James Clear http://jamesclear.com Why tiny gains make a big difference in health and in life. Sat, 23 May 2015 02:57:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 One Month Sabbatical: I’m Taking May Off From Writing http://jamesclear.com/sabbatical-may-2015 http://jamesclear.com/sabbatical-may-2015#comments Fri, 01 May 2015 04:00:00 +0000 http://jamesclear.com/?p=10105 As regular readers know, I believe that creative genius reveals itself when you show up consistently, put in enough repetitions, and focus on the system rather than the goal. This is one of the main reasons why I have published a new article nearly every Monday and Thursday since November 12, 2012.

But I also believe in balance, rejuvenation, and the importance of play and having fun. Recovery is non-negotiable. And for that reason, I’m choosing to take a sabbatical from writing during the month of May.

This is the fourth time I’ve done this. I usually take one break around May or June and one break during December. My strategy of taking one month off every summer and winter means that I have about 16 percent unstructured time each year (2 months out of 12). This is similar to the policies of other very successful businesses like 3M (15 percent free time), Google (“20 percent time” policy), and Treehouse (4-day workweek). The 3M policy famously led to the invention of the Post-It Note and Google claims that their policy has led to major projects like Google AdWords and GMail.

With that said, I want to say that it is truly a privilege to write for you and I want you to know that I will be spending part of this sabbatical thinking about how I can raise the quality of my writing to a higher level. You can browse the most popular articles from the first half of the year (and the full archives) here: Most popular articles and the full archives.

And wherever you are in the world, I hope you find some time this month to balance yourself and insert play and discovery into your life.

Thanks for reading. See you in a few weeks.

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You’re Not Ready for Marriage http://jamesclear.com/marriage-ready http://jamesclear.com/marriage-ready#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 06:16:24 +0000 http://jamesclear.com/?p=10070 Sometime in 2014, two famous men walked into a recording studio. They were working on a rap album, but at this particular moment they were talking about marriage.

The first man was someone you would expect to be working on a rap album. His real name was Olubowale Akintimehin, but he is better known as the hip hop artist Wale (pronounced WAH-lay). The second man was someone you would never expect to be working on a rap album, the popular comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

Wale was partnering with Seinfeld for his fourth album, The Album About Nothing. During this particular session, he brought Seinfeld into the studio to ask him questions, record their conversation, and hopefully grab a few soundbites for the album.

While working on a track called The Matrimony, Wale questioned Seinfeld about his thoughts on marriage. At first, Seinfeld talked about what it felt like to get engaged. He explained the combination of excitement and nervousness and helplessness that made engagement feel like being strapped into a rollercoaster headed to the top of the hill where the marriage awaits.

Wale paused for a moment, looked at Seinfeld, and said, “So, even if you make plans you never think you’re really ready for marriage?” 1

“No,” Seinfeld said. “It’s like any growth. You can’t be ready for it because it’s growth. It’s going to be new. You’re going to have a new life. You’re going to be a new person.”

You’re Not Ready for Growth

I like Seinfeld’s definition of growth. You’re not ready for marriage. You’re not ready to start a business. You’re not ready to move to a new city. You’re not ready for growth … and that’s exactly why it will make you grow. Start before you feel ready.

By definition, growth must be something that makes you feel unprepared and uncertain. If it was comfortable and easy, it wouldn’t be growth. It would be normal. It would be standard. It would be who you already are.

Jerry Seinfeld during the recording of The Album About Nothing.
Jerry Seinfeld during the recording of The Album About Nothing.

There will never be a perfect time to do something that stretches you. That’s true whether you are starting a marriage, having your first child, changing careers, or wrestling with any number of challenging goals. That’s not a license to be reckless and never think things through, but at some point you have to embrace the uncertainty because it is the only path forward.

You can’t be ready for true growth. That’s why it’s growth. All you can do is step into it with everything you’ve got.

  1. You can watch the clip of Seinfeld and Wale talking here.

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Design for Default: How to Optimize Your Daily Decisions http://jamesclear.com/design-default http://jamesclear.com/design-default#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 05:42:15 +0000 http://jamesclear.com/?p=9999 You might assume that humans buy products because of what they are, but the truth is that we often buy things because of where they are. For example, items on store shelves that are at eye level tend to be purchased more than items on less visible shelves.

In the best-selling book Nudge (Kindle | Audiobook), authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein explain a variety of ways that our everyday decisions are shaped by the world around us. The effect that eye-level shelves have on our purchase habits is just one example.

Here’s another:

The ends of aisles are money-making machines for retailers. According to data cited by the New York Times, 45 percent of Coca-Cola sales come specifically from end-of-the-aisle racks. 1

Here’s why this is important:

Something has to go on the shelf at eye level. Something has to be placed on the rack at the end of the aisle. Something must be the default choice. Something must be the option with the most visibility and prominence. This is true not just in stores, but in nearly every area of our lives. There are default choices in your office and in your car, in your kitchen and in your living room.

My argument is this:

If you optimize the default decisions in your life, rather than accepting whatever is handed to you, then it will be easier to live a better life.

Let’s talk about how to do that right now.

Design for Default

Although most of us have the freedom to make a wide range of choices at any given moment, we often make decisions based on the environment we find ourselves in.

For example, if I wanted to do so, I could drink a beer as I write this article. However, I am currently sitting at my desk with a glass of water next to me. There are no beers in sight. Although I possess the capability to get up, walk to my car, drive to the store, and buy a beer, I probably won’t because I surrounded by easier alternatives—namely, drinking water. In this case, taking a sip of water is the default decision, the easy decision.

Consider how your default decisions are designed throughout your personal and professional life. For example:

  • If you sleep with your phone next to your bed, then checking social media and email as soon as you wake up is likely to be the default decision.
  • If you walk into your living room and your couches and chairs all face the television, then watching television is likely to be the default decision.
  • If you keep alcohol in your kitchen, then drinking consistently is more likely to be the default decision.

Of course, defaults can be positive as well.

  • If you keep a dumbbell next to your desk at work, then pumping out some quick curls is more likely to be the default decision.
  • If you keep a water bottle with you throughout the day, then drinking water rather than soda is more likely to be the default decision.
  • If you place floss in a visible location (like next to your toothbrush), then flossing is more likely to be the default decision.

Researchers have referred to the impact that environmental defaults can have on our decision making as choice architecture. It is important to realize that you can be the architect of your choices. You can design for default. 2

How to Optimize Your Default Decisions

Here are a few strategies I have found useful when trying to design better default decisions into my life:

Simplicity. It is hard to focus on the signal when you’re constantly surrounded by noise. It is more difficult to eat healthy when your kitchen is filled with junk food. It is more difficult to focus on reading a blog post when you have 10 tabs open in your browser. It is more difficult to accomplish your most important task when you fall into the myth of multitasking. When in doubt, eliminate options.

Visual Cues. In the supermarket, placing items on shelves at eye level makes them more visual and more likely to be purchased. Outside of the supermarket, you can use visual cues like the Paper Clip Method or the Seinfeld Strategy to create an environment that visually nudges your actions in the right direction.

Opt-Out vs. Opt-In. There is a famous organ donation study that revealed how multiple European countries skyrocketed their organ donation rates: they required citizens to opt-out of donating rather than opt-in to donating. You can do something similar in your life by opting your future self into better habits ahead of time. For example, you could schedule your yoga session for next week while you are feeling motivated today. When your workout rolls around, you have to justify opting-out rather than motivating yourself to opt-in.

Designing for default comes down to a very simple premise: shift your environment so that the good behaviors are easier and the bad behaviors are harder.

Designed For You vs. Designed By You

Default choices are not inherently bad, but the entire world was not designed with your goals in mind. In fact, many companies have goals that directly compete with yours (a food company may want you to buy their bag of chips, while you want to lose weight). For this reason, you should be wary of accepting every default as if it is supposed to be the optimal choice.

I have found more success by living a life that I design rather than accepting the standard one that has been handed to me. Question everything. You need to alter, tweak, and shift your environment until it matches what you want out of life.

Yes, the world around you shapes your habits and choices, but there is something important to realize: someone had to shape that world in the first place. Now, that someone can be you.

  1. This data comes from the article, “Nudged to the Produce Aisle by a Look in the Mirror.”

  2. Thanks to my friend Christine Lai for originally tossing out the term “design for default” in a conversation I had with her.

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The More We Limit Ourselves, the More Resourceful We Become http://jamesclear.com/kierkegaard-limitations http://jamesclear.com/kierkegaard-limitations#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 21:29:44 +0000 http://jamesclear.com/?p=9948 In 1843, Soren Kierkegaard published his first major book, Either/Or (ebook), in which he tries to answer the question, “How should we live?”

During a particularly interesting passage, the Danish philosopher discusses our tendency to see boredom as a negative influence and points out that we often use boredom as justification to jump continually from thing to thing.

“One is weary of living in the country and moves to the city; one is weary of one’s native land and goes abroad; one is weary of Europe and goes to America, etc.; one indulges in the fanatical hope of an endless journey from star to star…

One is weary of eating on porcelain and eats on silver; wearying of that, one eats on gold.”
—Soren Kierkegaard

The assumption that often drives these behaviors is that if we want to find happiness and meaning in our lives, then we need more: more opportunity, more wealth, and more things.

We start to believe that moving somewhere new will remove the messiness of life. Or, that if we just lived in a new location or had a new job, then we would finally be granted the permission and ability to do the things we always wanted to do. If had more, we would be set.

Kierkegaard argues, however, that the life we are looking for can be found embracing less, not more.

The Power of Limitations

“The more a person limits himself, the more resourceful he becomes.”
—Soren Kierkegaard

History is filled with examples of people who embraced their limitations rather than fought them.

Our limitations provide us with the greatest opportunity for creativity and inventiveness.

Let Your Limitations Fill You With Strength

“A solitary prisoner for life is extremely resourceful; to him a spider can be a source of great amusement. Think of our school days; we were at an age when there was no aesthetic consideration in the choosing of our teachers, and therefore they were often very boring—how resourceful we were then! What fun we had catching a fly, keeping it prisoner under a nutshell, and watching it run around with it! What delight in cutting a hole in the desk, confining a fly in it, and peeking at it through a piece of paper! How entertaining it can be to listen to the monotonous dripping from the roof! What a meticulous observer one becomes, detecting every little sound or movement.”
—Soren Kierkegaard

It can be easy to spend your life complaining about the opportunities that are withheld from us and the resources that we need to make our goals a reality.

But there is an alternative. You can use your constraints to drive creativity. You can embrace your limitations to foster skill development. The problem is rarely the opportunities we have, but how we use them.

  • You want to write, but don’t have a large audience. Not a problem. That is your constraint. How can you create a work of art for your small corner of the universe?
  • You are not as strong or mobile as you wish? No worry. That is your constraint. What is the best workout your body can deliver given these boundaries?

The only thing needed to begin a new life is a new perspective. Let your limitations fill you with strength rather than deplete your power.

The more we limit ourselves, the more resourceful we become.


The 2015 Motivation and Willpower Seminar is happening this week on April 22nd. A recording will be available if you cannot attend live. Early bird pricing ends tonight: April 20th at 11:59PM Eastern Time (New York City time zone). You’ll still be able to get tickets after this time, but if you want the discounted price, you’ll have to grab your spot now. I hope you’ll join us!

Full details here.

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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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