because it is stupidly small. I can’t name many habits that I have been able to pick up immediately and follow every day for three years. Perhaps the biggest reason that I have maintained so much consistency with this habit is that it is incredibly small. Do things you can sustain.
  5. I have stuck with the habit because it is perfectly tied to another behavior. Using the idea of habit stacking, I stacked my gratitude habit on top of my habit of eating dinner each night. It is so much easier to build a new habit into your lifestyle when you choose the right trigger.

Practicing Gratitude

Gratitude is an interesting concept. It’s one of those qualities that everyone accepts you should do, but that we rarely talk about how to do. It’s sort of like saying you should “live in the moment.” It’s easy advice to give, but you’ll rarely hear people explain how they actually live in the moment.

Gratitude is fantastic, but what does it actually look like in everyday life? When someone lives with gratitude, what do they actually do each day that separates them from most people?

I still have a lot to learn, but I can certainly say that my daily gratitude habit has made a difference for my long-term happiness. It has been one way that I have been able to live out gratitude on a daily basis.

Give it a try and see if it works for you.

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My 2015 Integrity Report http://jamesclear.com/2015-integrity-report http://jamesclear.com/2015-integrity-report#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 23:54:59 +0000 http://jamesclear.com/?p=9015 Today I am publishing my second annual Integrity Report.

The main purpose of my Integrity Report is to document the steps I’m taking to set a higher standard in my work, lead with honesty, and build a business that serves first. Integrity is one of those qualities that is easy to talk about, but much harder to live out on a day-to-day basis. My hope is that this report provides a reason for me to revisit my core values each year and consider if I have been living by them.

There are 3 main questions that I will answer in this Integrity Report. (You are welcome to replicate these questions for your own Integrity Report.)

  1. What are the core values that drive my life and work?
  2. How am I living and working with integrity right now?
  3. How can I set a higher standard in the future?

Here we go…

1. What are the core values that drive my life?

Here are my core values and some questions that I use to think more deeply about each area. There are some slight changes from last year.

Growth (Learning, Adventure, Habits)

  • Am I learning new things and exploring new places?
  • Am I questioning my limiting beliefs and trying to overcome them?
  • Am I building habits that lead to continual improvement?

Self-Respect (Authenticity, Balance, Happiness)

  • Am I living a balanced life?
  • Am I living authentically?
  • Am I giving myself permission to be happy with where I am right now?

Resiliency (Strength, Preparedness, Toughness)

  • Am I mentally and physically strong?
  • Am I prepared for unexpected challenges?
  • Am I actively working to overcome the challenges in my life?

Servant Leadership (Contribution, Dependability, Generosity)

  • Am I contributing to the world or just consuming it?
  • Am I someone others can count on?
  • Am I giving the credit to others?

These are just my core values, of course. Yours may be different. I put together a list of common core values, if you want some ideas for your own Integrity Report.

2. How am I living and working with integrity now?

Here are some choices that I have made during the last year that, I think, have helped me live and work with more integrity. I plan to continue my effort in each of these areas.

Sticking to my word. As regular readers know, I publish new articles every Monday and Thursday. That’s the schedule. That’s the expectation. And I stick to it. (Obviously, I reserve the right to change my schedule if I wish, but no matter what expectations I set you can count on me to stick to them.) 1

Maintaining editorial integrity. As of March 2015, my website receives over 500,000 visitors each month. Unlike nearly every other website of that size, I don’t accept advertisements or sponsors. I want your reading experience to be as good as it can possibly be and I am committed to not selling your attention to outside businesses. I lose money because of this strategy in the short-run, but I maintain editorial integrity and hopefully gain your trust in the long-run.

No strong sales pitches. I am beginning to expand the business side of JamesClear.com this year with seminars, speaking engagements, and my first book. That said, I never want anyone to feel pressured to buy from me. When I have something to sell, I’ll tell you about it, but I want you to buy because you believe in the products and the way I do things, not because I’m hammering you over the head with a sales pitch.

Giving all the credit away. In my experience, there are no original ideas. We all get inspiration from others and that’s just fine if we do it in the right way. As author Austin Kleon writes, “Creative theft can be incredibly positive, so long as it’s honoring instead of degrading, crediting rather than plagiarizing, and transforming instead of intimidating.”

This is how I like to think of my work: I discover brilliant ideas from a wide range of successful people, add in lessons I’ve learned from personal experience, back it up with scientific research, and blend it all together into an article that is (hopefully) useful and practical for others. I suppose you could say this is my unique style, but really it’s just made up of bits and pieces that I learned from others.

Here are some ways I have given credit away during the past 12 months:

  • I added references to a Sources section at the bottom of my articles (example).
  • I recently added pop-up footnotes so that sources can display inline as you are reading and not just at the bottom of the post (only works when reading on JamesClear.com)
  • I have begun crediting not just the image source, but also the original photographer for any outside images that I use (example).
  • I added a Thank You page where I publicly acknowledge the individuals who have influenced my life and work in bigger ways.

I’m proud of the work I create, but I couldn’t do it without the help of others. Life is so much better when you give all the credit away.

Using more inclusive language and storytelling in my articles. This was one of the areas I listed for improvement in my 2014 Integrity Report and I improved it! During the past year, I have written about inspiring black women (here and here), people dealing with schizophrenia and mental illness (here), famous female artists (here and here), forgotten female artists (here), Swedish entrepreneurs (here), professional athletes (here and here), ancient Greek heroes and Japanese Samurai warriors (here and here), and, of course, a few white dudes (here, here, and here).

As of March 2015, our community includes more than 140,000 people from over 100 countries. We are not limited to any individual status, race, gender, or background. I believe my writing should reflect that.

3. How can I set a higher standard in the future?

Now for the hard part. Where am I slacking and how can I set a higher standard over the next 12 months?

Write about long-standing principles. Some ideas are fleeting (think: your standard news cycle of hot-button issues) while other topics stand the test of time (think: true wisdom and timeless life lessons). I already skew toward writing about topics that stand the test of time, but I think I can do even better. What are the core issues that are central to living a good life? How can I focus on those questions in a practical way? I believe it is important to avoid playing to the lowest common denominator and publishing shallow articles with little depth of thought and few practical applications.

Stop acting like a victim and get ahead of schedule. Earlier in this article, I praised myself for sticking to my Monday–Thursday writing schedule … and I do stick to it. But nearly every article I publish is written that day. I have many lame excuses for why I’m not ahead with my writing. (“There’s so much else to do with the business.” Or, “My inbox is a disaster.” Or, “I’m always working on important things, so it’s not really procrastination.”) The truth is that I need to stop acting like this is out of my control. I have built a consistent habit, but I have not developed a philosophy of preparedness with my writing. That’s a problem because resiliency is one of my core values.

Communicate faster. Show up earlier. I don’t reply fast enough via email and I’m often arriving just in the nick of time (read: 5 minutes late) because I try to cram too much into too little time. Well, it’s time to get over that stuff. I get too many emails to handle myself, which means that I need to develop a better system for dealing with it rather than blaming the problem. Furthermore, I control my schedule each day and that means I have the power to schedule enough time between tasks.

Hire, hire, hire. Last year, I said that I needed a coach because it was hard to hold myself accountable with certain business tasks. Well, I hired one and it is helping. Now, I need to hire a fantastic executive assistant (someone with killer writing and organizational skills) to keep me on track as well as an amazing researcher–editor who would take joy in finding compelling scientific research and improving the quality of my articles. I’m still trying to play superhero and do it all myself.

Make my work more accessible. There are a variety of ways I can spread my message to an even larger community. What about reading my articles in audio format and publishing it as a podcast? People could listen on the go and the audio would accommodate blind members of our community. Or, I could have readers translate my articles into different languages. Offering my articles in Chinese alone would result in a massive new segment of people who could be reached. 2

Question my limiting beliefs. I wasn’t expecting it when I started, but entrepreneurship is an incredible process of personal growth. Simply put, we all have mental barriers and limiting beliefs that we need to get over. If you’re serious about building a business that reaches a lot of people, then you need to get over yourself, check your ego at the door, and realize that all of the excuses you keep parading around in your head each day are just well-dressed lies. I’ve made some progress in this area, but I have a long way to go.

The Bottom Line

In my experience, catastrophic lapses of integrity are rare. The problems usually occur when we convince ourselves to make a series of small exceptions or “just this once” choices. After a while, the little exceptions add up and you find yourself in a place you would normally avoid.

The purpose of this report is to hold myself accountable to those small errors, avoid the tiny lapses in judgment, and ask questions that will help me raise the bar. I still have a long way to go, but if I can maintain the things that are going well and commit to one or two areas of improvement, then I should be able to deliver an even higher quality of work to you each week.

In the meantime, thanks for reading and being part of our worldwide family. It’s an honor to share my thoughts and ideas with you.

  1. As my business expands, there is one strategy that makes commitments like these possible: say no more often. It’s hard to do and I’m still getting better at it, but it is much easier to stick with your commitments if you don’t get over-extended.

  2. This is probably a project for later this year, but I would love to offer versions of my articles in Arabic, French, German, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, and Spanish. If you are a reader and interested in helping translate my articles for a project like that, then contact me.

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The Goal is Not the Point: Choose a Path and Then Walk It http://jamesclear.com/treasure-hunt http://jamesclear.com/treasure-hunt#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 06:05:30 +0000 http://jamesclear.com/?p=8893 Imagine, for a moment, that your life is like a treasure hunt.

It’s not much of a leap, really. Like any good treasure hunt, you have a map to guide you. In life, the map is your corner of the universe. Some of the areas on the map you know quite well. These areas are the places and people and things that you’re familiar with and that are part of your daily life.

Other areas of the map are foreign to you. These yet-to-be-explored regions are home to the milestones in life that you can imagine reaching, but that have eluded you thus far. This undiscovered portion of the map is where your hopes and goals and dreams live. These goals are like little pieces of buried treasure that are hidden somewhere out on the map, somewhere that you hope to get to soon.

One day, a particular goal grabs your attention and you decide to set out on a treasure hunt.

Searching for Buried Treasure

You begin the long hike toward your treasure and encounter a challenge or two along the way. Already the actual path is starting to look different than the buried treasure that you had been imagining. Things get worse when you finally arrive to the spot of the treasure.

This whole time, you had been imagining a chest filled with gold. After uncovering the treasure, however, all you can find are a few scraps of silver and some antique relics. These items are valuable in their own right, for sure, but they were not what you were thinking about this whole time.

You say to yourself, “This doesn’t look like the treasure I was envisioning! I must be on the wrong path. I wasted all this time!”

After thinking for a few moments, you wonder, “Hmm… maybe I should switch goals? I bet there is bigger treasure elsewhere.”

Theory vs. Practice

I’ve certainly experienced situations similar to the treasure hunt described above. Perhaps you have too.

I’m talking about situations where the goal we were excited to pursue—getting a degree, starting a new exercise routine, making a career change—turns out to look very different in practice than in theory.

It’s natural to feel a sense of disappointment or confusion or frustration when this occurs, but I think the deeper problem is rooted in how we approached the treasure hunt in the first place.

Goals as a Compass

The problem with a treasure hunt is that most people spend all of their time thinking about the treasure. The fastest way to get to a particular spot, however, is to set your compass and start walking.

The idea here is to commit to your goal with the utmost conviction. Develop a clear, single-minded focus for where you are headed. Then, however, you do something strange. You release the desire to achieve a particular outcome and focus instead on the slow march forward.

Pour all of your energy into the journey, be present in the moment, be committed to the path you are walking. Know that you are moving unwaveringly in one clear direction and that this direction is right for you, but never get wrapped up in a particular result or achieving a certain goal by a specific time.

In other words, your goal becomes your compass, not your buried treasure. The goal is your direction, not your destination. The goal is a mission that you are on, a path that you follow. Whatever comes from that path—whatever treasure you happen to find along this journey—well, that’s just fine. It is the commitment to walking the path that matters.

“Letting go of how it might come to pass.”

As far as I can tell, [success] is just about letting the universe know what you want and working toward it, while letting go of how it might come to pass. Your job is not to figure out how it’s going to happen for you, but to open the door in your head and when the doors open in real life, just walk through it. Don’t worry if you miss your cue. There will always be another door opening.
–Jim Carrey 1

Choose your goals and then forget them. Set them on a shelf. Trust that your direction is true and pour your energy into walking the path. Good goals provide direction to your life. They allow you to commit to a journey. They are like a rudder on a boat, directing your energy and attention in specific direction as you move downstream.

We all have a map to explore. Choose a path and then walk it. 2

  1. This quote is from Carrey’s popular commencement speech for the Maharishi University of Management.

  2. Thanks to Charlie Gilkey for prompting ideas of the known and unknown portions of our universe, to Thomas Sterner for originally sharing the idea that goals can be like the rudder on a boat in his book The Practicing Mind, and to reader Ryan Song for sharing the Jim Carrey quote.

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Your First Choice is Rarely the Optimal Choice: 5 Lessons on Being Wrong http://jamesclear.com/first-choice http://jamesclear.com/first-choice#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 06:18:06 +0000 http://jamesclear.com/?p=8710 As a rule, we are incredibly hard on ourselves when it comes to making big decisions in life.

  • If our first five relationships end with a break up, we think we’re destined to be alone forever.
  • If we go to school, get a degree, and spend years training for a job that we end up hating, we feel like a failure for not having it all figured out.
  • If we have a dream of writing a book or starting a non-profit or creating something of value and we stumble on the first try, we say that we’re not cut out for this.

In cases like these, when we are attempting to do something that is complex and multi-faceted, I believe that being wrong is actually a sign that you’re doing something right.

Here’s why…

First Choice vs. Optimal Choice

For some reason, we often expect our first choice to be the optimal choice. However, it’s actually quite normal for your first attempt to be incorrect or wrong. This is especially true of the major decisions that we make in life.

For example…

  1. Finding the right person to marry. Think of the first person you dated. Would this person have been the best choice for your life partner? Go even further back and imagine the first person you had a crush on. Finding a great partner is complicated and expecting yourself to get it right on the first try is unreasonable. It’s rare that the first one would be the one.
  2. Choosing your career. What is the likelihood that your 22-year-old self could optimally choose the career that is best for you at 40 years old? Or 30 years old? Or even 25 years old? Consider how much you have learned about yourself since that time. There is a lot of change and growth that happens during life. There is no reason to believe that your life’s work should be easily determined when you graduate.
  3. Starting a business. It is unlikely that your first business idea will be your best one. It probably won’t even be a good one. This is the reality of entrepreneurship. (My first business idea lost $1,400. #winning)

When it comes to complex issues like determining the values you want in a partner or selecting the path of your career, your first attempt will rarely lead to the optimal solution.

5 Lessons On Being Wrong

Being wrong isn’t as bad as we make it out to be. I have made many mistakes and I have discovered five major lessons from my experiences.

1. Choices that seem poor in hindsight are an indication of growth, not self-worth or intelligence. When you look back on your choices from a year ago, you should always hope to find a few decisions that seem stupid now because that means you are growing. If you only live in the safety zone where you know you can’t mess up, then you’ll never unleash your true potential. If you know enough about something to make the optimal decision on the first try, then you’re not challenging yourself.

2. Given that your first choice is likely to be wrong, the best thing you can do is get started. The faster you learn from being wrong, the sooner you can discover what is right. For complex situations like relationships or entrepreneurship, you literally have to start before you feel ready because it’s not possible for anyone to be truly ready. The best way to learn is to start practicing. 1

3. Break down topics that are too big to master into smaller tasks that can be mastered. I can’t look at any business and tell you what to do. Entrepreneurship is too big of a topic. But, I can look at any website and tell you how to optimize it for building an email list because that topic is small enough for me to develop some level of expertise. If you want to get better at making accurate first choices, then play in a smaller arena. As Neils Bohr, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, famously said, “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”

4. The time to trust your gut is when you have the knowledge or experience to back it up. You can trust yourself to make sharp decisions in areas where you already have proven expertise. For everything else, the only way to discover what works is to adopt a philosophy of experimentation.

5. The fact that failure will happen is not an excuse for expecting to fail. There is no reason to be depressed or give up simply because you will make a few wrong choices. Even more crucial, you must try your best every time because it is the effort and the practice that drives the learning process. They are essential, even if you fail. Realize that no single choice is destined to fail, but that occasional failure is the cost you have to pay if you want to be right. Expect to win and play like it from the outset.

Your first choice is rarely the optimal choice. Make it now, stop judging yourself, and start growing.

  1. I believe that this is also one of the reasons why history repeats itself. There are many situations that simply have to be experienced to be understood. Even if you read the opinion of every expert in a field, the only way to make progress in your own life is to experiment. Of course, not all experiments go to plan and, as a result, the same mistakes are made over and over again as each person goes through the process of finding their own way.

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