Why Your Daily Habits Make or Break the Success of Your Business – IMP#37

August 27, 2015 , 14 Comments

Habits. A simple word that describes such a powerful and complex thing. In today's podcast episode, Paul and I discuss the habits we've created in our lives that most directly contribute to our effectiveness as entrepreneurs.

Plus, you'll discover the best brain hacks that allow you to build new habits as effectively and effortlessly as possible.​


Podcast Audio

Click here to download the MP3 file for this episode.

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Bonus offer: click here to get access to my 5-day mini course on hacking your brain to become more productive.

Links, Resources & Summary

This was a really juicy episode and it's difficult to take it all in just from listening once. Because of that, I've decided to present the links & resources along with a brief summary of the main points discussed during the episode.

Recommended Books

Right off the bat, here are some recommended books if you want to learn more about how to form good habits and kick bad ones:

Personal Habits that Boost Your Business

​Habits are deeply personal, but as an entrepreneur, the way you structure your day and build habits has a profound impact on everything you do with your business. Here are some examples of habits that Paul and myself have created that have contributed greatly to our success:

  • Healthy diet, regular exercise and daily meditation: these habits all lead to a better ability to focus and a better overall mood. The change in mood is very important because the worse your mood, the less motivated and productive you tend to be.
  • Exercise (if the workouts you do are hard and challenging) is also a good way to develop grit, which is an extremely important factor for success in general.
  • Daily writing/journaling: helps you process thoughts and reflect on your daily actions more objectively. Also helps with rational decision making.
  • Single tasking: the habit of removing all notifications and distractions and fully focusing on doing only one thing at a time. Basically the exact opposite of multi tasking, which has been shown to lower productivity and possibly also makes you less happy.
  • "Track Everything": the extreme version of single tasking, where you deliberately track the time you spend on every single thing you do, using an app like Toggl. Warning: this is like the extreme sport of productivity. Don't do this unless you're a seasoned self-experimenter and habit hacker.
  • Practice a non-business skill: learning a language, playing an instrument, learning to dance or anything similar gives you something non-business related to focus on and can help refresh your mind when you've been stuck in work mode for too long. The Hustle Mode part 1 and part 2 for more information on this.

It's not just about the habits you create in your life, it's also how you create them and follow them. In our examples you can already see an important principle at work: the simpler the system you create for yourself, the easier it is to follow.

Habits: the simpler the system you create for yourself, the easier it is to follow.

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How to Build Habits & Make them Stick

The typical problem with habits is that we all start with good intentions, but we lose our motivation and drive (and in general, life gets in the way) and end up dropping habits within a few days or weeks.

Luckily, there are several ways you can hack habit building and trick your brain out of its usual patterns:

  • ​Create mini habits: make your new habit as small as possible. In fact, make it so small that it's almost impossible to fail at doing them. A well-known example comes from BJ Fogg who suggests that if you want to floss regularly, make it your goal to simply floss one tooth per day. This significantly lowers the friction and makes it much more likely that you'll stick to your habit. Two good sources on this topic are Tiny Habits and MiniHabits.
  • Take on only one new habit at a time: when you feel a surge of motivation, you're tempted to try and develop multiple good habits all at once. Unfortunately, this sets you up for failure and you're much more likely to succeed in building habits that stick if you focus on just one at a time.
  • The two points above both follow the same principle: take baby steps. Although progress will feel slow, taking small, gradual steps is usually the fastest way to achieve your goals.
  • Commit to developing one habit for 60 days: it takes a certain period of time before a habit really becomes a habit (i.e. you start doing it almost automatically).

Unfortunately, if you're feeling motivated to change your life, you won't want to stick to any of the advice above. Whenever you decide to start new habits, you're probably riding a wave of motivation and aspiration for building a better life. But this emotional state doesn't last, so you have to plan your habits for the bad times instead of planning them in a way that means you can only stick to them if you remain highly motivated for a long time.

Habit Tracking & the Seinfeld Method

Another method you can follow to build habits is the "Seinfeld method", where you visually track your progress by marking every day you successfully stuck to your habit in a calendar, on a white board or in an app. Some apps you can use for this are:

That's just a small sampling of apps that all do more or less the same thing (and with varying degrees of complexity). There are hundreds more like them and they are available for every platform you can think of.

Commitment Devices

Make use of communities such as online forums where you can announce goals publicly and connect with other people who are pursuing the same goals. A sense of community can be a big help in staying motivated. A step up from that is to use commitment devices or commitment contracts to keep yourself on track. Apps like stickK, Beeminder and Pact are all based on this principle.

With these apps, you make a commitment and you either automatically track your progress or you have commitment partners who make sure you stay on track. And if you veer off, there's some kind of punishment built in (e.g. you're charged a certain amount of money and it's donated to a charity you hate).

This method can work extremely well because of what's called loss aversion. ​Quite simply, we tend to be more motivated to avoid a negative outcome than to obtain a positive one and these apps exploit that.

Habit hack: use the principle of loss aversion to make yourself stick to your goals.

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It's Not About Willpower...

Finally, one of the most important things you need to get good at if you want to build positive habits is this: learn to change your environment to facilitate new habits.

Here's an illustration of why this matters:

Imagine Joe. His goal is to quit smoking.

Now imagine that Joe, while he tries to quit, constantly keeps an unlit cigarette between his lips.

If Joe fails to quit, how much of that would you attribute to him and his willpower and how much of it to his environment (which in this case included a constant and extremely close proximity to the thing he's addicted to and trying to quit)?​

For quitting bad habits, environmental changes are far more important than willpower. While the example above is extreme, we tend to do the same kind of thing whenever we want to kick a bad habit. Instead of trying to accomplish a herculean feat of willpower, change your environment to make the change easy.​

For building new habits, your environment is equally important. Remove all friction that can keep you from sticking to your habit and it will be far easier. It all comes down to this:​

Habit hack: even small changes in your environment are far more effective than all the willpower you can muster.

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Habits & Triggers

Powerful bad habits that are almost impossible to quit all have one thing in common: they have triggers.

Maybe it's that you get nervous (trigger) and that makes you reach for your cigarettes.

Or maybe the donut shop is on your way home and you just can't resist whenever you walk past (the trigger is the visual reminder, seeing the donuts on display).​

On the other hand, good habits that you don't manage to stick to usually also have one thing in common: they don't have triggers.

A habit without a trigger is very easy to put off until later (read: never) or forget about entirely.

The solution is simple: associate habits you want to create with triggers. A trigger can be something as simple as a reminder notification you set for yourself at a certain time every day. You can also have simple "rules" you follow like:

  • ​Whenever I'm done brushing my teeth, I floss one tooth.
  • Every day at noon, I go for a walk.
  • Whenever I pass through this door, I do 5 push ups.

Bonus offer: I created a small product about productivity a few years ago. In light of this podcast episode, I completely revamped the content and turned it into a 5-day mini course that teaches the 80/20 of productivity.

These are the things you can do that have the greatest possible impact on your productivity while keeping the investment of time and effort and an absolute minimum.

I call the course: 5 Brain Hacks that Make You Instantly More Productive!

We hope you enjoyed this episode and blog post! Let us know if you have any questions. Also: what's your most valuable, entrepreneurial habit? Let us know by leaving a comment!

Shane's Signature

About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Thank You for this topic!

    What was most interesting for me was the part about habits, mini-habits, minifying it all to become so small that it gets ridiculous not to implement.

    Shane – could you please tell us also something about perfectionism? I guess this is a disease which mostly affects people who have many technical/design tasks to accomplish.

    • Hi Irek,

      I’m all too familiar with perfectionism. I deal with it in two ways. On the one hand, I made sure to get accustomed to releasing non-perfect things. It took a lot of getting used to, but I’m now much more comfortable with releasing things even when I’m not 100% happy with them. On the other hand, I try to channel my perfectionism into areas where it can actually be useful. For example: when you’re creating a minimum viable product to test out a market, perfectionism is detrimental. However, if you’re working on improving a product that’s already doing well in an established market, then giving it that extra care and attention to detail can actually be useful.

      In other words: it’s not just a matter of getting rid of perfectionism. It’s about using it more wisely.

  • Dear Shane

    I’ve been reading lots about habits, triggers and related topics.

    It’s funny how even simple habits repeated each day can have a very large effect. For me 15 minutes or so of exercises each day helps maintain strength and fitness. When coupled with understanding the impact of foods the results can over time be spectacular.

    The challenge though is really drilling down to the underlying thoughts, information and seeking deep knowledge.

    It’s easy to accept experts advice because they are so called experts but do they always get it right?

    For me, a natural state is to ask questions, do my own research and challenge the status quo but it’s far from easy.

    Great points and a great post, thanks.

    • Thanks for your comment, Steve! When forming habits, I think it’s important to view everything as an experiment. The goal has to be to find out what works for you and that might be something no one else can tell you about.

  • Hey Shane and Paul, loved this podcast. Loss aversion has worked great for me before when I asked a friend to keep track of a daily habit I wanted to build…

    I told him if I did not do it I owed him 100 euros (each day again). I did it 30 days straight (my goal) … and this wasn’t a small goal either (took 1-2 hours every day), so it totally worked for me :D

    I didn’t know there were things such as Stikk around so will definitely look into that. It’s my cup of tea. The Sienfield method doesn’t work well for me personally.

    Previously I also cancelled my TV and internet connection and then bought PHP, MySQL and CSS books. Studied and practiced for 1 year as a result, then started a successful business and the rest is history.

    Time to sip some water :D (just implemented that tip)

    • Wow, 100 Euros a day is a pretty steep incentive! :)

      Looks like you’re already a seasoned self-experimenter, too. Maybe you should give the “track everything” method a try.

      • Yeah I needed that incentive, and actually what I did during those 30 days has had a permanent positive impact on my life.

        The 100 euro incentive made sure I did not skip a day even when I really didn’t feel like it – which happened a few times.

        I’m using beeminder now to keep me on track in the same way. But with only 5$ on the line each day as the goals don’t require as much dedication this time – but it’s working well also. Keeps me on track and focused.

        I actually find myself strategizing and figuring out solutions to optimize my process now so the conditions are optimal for me to never have to skip a day, even when there could be setbacks.

        I never had this before using beeminder (except for during that 100 euro a day challenge) – so this is a great side effects which leads to even more focus (focus on priorities is one of my goals).

        About the track everything method… Don’t you find that too restrictive? It feels to me like things would become very rigid with little room for flexibility and creativity.

        What’s your experience with that?

      • Cool. Good that you found the thing that makes you tick.

        Track everything doesn’t feel restrictive to me, no. It can be quite intense and it made me feel more awake and more present while I was doing it. But I could only keep it up for about 10 days at a time. It’s hard to describe. It feels like shifting up a gear and it’s awesome, but you have to shift back down after a while.

  • Kevin Cheng says:

    Hi, Shane – Great post and I agree totally that multi-tasking is a myth. When people say they do this, I’m tempted to point out that they can’t really multi-task – it’s physically impossible. Our brains can focus on ONLY one thing at a time. I believe when someone tries to multi-task, four things happen:

    (1) Their quality of work for each task drops.
    (2) They are more likely to make mistakes.
    (3) They don’t enjoy what they’re doing nearly as much as they would if they’re focusing on one task at a time.
    (4) They don’t get as much benefit (i.e. lessons learned, insights gained, etc) out of doing each task because they’re not paying enough attention to any one task, so it becomes all a blur what they’ve just done.

    Again, very useful habits. I’m sure I’ll be implementing some of these.


    • Hi Kevin,

      From what I’ve read, when people try to multi task, what actually happens is that they switch between tasks. One of the issues with this is that you need to “re-orient” every time you switch. Every switch means a slight delay and some wasted effort, which makes multi tasking so unproductive.

  • Hi Shane and Paul,

    I like how you emphasize that the most important habit-set is the healthy food/exercise/meditation routine. It’s so easy as obsessive entrepreneurs to just work all the time, hammering our health into the ground and burning out. So glad that you highlighted health as a priority.

    Really enjoy your podcasts…refreshing and motivating to hear honest accounts of what’s worked for you guys and what challenges have come up for you. Maybe I can avoid those damn pitfalls! : )

    Looking forward to more podcasts!

    • Thanks for your comment, Nigel. The health and lifestyle aspects are definitely very important for me, yeah. I have a tendency to slip into “work only” mode and it’s just bad for me, over all. So the lifestyle aspect is something I have to work on very deliberately, to prevent it from derailing.

  • Hey Shaun, pretty sure this episode isn’t appearing in i-tunes. Just tried to find it and nada. Last episode on itunes is May 9 2015 as far as I can see. Btw Is it me or have you redesigned this blog using FocusBlog? Big fan of FocusBlog, using it for my own sites :-) Cheers, Gerard

    • Yeah, sorry about that. Need to fix my podcast feed.

      Yes, this is FocusBlog running on the site. :)

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