I have a friend named Nathan Barry who recently finished writing three books in just 9 months.
How did he do it?
By following a simple strategy. He wrote 1,000 words per day. (That’s about 2 to 3 pages.) And he did it every day for 253 straight days.
Now, compare that strategy to the classic image of a writer hiding out in a cabin for weeks and writing like a madman to finish their book.
The maniac in the cabin has a high “maximum speed” — maybe 20 or even 30 pages per day. But after a few weeks at that unsustainable pace, either the book is finished or the author is.
By comparison, Nathan’s maximum speed never reached the peak levels of the crazy writer in the cabin. However, over the course of a year or two his average speed was much higher.
This lesson extends far beyond writing.
For example, anyone can feel a burst of inspiration, head to the gym, and push themselves for a single workout. That’s maximum speed. We waste a lot of time obsessing over it. How hard was your workout? How motivated are you? How fast are you pushing it?
But what if you were to average all of your days in the last month? How many of those days included a workout? How about the last three months? Or the last year? What has your average speed been?
Look at it this way and you might realize, for example, that you were sick for a week and there were a couple times when you skipped the gym after a long day of work and you were on the road for two weeks as well. Suddenly, you realize that your maximum speed might be high every now and then, but your average speed is much lower than you think.
From what I can tell, this principle holds true for your work habits, your eating habits, your relationship habits, and virtually every other area of your life.
The Surprising Thing About Average Speed
Here’s the surprising thing about average speed: It doesn’t take very long for average speed to produce incredible results.
So often we waste our time and energy thinking that we need a monumental effort to achieve anything significant. We tell ourselves that we need to get amped up on motivation and desire. We think that we need to work harder than everyone else.
But when you look at people who are really making progress, you see something different. Nathan wrote 1,000 words per day, every day. And nine months later? Three books are finished. At no point did he necessarily work harder than everyone else. There's nothing sexy or shocking about writing 2 or 3 pages per day. Nathan was simply more consistent than everyone else and, as a result, his average speed for those 253 days was much higher than most people.
Of course, the natural question that follows from all of this is, “How do I increase my average speed?”
Let’s talk about that now.
Habit Graduation: How to Increase Your Average Speed
Recently, I was told about the idea of “habit graduation.” That is, graduating from your current habit to one level higher. Basically, habit graduation is about increasing your average speed.
Here are some examples…
- If your average speed is eating three healthy meals per week, can you “graduate” that to one healthy meal per day?
- If your average speed is exercising twice per month, can you “graduate” that to once per week?
- If your job is crazy and you only talk to your old friends on the phone once every three months, can you schedule those calls into your calendar and “graduate” that habit to once per month?
You get the idea. Habit graduation is about considering your goals and your current average speed, and thinking about how you can increase your output by just a little bit on a consistent basis.
I’ve thought about how I might apply this myself.
For the last eight months, I’ve published a new article every Monday and every Thursday without fail. Now, I’m considering “graduating” that habit to the next level.
For example, I could follow Nathan’s strategy and write 1,000 words per day. Presumably, this would allow me to continue writing two articles each week while also working on other useful things — like a book of my own.
Where to Go From Here
We all have an average speed when it comes to our habits. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, that average speed might be much slower than we’d like.
The truth is, anyone can get motivated and push themselves for one day, but very few people maintain a consistent effort every week without fail.
The important thing isn’t to judge yourself or feel guilty about having a lower average speed than you would like. The important thing is to be aware of what’s actually going on, realize that it’s within your control, and then embrace the fact that a small, but consistent change in your daily habits can lead to a remarkable increase in your average speed.
In your health, your work, and your life, it doesn’t require a massive effort to achieve incredible results — just a consistent one.
It's time to graduate to the next level. What’s your average speed?
P.S. If you want more practical ideas for how to build new habits (and break bad ones), check out my book Atomic Habits, which will show you how small changes in habits can lead to remarkable results.