Doing Things Every Day

Let’s say you’re going to put ten hours of effort into something, either a project or a habit. Your goal, or one of them, is to get as much out of those ten hours as possible. What will be important at the end isn’t the number of hours put in, but the results.

One of the factors contributing to how effectively you spend your time is how you divide it. Do you do it all in one chunk? Ten one-hour chunks? Six hundred single minute chunks?

The answer to that depends heavily on the task, but for many habits, daily execution is ideal. You can break something huge like language learning into daily chunks that are manageable. You get the benefit of constant forward momentum. It’s easy to remember that you’re supposed to do something every day.

Someone asked, at a recent reader meetup in Budapest, how I do things every day. At this point it’s such a fundamental part of who I am that I don’t have an immediate answer other than: I just do them. But having to answer an earnest question made me think about it in depth. I used to be the kind of person who couldn’t do anything on a regular daily basis. What changed?

The biggest thing is that I realized how important it was to trust myself. It occurred to me that if I told a friend I’d do something for them, it was almost certain that I’d follow through, but that if I told myself the same thing, it may or may not happen. How crazy was it that I treated others with respect, but not myself, I thought?

So, slowly, I built self-trust. It was a mental shift, just realizing that respecting promises to myself was important, and a habitual one, giving myself progressively more difficult challenges to stick to.

Once you have the ability to stick to things, how do you actually get yourself to do them every day? There are tricks, like betting with your friends. That works, and I do it myself. The most important, thing, though, is to surrender yourself to the power of daily habits. Want something really bad? Build a daily habit, follow through, and you’ll probably get it.

At first you have to go on faith. Each daily increment feels too small to be making any difference, but then all of a sudden you can speak German. And once it works once, you’re hooked. The next time you want something and design your daily habit, it’s that much easier to stick with it, because you remember how well it worked last time.

And then eventually you’ve done it a dozen times. You came up with something, stuck with it daily, and it worked. Now adherence is simple. You don’t even think of quitting, because that’s just not what you do. And when someone asks how you do things every day, you have no answer other than: I just do it.

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Photo a statue in Budapest that looks to me like the Ghost of Future Blog Posts. He haunts me every day until I write a post. I’ve written daily for approximately 400 days in a row now.

If you like posts about habits and the like, you should read my book, Superhuman by Habit. It has five stars on Amazon and is the book I’m most proud of writing. I’ve gotten lots of great success-story emails as a result!

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