I’m Using These 3 Simple Steps to Actually Stick with Good Habits

I have been trying a new strategy for building habits and it is working incredibly well. This strategy is remarkably easy and it is governed by three simple rules.

First I’ll tell you the three rules. Then, I’ll explain how I’m using this strategy and offer some other examples of how you can put these rules into practice.

Here’s how it works…

3 Rules For Actually Sticking to Good Habits

Here are the rules:

  1. You have to start with a version of the habit that is incredibly easy for you. It must be so easy that you can’t say no to doing it and so easy that it is not difficult at all in the beginning.[1]
  2. You have to increase your habit each day, but in an incredibly small way.[2]
  3. Even after increasing your habit, all repetitions must remain easy. The total habit should be broken down into easier pieces if needed.

Now, let’s talk about what this looks like in real life. Here’s how I’m using these three rules.

The Pushup Habit

The more pushups I do, the leaner I get. For that reason, I recently decided to make pushups a daily habit. I decided to use the three rules I explained above to slowly and easily add more pushups to my routine.

  • The first day, I did 10 pushups, which only took 15 seconds or so. (Rule 1.)
  • The second day, I did 11 pushups. This was an very tiny improvement. (Rule 2.)
  • I’ve continued this pattern of adding 1 pushup per day, every single day. I did 21 this morning, which was still easy to do and took less than 30 seconds. (Rule 3.)

Once I get to higher numbers, I will break them up into smaller, easier sets. For example, to do 50 pushups, I might do three sets: 20, 20, 10. The next day, I’ll add one more and do 20, 20, 11.

There are few things are happening here.

First, because I started with a habit that was very easy in the beginning, I am building the capacity to do work. In other words, I’m focusing on volume first, which will allow me to handle the intensity of a bigger habit later.

Second, because I am increasing by a very tiny amount each day, my body is able to recover and grow. Meanwhile, if I had started with a difficult or more impressive habit, then I would have hindered my ability to adapt as the habit grew.

Third, because I am breaking the habit down into sets that are always easy, I am reducing the mental burden needed to accomplish the habit. In a way, these easy sets are simply fun to do and require very little motivation to finish.

And most important, I am focusing on actually performing the habit rather than worrying about the outcome. I developing the skill of being consistent and that is a skill that is valuable in nearly every area of life.

How Can You Use This in Real Life?

Here are some other ways you can use this strategy to build new habits.

Meditation. Wish you would meditate consistently and be more mindful?

  • On day one, you’ll meditate for 60 seconds.
  • On day two, you’ll meditate for 70 seconds.
  • Continue this pattern, until you get to an amount of time that satisfies you or is too long to do at once. For example, 10 minutes of meditation might feel like a lot. Once you get to this point, break up your sessions into easier blocks. For example, meditate for 5 minutes in the morning and then 5 minutes in the evening.

Walking. Get a device that can measure the amount of steps you take in a day (a pedometer, FitBit, app on your phone, etc.)

  • On day one, you’ll walk 1,000 steps, which most people already do each day.
  • On day two, you’ll add 100 steps and walk a total of 1,100 steps. An additional 100 steps could be walking down to your mailbox and back — not far at all.
  • Continue this pattern until walking more each day becomes time prohibitive. Let’s say that this point is 10,000 steps in a day. At this point, you may want to break up your walking time into shorter jogging sessions.

Reading. Wish you were reading more books?

  • On day one, you’ll read for one minute.
  • On day two, you’ll read for two minutes.
  • Continue this pattern until you’re reading for a period of time that either satisfies you or is too long to do at once. For example, maybe reading for more than 20 minutes at a time is a stretch for you. If you want to read for 30 minutes, you can simply break it down into smaller 10 minutes blocks.

Flossing. Not in the habit of flossing?

  • On day one, floss just one tooth. You are not allowed to floss two teeth. (Hat tip to BJ Fogg.)
  • On day two, floss two teeth.
  • Continue this pattern. After one month, you’ll be flossing all of your teeth each day.

Do Small Habits Actually Amount to Anything?

I know these small gains can seem almost meaningless, especially in the beginning. But small habits can actually deliver incredible progress very quickly.

If you performed the examples I listed above for one month, here’s what would happen.

  • If you started with 10 pushups and added 1 per day, you would do 775 pushups in 30 days.
  • If you started with 1 minute of reading and added 1 minute per day, you would have read for over 8 hours in 30 days (enough to finish a 400 page book every month).
  • If you started by walking 1,000 steps and added 100 per day, you would walk 77,500 steps (almost 39 miles) in 30 days.

Small, consistent progress adds up really fast.

Try the Three Rules for Yourself

These three rules for sticking to good habits are simple, but they work.

Here they are again:

  1. You have to start with a version of the habit that is incredibly easy for you. It must be so easy that you can’t say no to doing it and so easy that it is not difficult at all in the beginning.
  2. You have to increase your habit each day, but in an incredibly small way.
  3. Even after increasing your habit, all sets must remain easy. The total habit should be broken down into easier pieces if needed.

Give it a try and see what you think! As always, I’m open to any feedback or criticism. Sharing with one another helps us all grow and learn.

Click here to leave a comment.

Sources

  1. Thanks to Leo Babauta for his ideas on habits. It was through him that I first learned the phrase, “So easy you can’t say no.”
  2. Thanks to Stanford professor BJ Fogg for his work on habits and in particular his Tiny Habits program, which originally laid out many of the steps in this post.

88 Comments

  1. I absolutely receive some sort of value from every email you send. Given the vastness of the internet and the amount of garbage out there, it is truly refreshing to get some straight real-talk. Thanks, James.

      • Hi, Ricardo!

        I’ve come to accept that eliminating a bad habit is best accomplished by replacing it with a good, or more favorable habit.

        Consider the fact that most people attempt to correct bad habits by focusing on NOT doing something. Similar to James’ approach to developing favorable habits, less than favorable habits can be broken incrementally.

        For instance, if you wanted to stop smoking you might allow yourself 2 per day. Then one per day. Then one every other day. You might also replace smoking with deep breathing exercises, short walks, eating a piece of fruit, or drinking more water. Whichever favorable habit you care to develop will do.

        You would be focused on developing your new habit, along with ALLOWING YOURSELF to release a habit incrementally with less, and/or less often occurrences. Focusing on NOT ALLOWING YOURSELF to do something you habitually want to do is stressful and counterproductive.

  2. Hi! Would it be useful to stay on the starting level (x minutes or x number of times) for a few days until you’ve established that you can indeed do it every day? Sadly, sometimes I don’t even trust that I’ll do a tiny thing every day — and when I’m at that stage, any increase seems like it’ll add up scarily fast!

    • Great question, Esha. I would say absolutely. Building the capacity to do the work consistently, even without going up every day, is incredibly valuable.

      Good luck!

  3. Brilliant James! As Robin Sharma also says: Small daily habits lead to long term growth.

    I love the way you break the process down! I am going to try this with my guitar students!

    Thanks!
    Steve

  4. James, you are THE MAN. Thank you so much for your wonderful emails each week I look forward to them and pass them onto my friends and family.

    • Thank you, Kelly! I really appreciate the support. I’ll do my best to keep useful ideas coming your way.

  5. What a great idea! I’m excited to give this a try, with push ups. I HATE push ups, but I’m going to start with just one. We’ll see if I still hate them several weeks from now.

    Thanks!

    • I hope your outcome is different but I hate push-ups and I did a big training program so they became very easy and for whatever reason I still hate them. :)

      I like planks and chest presses, so I believe this push-up problem is an idiosyncrasy of mine.

      When I got better at running I warmed up to it, but being able to do 60 unbroken push-ups didn’t make me hate them any less even though I enjoyed the progress.

      • Hi Marcy,
        Thanks for your comment. I would be thrilled if I could do 30 non-stop push-ups, though right now I’m finding doing just 10 is taxing. My hope is that as they get easier I’ll hate them less. But at any rate I am having fun with it and enjoying the process.

  6. Love it. This is exactly what I did with barefoot running – 1 lap daily (about 125 m) for the first week, and added on another lap as the weeks went by. Little changes all the way, sexy changes never stay.

  7. James,

    Great ideas for forming habits. You may want to know Stephen Guise, who wrote a book called “Mini Habits” which talks about the similar idea, but perhaps not much about the 2nd and 3rd steps in this post.

    One problem with implementing this kind of steps is how to make it a routine or sort of ritual. Doing the steps is often not hard, what’s the biggest problem is that I seem to keep forgetting to do it, even if it only takes 1 minute. The book Power of Habit shows some ways to setup a trigger or cue, I’d be interested to know how you set the routine or cues for these kind of habits.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post, Harry. Stephen actually sent me a copy of his book, so I’m familiar with his work. Thanks for suggesting it, though.

      As far as “making habits a routine” … you are right that triggers and cues can work well. For me, I find that scheduling new behaviors into my life has been a big help. You can see this with my weekly writing (Monday/Thursday publishing schedule) and with my weekly workouts (Monday/Wednesday/Friday training schedule).

      I wrote more about scheduling goals and habits here and about the science behind it here.

  8. For the past 2 months or so, I’ve been doing 80 push ups and 200 crunches. Divided into 4 equal sets that is. I must admit I failed to execute all 4 sets (sometimes 2, 3) about 3 or 4 times in that 2 month period.

    My question is, is it really always better to start small? I assume the reason why you suggest starting small and increasing small is because it would be easy to stay consistent, and that consistency is the key thing with building habits. But then again, you can’t really be sure if you will execute once the numbers get higher right? And take Esha’s example where you stay at a certain number for a period for the sake of staying consistent. Wouldn’t it be too slow to get any benefit then?

    I think I would prefer to start with a manageable number where failing to execute 5% of the time is still okay. Just curious to hear your thoughts on this.

    Glad comments are open again. :)

    • I think the point is to build a habit not execute your “work” with a 95 percent success rate. I look at habits the same if they are good or bad. , if you smoke you go outside every hour and have one same thing with a good habit you just do it without any thought therefore your success rate is 100 percent .

      • I’m assuming when you say “build a habit,” you’re talking about doing something with so much ease that it requires zero willpower. Or at least, that’s the ideal.

        My point is that you might be overly obsessed about getting this 100% success rate that you increase the numbers too slow. And by doing so, you MAY get that habit, but how much of the benefits do you actually reap, as compared to starting off a little bigger but failing to execute sometimes?

        My question is, is it worth building that “habit” anyway?

    • You bring up some great questions, Jeremy.

      Two things…

      First, I think you are absolutely right that you have to plan for failure. If you try to take an “all or nothing” approach to any habit, then you’re going to be disappointed. Everyone will slip up on habits, it’s just that top performers get back on track more quickly than others. Having a system and strategy to overcome the bumps along the road is key. And that’s true whether it’s a small habit or a bigger one. (Related: Research shows that missing a habit once — regardless of when it occurs — has no measurable impact on your ability to stick with a habit. More here.)

      Second, the real point of this article (and any quest to build a habit) is to maintain consistency. If you can start with something bigger and still hit it 95% of the time, then more power to you. (Why make things harder than they need to be?) But for most of us, myself included, the best way to get to this 95% success level is to start small and slowly increase.

      Final note, while I agree that it’s not useful to obsess over a 100% success rate if you’re doing something too small to be meaningful, I do think that if you are focused on improving each time (Point #2), then you’ll get to something meaningful relatively quickly.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  9. Push up! Lol! I can remember my first push up. I found it difficult to eat because of the strain. Ever since then, I hated push ups. I guess trying your method won’t bad.

  10. Thanks James! I started meditating a couple of weeks ago for 15 mins but only lasted 5 days! Will definitely try this approach instead!

    • 5 days is a great start! Remember to plan for failure. If you miss a day or two, it’s not a big deal. It’s maintaining consistency over the long haul that counts.

      That said, I hope the strategy in this article works well for you. Thanks for reading!

  11. This absolutely works. Using a process much like this. I was able to add a touch up cleaning routine before I left the house for work. Now I can’t leave the house without performing my few easy small tasks and everything looks nicer when I come home now.

    • Good example, Barbara. Also, decluttering your physical environment tend to declutter your mind, so you are reaping double benefits!

  12. Great advice. I am going to start off small and gradually increase or increment This every day (+1) having somehow survived at least 19x near death experiences I am going to start off every day (+1) and be Thankful that I am still breathing (+1) and try to do something kind to another human being (+1) when someone says to me, “have a great day.” I usually say, “and You just made it better” (+1)

    Thanks again. (+1)

    I am having a great day and You just made it better. (+1)

  13. Nice, clean, concise suggestion/advice/tip on creating habits. Now, we just need to remember to schedule these tiny habits as a daily ritual.

  14. Great challenge – I was only thinking the morning how “stiff” some of my leg muscles have become and worrying about finding time to fit stretching in – so today I will start with 5 minutes – and then slowly add 30 seconds each day … Have used a modified form for reading the classic Proust novel which is 4,000 pages – I have set my self the task of reading 10 pages a day. It became much easier to see the book in 10 page chunks than – I have 4,000 pages to read.

  15. Fantastic suggestions James :-) Your post is in line with the book The Small Edge. Its so easy to do the simple steps and at the same time its not so easy to do. Showing up with consistency with positive attitude over long periods of time with burning desire can only delay success but not deny success in every form of life. Be it getting fit, reading inspirational books or getting financially better.

  16. Brilliant advice James! Incidentally, this technique also works in reverse. This is how I successfully managed to quit smoking. I was a long term heavy smoker and struggled breaking this horrible habit. Eventually, I tried this tactic following my boyfriend’s advice. Each week I cut down my smoking by 1 cigarette until I ultimately stopped entirely. The whole process was very smooth and craving free :) I hope this helps other people too! Keep the good advice coming James!

  17. Starting small is a great way to develop new habits. I started exercising this year by establishing the habit of doing at least 25 kettlebell swings and 30 seconds of planks every day. I started on January 4, and have not missed a day. I have been able to increase the amount of exercise I do so that I am lifting weights three days per week and am up to 300 KB swings on the days I don’t lift. By using your other recommendation of focusing on the process, rather than the ultimate goal (i.e., losing 50-60 lbs.), I have lost 17 pounds in 2 1/2 months.

  18. Hi, James. Your articles have been tremendous help for me to understand the way my brain works. I really wanna say thank you. I’ve shared the posts with my families and friends.

    I have one question. Where do you learn these practical ideas from? I wanna study about this theme more deeply such as “What is our habits?”, “Does the things many successful people talk about self-development really work?”. Thanks again, James. Have a nice day! ^-^

  19. Love this post, as it affirms something I’ve done, rather than motivates me for something new. Specifically, I’ve done additional push-ups just like you. Was up to 5 sets of 30 push-ups per night. Now I’m more likely to stick with 3×30. Either way, push-ups are a great, no cost workout. Thanks, James.

  20. I love this article and really need it right now.

    I feel a bit frustrating in reading comprehension, sort of suffer the intensive process. It’s a 4-hour test, including the quant, critical reasoning, sentence correction parts, reading comprehension, and analytical.

    I just found myself so hard in concentrating on the test.maybe because I haven’t studied for so long or that I don’t get used to take the test that is designed in English (my native language is Chinese); I constantly feel sleepy during the mock-test. I feel so helpless sometimes.

    After reading your 3 steps tip, I will practice the small steps in building up reading habit, but since the test day is coming soon, I have to read a lot to improve my ability in 1 month. So James, how do you think of this? Improve the ability in a short-term instead of building a habit is adoptable to your tip?

    Another habit is run, I like run recently, it helps with the mind concentration. Now I keep the habit of run 1 hour/8 kilometer every 2 days on treadmill at home.

    I doubt if I break down the 1 hour run into 2 sets of 30 minutes in the morning and night, is it burn the same amount of calories and workout the same way to body? Or if I run 30 minutes everyday instead of 1 hour every 2 days, is it work out the same way?

    Looking forward to hearing from you. Regards and thanks,
    Grace

  21. Hi James,

    What are your thoughts on applying this rule in reverse fir extinguishing an unwanted habit?

    I work in field if smoking cessation so I am curious. My thoughts are for a gradual cut down. Eliminating cigarettes gradually so it’s small manageable changes rather than an often overwhelming abrupt stop.

    Keonie.

  22. Absolutely wonderful and achievable. I really like your theory and will apply it now as I’m training for a race.

  23. James,

    Brilliant way of keeping it simple. Keeping it easy to do is a learned art for me. I look forward to enjoying its rewards of consistency and confidence for the goals I want to achieve.

    Jen

  24. Great post, James! For me, it hearkens Leo Babauta’s assertion of habits over willpower. I’ve used this strategy for a few years now, much to my benefit, and just posted about it today along with my new strategy for managing multiple skillsets here.

  25. You probably don’t want to do that many pushups. Too much focus on the anterior chain is not good for your posture. :)

  26. I beg to differ. Start big. Fail quickly. Work on smaller portions of the big task at hand until you reach and surpass the big.

    As for flossing…. disgusting. It really isn’t that hard to floss your teeth. If you’re going to the trouble of brushing your teeth, grab some damn floss and do all your teeth while you’re there.

  27. Wow! This is serendipity. I had fallen off the exercise bandwagon. Am slowly getting back on, so the timing of your post is absolutely perfect. I am doing a mix of yoga and aerobics. If I lose weight it will be great, but the central idea is to incorporate physical activity into my otherwise sedentary life.
    Thank you, James.

  28. I lost weight this way. Something that was so difficult to accomplish through other methods came SO easy by building habits incrementally. That’s when I realized that focusing on habit building and/or deconstructing is the most productive focal point for your energies. Focusing on the desired outcome is just poor aim. That’s why vision boards are great to have.

  29. James truly you made my day.since yesterday i was thinking to bring some change in me but i was trying to do it in a big way.for e.g I wanted to reach office at dot 9.00 AM,but as usual came at 10 AM.I was not feeling comfortable for I missed my target time of 9.00AM

    From your write up I realized Instead of 1 Hr early tomorrow I will make it 10 mts early and gradually to 1 Hr.

    Thanks once again for sending such motivating mails

    regards
    Mahesh Ghai

  30. Great Post, James. I think best approach for building any habit is to start very small. Do 1 push up everyday, write 50 words per day. Do it everyday until it becomes your habit. You can do more than 100 or 50 push ups but at least do your minimum first which is 1 push up. Then do your bonus which has no limit. Suppose that , You have a busy day and don’t have much time to do exercises, then do at least 1 push up , 1 pull up and 5 minutes walking. When your daily minimum requirements is fulfilled, you are welcome to do bonus.

  31. Another great article James. I am going to put this in to practice ASAP. Breaking it down like that makes so much sense and yet I have never seen it explained in such way.

    Thank you

    Dean

  32. Thanks James!

    This has also shown up for me at a very perfect time as I’m introducing a new exercise routine into my life and I believe this will make sticking with it much, much easier. Great advice. :)

    As a couple of people have mentioned above, a problem for me in the past has been actually remembering to do the planned action/habit each day. The obvious suggestion is to just do it first thing in the morning and therefore you wont forget as other stuff comes up throughout the day. This seems to work quite well for me as long as my normal routine is not interrupted but as soon as ‘something else’ comes up requiring immediate attention, I forget my original intention and if this happens a few days in a row, that new habit doesn’t last long! Any suggestions here?

    Someone else above mentioned triggers. I think this is a great idea. It’s currently quite important to me to improve my awful posture and I”m staying in a hotel room with a mirror in front of the desk so every time I look up, I see my bad posture and remember to straighten up. It’s brilliant! Unfortunately, I don’t normally have such a setup at my disposal.

    Any suggestions around triggers/ Breaking habits where it’s not so much that you need to ‘do something’ once a day but where you’re trying to change something that’s ongoing through out your day, all day every day (such as posture).

    Thanks again. :)

    Julieanne

  33. Hi James,

    Your habit building strategy is great, especially after a look at the figures of how much can be done over a period of time. I feel so enthusiastic once I read your article. But once the time comes to actually put my intentions to practice my laziness takes over so that despite all good intentions I fail to make that one big effort to “DO”. I’d love to know how to gather enough drive to actually put my plans to ACTION and plus how to keep up the tempo after that.

    Waiting for your feedback and solution.

    Thanks and regards,
    Suryatapa

  34. Hi James,

    This is such a great and easy way out for me as consistency has been a huge challenge, particularly in trying to break a bad habit. Please do offer more tips in this area of stopping a bad habit. Thanks.

  35. I enjoyed this newsletter and would love to start meditating, this seems like a easy way to start. Could you give us some tips on how to meditate?

    Thank you for your uplifting messages.

    Nina

  36. I like the general idea of small steps. But to want to increase every day?The math sounds nice, that’s right, but I don’t think that it’s useful in the long run.

    I’d say decide on something new you want to do, think about how much of it you want to do, divide that in half, or by ten, whatever, and then do it for at least 10 days. Could be one month, too.

    THEN increase it a little. That would build consistency in my eyes.

  37. Hi James!

    I really liked this article, I don’t know why, but it’s the first one I’ve read in a few weeks. Every time I get a chance to read your stuff, I always feel re-energized or re-motivated (is that a word?) to better myself. Which is always a good thing.

    This particular post got me thinking about financial stability and like all healthy habit building, I think you could apply the message here to saving money as well. My wonderful step-mom once told me “If you mind the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.” That is so true! Even though small change really doesn’t seem to matter much at first, in the long run it can accumulate to big things.

    Thanks again for the inspiration! Have a great day!

  38. I’m going to try this with rowing! I got a rower a couple of weeks ago, but it’s been a struggle to use it consistently.

    My question is: how do you decide where to stop increasing and maintain instead?

    I mapped out a 5-month plan to get up to six 500-meter intervals three days a week (on off days from Crossfit, with one rest day a week)… and then I paused to wonder whether that’s a good idea or if that would be over-training.

  39. Thanks for the reminder about habits being incremental over time.

    Something to motivate others who find it hard to think in terms of the bigger picture.

  40. Very helpful article! I have been setting a goal of writing 1,000 words a day, and only increasing it until it becomes easy. Now maybe I should add 50-100 words a day?

  41. Hi James,

    I’m really enjoying your articles, especially the one’s about habits. This has been a missing link for me.

    I’ve begun using some of your tips at the start of the year with a goal snowball. I took 26 habits I wanted to implement and chose the easiest one and practiced it daily for 2 weeks and then added another habit on top of it. Some habits are just to do without increasing them, others are increased. My 1st habit was push ups and I started with 5 push ups a day, attached to my daily vitamin, which was attached to going to the bathroom after waking. I did 5 push ups a day for 2 weeks and then added another 5. I’m on week 6 of my goal snowball and I’m up to 30 push ups.

    My 2nd goal snowball was a daily mantra walk attached to arriving from home from work, lasting a minimum of 1 lap around my neighborhood (7min). I didn’t do so well on it, so I repeated it for the subsequent 2 weeks (3rd goal snowball). I’m not great at this one. I average maybe 2-3 mantra walks per week.

    I added mindfulness when eating (no media, except appropriate music) for G#4 and nailed it and I added mindfulness when communicating with others (no multi-tasking like surfing internet when on phone or checking email…) and I nailed that one too.

    My 6th goal is to plan my tomorrow by (listing out my tasks, laying out my clothes and writing in my journal). I’ve been perfect so far.

    I’m wondering if you have any suggestions on how I might go about being more successful with my daily mantra walk goal. Do you suppose maybe I aim for 2 days / week and build from there?

    Kind regards and thank you for your time,

    Mike

  42. Thank you for this encouragement. Your helpful words and ideas always seem to come to my inbox at just the right time when I am feeling weak and wavering a bit. Like today, I read this and thought, “Yes, I can do this!” Thanks James. I appreciate you.

  43. Thank you, James! Your articles are really encouraging. Very helpful advice. I am having hard time to stick to a schedule and now I think I can adopt these 3 rules suggested by you to achieve my goal. I have been procrastinating for long and was feeling bad but your 3 rules gives me an opportunity to act now.

    Thank you so much!

    Saurabh

  44. Thanks, James,
    I have tried this recently and it really does work.

    Trying to tackle everything at once leaves on overwhelmed. Process + perseverance = progress is my mantra!

  45. Excellent! Another form of “gradual and consistent” which was quoted by a man in Mark’s Daily Apple in the Friday success stories. It was his father’s by-word and it became his mantra for improving his health by eating and moving better. I made a personal poster with this mantra. Really helps.

    Thanks, James

  46. Great post James! The key is finding the friction point for continuing the habit and start small from there. For example, I recently made flossing a habit. And rather than starting with one tooth. I start with flossing once a week. Because I found actually grabbing the floss and getting started was the friction point for me. Once I started 1 tooth or 50 didn’t make a difference.

  47. Loved this. So helpful. Really appealed to my brain and my emotions. Can you give a few examples of your three rules and food?

    Thanks,
    Kimberly

  48. Great advice James!

    Funny thing you mention push ups as one of your examples because I did the exact same thing, and I’m at 21 too.

    I apply this to all my exercising, each exercises following a steady, incremental exercise and it works wonders. Starting lifting 5kg dumbbells and am now at 12kg. I really recommend this method of building up habit to everyone. The results really build up over time and before you know it a lot will have changed for the better.

  49. Epic starts small!

    I agree that the key is making it easy to do and so tiny that it ain’t no thing so it builds and builds into something quite epic.

    My own example is from writing a book about my cycle adventures. I started with a couple of minutes each morning and now I’m writing for 30 minutes and have written over 100,000 words. They’re not all great words though!

    My triggers are: a reminder on my phone, my morning MWOD and a cup of coffee!

    All the best,

    Andy

  50. Awesome article James!

    This is definitely some powerful advice! This in my mind is the true “Secret” to achieving our dreams. I started StongLifts 5×5 Jan 16 this year. Every mon, wed and fri i’ve been adding 2.5kg to each exercise. I started with a 20kg squat and dead-lift and tmrw morning i’m excited to finally squat 100kg with proper form, and dead lift 115kg. All in under 3 months. For the first month the weights were so easy i was tempted to just go straight to lifting heavy but i wanted to build the habit while things were easy. Definitely glad i did because now i’m addicted to seeing the improvements each session.

    Keep up the great content man, your building a killer community right here.

  51. Great insight, James! I love your posts and I love your continuous focus on the basics and habits. It’s really helping me see how to build a foundation for continuous improvement and development.

    I’m also using this same idea of starting small in my goal to learn how to play the piano. I’ve committed to only practicing 20 minutes per day. That’s a goal that I feel is manageable (I can afford to spend 20 minutes on almost anything). And I’m just going to stick to that amount.

  52. Hi,

    Thanks for your tip and for laying it down in words.

    In fact I began skipping rope for now one month and each day I add a little bit more. At the beginning my heart was pounding really fast in just 10 rope skipping. Now I can do 20, 20, 20 and feel at ease.

    I began doing that after a hard working day. It was winter time and it was one thing I could do inside and quickly wearing me out.

    Now it’s an everyday need & pleasure.

  53. James, this has been a great plan for me. I started at 10 pushups – though I knew I could do a lot more – and I decided that I was going to really concentrate on my form. I decided that I would do hand-release pushups throughout this time, and make sure that my form would be perfect; straight back, elbows in (they flare out when I get tired), shoulder blades back.

    Eventually, I broke things into two sets, and then three, since I felt that my form could be compromised if I did longer sets. I only give myself 20 seconds of rest to make sure that I keep up the intensity of the work, while making sure my form stays good.

    Two things. First, today was 26 pushups and I love the plan. Second, I love it even more since I have recruited my son – having a loved one to share in a goal like this makes it more meaningful, more rewarding, and more fun.

    Keep up the great work.

  54. Hi James,

    Your work actually introduced me to BJ Fogg’s revolutionary idea of small habits. I tried it, and 2 really stuck with me. 1 is waking up earlier and 2 is making my bed! They both set the stage for how my day is going to go. I feel like I get to control what happens. Your articles are always insightful! Thank you.

  55. Dear James,

    Just one small question concerning the pushups.

    So far I’ve been trying to do the sets of 20 one after another but I must say that the third set – where I’m right now – is nearly impossible to complete, when I take 1 minute breaks between the sets.

    So now I’m spreading the sets of 20 (going for my fourth, one pushup after another, day by day) over the whole day but that feels a little bit to easy.

    What would you advise? Concentrate it and push (literally) a little bit harder or spread the sets of 20 over the day, as long as I keep adding 1 per day?

    Thanks for your great work, my colleagues and I love reading your blog twice per week.

    Greetings from Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands.

  56. Thank you for these articles, I have read a few of them over the last couple of days and find them really motivational. I look forward to reading more. :)

  57. Love your 3 simple steps idea James. Because of the simplicity there is no reason why it shouldn’t work for everyone. I have used your push-up idea and can guarantee it works. Can knock out 40 odd now. Last year I did something similar with pull-ups. I could never do more than a couple so I started doing 10 sets of 1 pull-up. Then 10 sets of 2 pull-ups, then 10 sets of 3 and so on slowly building all the time. When I got to 10 sets of 5 I was able to then do 10 pull-ups straight off. It took about 4 to 5 months to build up to being able to do a dozen which for a 67 year old I thought was ok. :)