Forging Habits of Steel: 7 Tips on Making and Breaking Habits

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 7, 2009 · 59 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

2009-12-06_1931

Habits make the man. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” If you want to be productive, you need the habit of planning. If you want to be physically fit, you need the habit of exercise. When you take a look at the habits in your life, what are they saying about you?

If you want to feel less restless and become more productive, it’s imperative that you break from your bad habits and develop good ones. When you have to decide every single day whether you’re going to go the gym, plan out your day, or read a good book, when you leave those choices up to your whims, to that day’s circumstances and your current mood, you’ll usually end up punting. It’s psychologically taxing to make the same decisions every day, and the more you fail to live up to your goals and break a contract with yourself, the less confident you become, and the less success you have with each new endeavor. As you begin to see yourself as a failure, it becomes a terrible self-fulfilling prophecy.

Men who feel like life is hard often have failed to form good habits. Every day is a struggle between what they want to do and what they end up doing instead. They can never find that groove, where the habits that make you stronger, healthier, and happier become almost automatic, giving you that feeling so central to a satisfied life: that of making continual progress.

If you’re not happy with where you’re at with your habits, below I’ve provided a few timeless tips that great men have employed to become the men they wished to be.

How to Develop a Habit

1. One thing at a time. Many men I know never change because they always try to improve everything about themselves at the same time. I do this too-you start feeling unhappy about your life and so you make a list of all the things you need to change, believing that starting the next day you’re going to totally transform yourself! It makes you feel really pumped. But changing one habit is hard enough; changing five at the same time is usually impossible. You’re juggling a bunch of balls and eventually you get tired and they all fall to the floor. And there you are, back at square one.

Dave Ramsey has a snowball debt plan in which he recommends paying off your smallest debt first. The idea behind the plan is twofold, that one, once the first debt is paid, you can take the money you were paying towards it and start using it to pay off the next debt, and two, that the satisfaction you’ll get from knocking out the first little one will keep you motivated to wipe out the rest. Cultivating new habits works in the same way. Start with the habit that will be easiest to gain; the confidence you garner from mastering it will carry over to your next hardest habit. Your confidence will keep snowballing; when you reach that hardest habit, you’ll finally have enough mojo built up to attain it.

It can be hard to place something you really need to tackle on the back burner, but you have to realize that doing so is the only way to ensure that you’ll finally be able to pursue it with success. Patience, young Padawan.

2. Launch your habit with as strong an initiative as possible. Just as a rocket needs a huge burst of energy to escape earth’s gravitational pull, man needs to exert a massive amount of energy in the beginning to break or create a habit. When developing a new habit or breaking an old one, we need to do something that shakes up our current mentality and makes us receptive to change. So go full-tilt in the beginning.  Kiss your soul-sucking friends goodbye, pack up the car and move, sign a year contract with a gym, throw away all the cigarettes (or in my case, the Diet Mountain Dew) in your house; whatever. Just make a big deal out of it.

3. Make a 60-day goal. That “21 days to develop a habit” theory you may have heard is probably bunk. The theory was created by a plastic surgeon turned self-proclaimed psychologist who wrote a book called Pyscho-Cybernetics. (The book is the 1960s version of the The Secret.) There’s no hard scientific evidence to back the claim.

In fact, a recent study done by actual scientists suggests that it takes on average 66 days to form a habit. The number of days depends on the type of habit you’re trying to form. Easy things like drinking a glass of water in the morning took less time compared to hard things like daily exercise.

So give yourself 60 days to form your new habit. 2 months is a long time to stick with something, but you’re a man-you’re up for the challenge!

4. Don’t break the chain! Once you resolve to form/break a habit, it’s imperative that you don’t make any exceptions for yourself. We don’t want to be like the drunken Rip van Winkle who excuses himself with every fresh dereliction by saying “It won’t count this time!” You might rationalize your “slip” to yourself and others, but deep down a record of it is etched into your brain, sending a message to your man spirit that you don’t really have the gumption to stick with your principles. Over time, these failures dull your motivation and sap your confidence.

Skipping one day makes it easier to skip the next and we soon find ourselves back where we started and frustrated with ourselves. Every single day counts. Any excuse will fracture your integrity (and thus your self-worth) and put you on the path to ultimate failure.

One way to motivate yourself through the excuses is to create a “Habit Chain.” As a young comic, Jerry Seinfeld made it a goal to write new jokes every day. To get himself into the writing habit, Seinfeld created a simple calendar system that pressured him to write.

Seinfeld would hang up a big yearly calendar on the wall. Every day he sat down to write, he would make a big red X over that day.

“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

I’ve used this system myself a few times and can testify that it works. There’s just something about seeing that chain of X’s on a calendar that both motivates you to keep going and makes you scared to break it.

A few sites on the web have popped up that have created online tracking systems like Seinfeld’s. Dontbreakthechain.com and Joe’s Goals both allow you to track your habit-forming progress online. Best of all, they’re free. Sign up with an account today and start tracking. And remember, “Never break the chain!”

5. Keep yourself accountable. Even more motivating than a calendar full of X’s is an accountability partner. It’s easy to fall off the wagon when no one will ever find out about our failures. An accountability partner is someone who can ask how you’re doing and demand honesty. And the thought of having to tell them about your slip up can motivate you to stay on track. Accountability partners can take many forms; you can ask a friend or mentor to check in on you daily or weekly, you can make a pledge on your blog (provided people read it!) and provide regular updates on your progress, you can make a bet with your friends, or you could start a group in the Community to work on the habit with other men. If you’re trying to quit the porn, check out this site to download software that will send a weekly report on all the websites you visit to whomever you choose.

6. Replace a bad habit with a good habit. In my experience, it seems the only way to kill a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. Nature abhors a vacuum; if you create a hole in your life and don’t actively fill it with something good, it’s going to follow the path of least resistance and fill with whatever is most handy-yup, your old bad habit.

For example, for a few years now I’ve been trying to kick a Diet Mountain Dew habit that started while I was an undergrad and only intensified during law school. I want to stop the habit because a) aspartame sort of freaks me out and b) I could spend $5 on something better than a 12 pack of soda.

Every time I would resolve to stop drinking the stuff, I’d do alright for a week or two, only to eventually end up at QuikTrip with my mouth over the Dew dispenser.

Looking back at all my failures, I can see I went wrong by never replacing the Diet Mountain Dew habit with a better one. So, I end up returning to it, like a dog to its neon yellow vomit. This time around I’ve decided to drink a cup of yerba mate or a big glass of water when I get the urge to pop a can of Dew.

Your habits, both bad and good, create deep neural pathways in your brain. Think of it like hacking through a forest-the first time is rough because you’re blazing a new trail, the second time is much easier, and then it gets easier and easier on each successive trip as you turn the pathway into a well-worn trail. Your brain wants to follow these pre-blazed paths because they’re already laid out. This is why habits are so hard to break.

You can’t just erase the pathways. Instead, you must start hacking a path that runs parallel to and bypasses the old trail. It will be tough going at first, but eventually the good habit will become the clear, go-to path, while the old habit path becomes overgrown with vegetation from disuse.

7. Just do it, dammit! It doesn’t matter how inspired or motivated we are, if we don’t take advantage of every opportunity to act on those sentiments, our goal of forming a habit will end in failure. The key to success is consistent action. Personally, my biggest challenge is getting stuck in the “strong initiative” phase. Everybody loves the idea of turning over a new leaf; it’s easy to get excited about getting a fresh start and changing your life. Purging the house of junk, buying a new planner or self-help book is fun.

It’s when two weeks have gone by and the excitement wears off that the men are separated from the boys. The realization sinks in that forming this habit is going to take unglamorous work every damn day, that like straight razor shaving, you have to sharpen and hone your razor over and over.  It becomes a test of endurance. The key is not to give up what you ultimately want, for what you feel in the moment. Don’t let your brain tell you that you current discomfort will last indefinitely. It won’t. Eventually you’ll have carved out that new pathway, things will become easier, almost automatic, and you’ll see how good it feels to get literally in the groove.

So, let’s quit the navel gazing, roll up our sleeves, and get to work on forging habits that will turn us into the men we want to be!

What habits are you working on developing or breaking? Any other tips that have worked for you?

{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Noah Kephart December 7, 2009 at 1:08 am

Solid.

2 Nick December 7, 2009 at 1:47 am

This is good stuff. I especially like the chain idea.

3 Bruce December 7, 2009 at 2:21 am

Very helpful and practical. Well-timed, too, as New Year resolutions are almost upon us.

4 Gordie Rogers December 7, 2009 at 2:28 am

A great book to help you develop great habits is “Eat that Frog”by Brian Tracy. It gives you 21 solid tips.

5 Mark December 7, 2009 at 2:59 am

These are all very good – especially the last point. I still have a few things I’m trying to get into the habit doing (creative writing, practicing drawing, heck… even brushing my teeth, etc.), and that can be disappointing, but looking back over my life and seeing what habits I HAVE accomplished to teach myself… it’s very encouraging that even these that have so far eluded me can be developed.

Good luck to all of us in this endeavor.

6 David Greenwood December 7, 2009 at 4:31 am

Fantastic article (as ever)…
Some great analogies and gull of tips that I endeavour to employ

7 Joe Wrigley December 7, 2009 at 5:30 am

I really like the very simple habitcal for the “Don’t break the chain” type habit building. It is written by Reinhard Engels, a lifehackerish guy who has a bunch of “every day” systems for improving your life.

Check it out: http://everydaysystems.com/habitcal/

8 Sir Lancelot December 7, 2009 at 7:04 am

If one had to rescue a single post from this website, this would be the one. This is the alfa and the omega of all virtue.

Congratulations – you folks are mature beyond your age.

Funny to hear an Oklahoman mention yerba mate, too.

9 Timo December 7, 2009 at 7:15 am

One of the most motivating articles if have ever read.
I’m gonna start today.

10 Scott December 7, 2009 at 7:37 am

Great article, another method would be similar to Benjamin Franklin’s virtue chart. Replace a bad habit (Laziness) with a good virtue (Industry) and track it on the chart, perhaps with a plus/minus system for when you got above (or below) your current level of activity. (ie. give me -2 for not cleaning the gutters or fixing the drooping christmas lights this weekend, but plus 1 for cleaning the frost from my wife’s car even tho she probably won’t go anywhere today)

11 IrishTony December 7, 2009 at 7:51 am

Great Atricle.

I am just about to embark on this myself.
I am getting a brand new leather bound journal , and going against advice and changing 2 things at once.
I am gonna start getting up early, and also keeping a journal.

Once the getting up early has been established I plan on using that time to formulate other good habits, but I can see myself coming back to this post time and time again.

Thanks as usual Brett and co.

12 NV December 7, 2009 at 8:07 am

I am genuinely curious as to “a recent study done by actual scientists” being sourced because it sounds like an interesting read to be armed with whenever I hear the 21 days being bandied about.

I found that, personally, it took about 40 days before I stopped feeling the desire to have a cigarette. I weaned myself off of the nicotine with patches, but really the hardest thing was to escape the habit of smoking, say, after a meal, or while waiting for a bus.

108 days and counting now – for those who are thinking of this as they read the above article, I took 30s to 45s PER kilometre off of my 10k times in three months. The only change in my training? No more cigarettes.

Good will to you all.

13 Cory December 7, 2009 at 8:28 am

Fabulous article.

I can not agree more on the Mountain Dew habit. I finally managed to succeed this year in kicking mine. My slep was getting to the point I was not getting rested and was relying on almost 6 cans a day to keep me awake at work. I got a sleep test and they determined that I had mild sleep apnea and that the caffeine was contributing to my lack of rest. I got the CPAP and knew it was time to quit.
Cold turkey is the hardest way to kick a habit but I decided to not drink anymore from that day on. I am now 8 months along and have not had one soda. I feel terrific and my sleep has improved ten fold.

Thank you for this article.

14 TR December 7, 2009 at 8:57 am

One good thing to remember about kicking any habit is to not let yourself get cocky about it. Sure, once you get into a groove, it feels easier than you ever expected. However, I’ve found that the times when I’m most susceptible to falling back into old habits is when I find myself patting myself on the back. A couple weeks will go by, I’ll think “Huh. Way to go!,” and then I’ll suddenly drop. I’ve never kicked a habit without keeping my guard up in defense against this sort of attack. I have to always remember where I came from, lest I fall back into the same-ol’ same-ol’. Whether this applies only to me or not, I can’t know for sure, but if it helps anyone, then great. Just remember not to feel proud about your accomplishment to the point where you become arrogant about it. After all, if it’s something you should have been doing in the first place, what gives you the right to get a big head over it?

15 Greg December 7, 2009 at 9:27 am

In his books on holistic living, Dr. Andrew Weil recommends you change no more than two things a week. In his context, it’s one minor change in diet & exercize each week. He agrees that it takes at least eight weeks to establish a habit that is a major change in one’s lifestyle.

16 CJ December 7, 2009 at 9:49 am

A fellow soda-holic! I bested my addiction by replacing it with Simply Lemonade, sweet tea, and water. The sweet tea and lemonade still have sugar, but not the cancer-giving kind. Yerba Mate is really good in the mornings too.

17 Mark Marshall December 7, 2009 at 10:02 am

What is wrong with the diet mountain dew?

18 Brett December 7, 2009 at 10:31 am

NV- Forgot to put the link to the study. Here it is: http://www.spring.org.uk/2009/09/how-long-to-form-a-habit.php

Mark- I’m trying to kick artificial sweeteners and I’d like to spend $5 on something else every week besides a 12 pack of soda.

19 Dallas December 7, 2009 at 11:04 am

Something I’ve learned from bad habits of the past women in my life: Stop saying “it’s really difficult”. It is difficult, but saying it is only an excuse and an absolute killer of progress. I hate it when I find myself saying it & just removing those words from my vocabulary seems to break down an instant road block & really open my mind to more positive thinking. I’m sure I’ve done it more than I’d care to admit, it’s just been easy to see others doing it for so long that now I can see it in myself. Always liberating to see a mistake I’m making, admit it & then real positive things are possible. Good article!

20 Nick December 7, 2009 at 11:17 am

Brett – I think the problem is just the Diet Dew from QT…It is absolutely addictive, delicious, and the cheapest thing to drink…cheaper than water at QT…you may have to move…good luck

21 lady brett December 7, 2009 at 11:56 am

excellent article as usual! i especially like the point of replacing a bad habit with a good one. heck, if you don’t, even if you don’t “relapse” you’re liable to replace bad habits with bad. i’ve found that replacement technique most helpful when you’re feeling down (or whatever it is that makes you more vulnerable to yourself).

however, i would like to add that “cold turkey” habit-breaking does not work best for everyone. from what i can tell (very informally, from folks i know) people for whom all-or-nothing works best are a lot more common, but there are some people (like myself) who are naturally moderates. for me it is nigh impossible to quit anything cold-turkey, but i also am not likely to ruin my habit completely by taking a specific break from it (though it does have to be *specific*, so as to be able to differentiate it from excusing every single fall-back). for example, when i decided to “quit” drinking dr. pepper, i didn’t have much difficulty going from a once-or-twice-a-day habit to a once-or-twice-a-week habit. i gave myself one soda every saturday for my trip to the farmer’s market, and perhaps one “terrible day at the office” soda a week, but absolutely no more than that. it worked brilliantly, unlike every time i’ve tried to entirely quit entirely before.

so, i just think it’s important to allow for a bit of difference in folks (and – an important part of that – to be honest with yourself about what works for you).

22 JR Cooper December 7, 2009 at 12:08 pm

One habit I have kicked is the need for soda. Once while researching why I wasn’t sleeping well, I found out that dehydration prevents your blood vessels from swelling while you sleep. This is a major role in the rejuvenation of your body. I started drinking plenty of water, and sure enough I felt well rested in the morning. As a bonus, my arms and hands were not dry and in need of lotion. Now I have replaced the soda with water and green tea. When I do have a soda, it is a treat, and I enjoy them much more than before.

23 Rich December 7, 2009 at 12:19 pm

When I was first getting into boxing I would not let myself miss a day of training. However, I found that I was missing out on a few things that I actually wanted to do. I made a preset list of exceptions that I could miss training for (date with a girl, friend’s birthday, ect.). The other rule I made was that if I did miss a day of training I still have to go for a 3 mile run. This allowed training not to control my life while retaining it as a habit.

24 Rich December 7, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Also, I quit drinking pop by drinking club soda. I realized I really just like the carbonation. Still bad for your teeth. though. http://www.sodaclub.com/

25 Wesley December 7, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Awesome read. I have so many things in my life that this can be applied to. Great article.

26 bostonhud December 7, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Great article, Brett. Replacing old habits with new ones never occurred to me, but makes a lot of sense.

Speaking of New Years Resolutions, my roomate in college would always start his yearly goals in December- giving him a month ahead of everyone to get in the groove, make changes, and set himself up for success. He was the most productive guy I knew- and now I follow the same system.

On quitting soda- I was fat as a kid and teenager, and senior year of high school decided that it was enough. So I woke up, and said “No soda”. I’ve only had two cans in the past seven years. The best advice I can give for this is “Outta sight, outta mind”.

27 Brett McKay December 7, 2009 at 1:00 pm

@TR-

Good point. A study I read said how when you stop using a neural pathway, it does become less strong, but that the reintroduction of old cues can open it right back up again. Which is why dieters can do really well when they’ve cleansed their house of bad foods, but when they go out and see their old favorite food sitting before them, they fall right back into devouring it. So you’re right on about never getting cocky about it. You always have to keep your guard up and try to avoid the old triggers that make you want to fall back into your habit.

28 Andrew Smith December 7, 2009 at 1:04 pm

“a recent study done by actual scientists suggests that it takes on average 66 days”. Can you provide a citation? It would be nice to have more details on this study.

29 Joe DeGiorgio December 7, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Maintaining awareness and (#7) taking action: the cornerstones of any habit that we care to entrench. Nice article, Brett.

30 Michael Dore December 7, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Reminds me of a character in the Discworld series – Commander Vimes. He made a promise to his son to be home every night at 6 to read him a book. His philosophy about committing that was “if you make an exception, even for a good reason, sooner or later you will make an exception for a bad reason” (more or less in those words).

31 Val December 7, 2009 at 3:52 pm

In my experience, I found it very useful to interrupt every 7 days the new habit I’m trying to acquire. For example, when I wanted to eat less, I would eat “healthy” for 6 days, while on either Saturday OR Sunday I would indulge in some tasty/unhealthy food.

Yes, I lost weight slightly less rapidly, but hadn’t I done that, I would have stopped after a few weeks, restarting to eat just like before (or more). Ever since, I eat very healthy all week while still enjoying something greasy on weekends, and I’ve never been so skinny.

Maybe this doesn’t apply to other habits one might try to acquire, but I found it a good parallelism with the “Climb high, sleep low” method of mountaineering: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altitude_training

32 Big B December 7, 2009 at 4:06 pm

I can attest to the success of an accountability partner. I’m on a bit of a weight-loss goal right now, and the habit that I needed to form was exercise. I started a website (intentionally not linked because I don’t want to give the impression of self-promotion) where I could share the experience of becoming a better person overall. I do weekly weigh-ins on this site, and feel bad when I miss a workout for whatever reason, mostly because I feel like I am disappointing my reader-base. It’s powerful voodoo to be accountable for your habits.

33 Kevin December 7, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Great topic!

34 Chuck December 7, 2009 at 9:56 pm

The chain formation has worked really well for keeping me active. I just used a simple spreadsheet with each week being a row. Each cell had the date at the top and enough room to write a quick description of the physical activity of the day. It actually started as a running log then grew to include surfing, biking, yardwork, or anything physical. If I didn’t do anything that day, then a big X went across the box. At the end of the week, it was not a good feeling to see more X’s than action. I would make sure I did something, anything, just to keep from having to put an X in the box.

35 8McDo December 8, 2009 at 3:11 am

thanks! this is very timely for the new year. if you must know, year in and year out ive been making a resolution. unfortunately, i gained nothing much. it did not occur to me that planning should be involved. it just makes sense. but i did not look at it that way. i would just do what i thought i should do.

nice touch on emphasizing No. 7. *thumbs up

36 Robert December 8, 2009 at 5:43 am

Dear Brett and Kate,

I would like to thank you for the support you provide through this site.

I became a member here midway through the ’30 days to a better man project’ (June 09) and I continually am impressed and filled with gratitude for the wisdom your site has provided me. Prior to joining your community, I had been searching for a guide to help me with the personal hurdles I had been facing. I had not been able to find such guidance previously on the net or from those around me and I felt that I was not following the path in life which I had dreamt for myself. Through the determination of seeking personal improvement and the resources on your website, I have found the motivation and direction I had been lacking.

I personally feel that this posting resonates a lot of the messages you are broadcasting on this site. All the tasks on ’30 days to a better man project’, especially ‘Defining core values, increasing your testosterone, starting a journal, “IF”, “BUCKET LIST”, DECLUTTERING, etc. The posting on finding your N.U.T’s, manly stories and the rest are spearheaded through this post. I have taken in so much from this site and I am thankful for it.

I feel this posting also relates to how I am making a stamp on my manliness, I have made some core values and identified some good habits which I believe will make me a better man, husband and father.

@ those who have made comments, thank you and good luck with your personal achievements.

Regards

Robert

37 Dave December 8, 2009 at 10:38 am

I’ve used a few of these and find the best one so far is making a bet to my friends and if I dont hold up my end of the bargan then I have to buy them a steak dinner (or whatever they want). This motivates them to check up on me and try and catch me not doing whatever I said I would and then I’m SURE that I keep on doing what I need to.

38 Brian December 8, 2009 at 5:45 pm

At the cusp of 35, a smoker since 12, a heavy drinker since 15 and an indulger of other incendiary herbs since 18, I found this installment to be very helpful and motivational. I must say that my wife is my biggest support and motivation allowing me to fall down again and again all the while being there when help is needed most. We are expecting our first child this summer. I want to be the best “manly” roll model I can (whether it be a boy or a girl). I have quit smoking (all items) and have quit drinking as well (I promised my wife years ago that if she ever got pregnant that I would quit drinking). I run 3 miles a day on my lunch breaks, plus a daily workout routine of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and curls. I am in a ever increasingly stressful position in my life: I work as a civil engineer and am currently trying to pass the national and state specific Professional Engineer License Exam (37% passing rate). The urge to reconnect with one of my vices is undoubtedly strong. But the feeling of becoming physically fit has grown to outweigh the false feelings that my vices offer me. I am also an aspiring musician, which my binge drinking had a large detrimental impact on. Now I can have a glass of tasty apple juice and shred all night.

Good luck to all with their quests.

Thanks for constant support and inspiring blogs. I always look forward to them, and look forward to sharing them with our child someday.

39 Maria December 8, 2009 at 5:58 pm

These tips not apply only to men…I found them very helpful for everybody who wants to improve their life

40 AB December 8, 2009 at 6:31 pm

Thanks for the post and good luck with the Mountain Dew!

I’ve just made a commitment to break my own drinking habit. But my habit is alcohol. I’m full of motivation and confidence right now but I know it is going to get really hard and I am scared that I’ll eventually fail like I have in the past. I want to go two months without drinking.

I could really do with a mentor that I could report to to help me keep myself accountable (item 5 above!) but I’m certain my current friends would not be helpful in that role.

If anyone in the AoM community is willing to just read my drinking stats over the next two months I’d appreciate it. Anyone can email me at hello(dot)alexbrown(at)gmail(dot)com.

41 Duane December 9, 2009 at 5:56 am

Yes. Solid.

42 Omar December 9, 2009 at 11:44 am

I want to break the habit of talking softly. I use my deep voice but it tends to lessen in some conversations.

43 Harry December 9, 2009 at 2:57 pm

This is a great article on building habits.
For tracking your habits and goals online, you may want to check out http://www.GoalsOnTrack.com, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It’s clear, focused, easy to navigate, worth a try.

44 Ben Komanapalli Jr December 9, 2009 at 5:35 pm

This is very good stuff. Very helpful!! Thank you!

45 yoda December 10, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Why are men only mentioned here? This is applicable for EVERYONE!

46 Michael Bruce December 11, 2009 at 12:18 am

This was a great article. I really like the idea of pathways being hacked away through a forest. I can attest to the power of habits. I used to wake up at 5 o’clock every morning to pray and work out, and did that for an entire semester. It eventually became 2nd nature but now it seems out of the question. Its time to carve some new paths through the forest and now I’m looking forward to the challenge.

47 Michael Bruce December 11, 2009 at 12:46 am

Two thoughts that I’d like to add…
1. I find that it’s best to create a clear goal and write it down. Physically scrawling out the words and seeing it in front of you creates a deeper impression on you than just having it in the back of your mind.

2. I found it beneficial to bypass the conscious mind when I carry out a commitment I’ve made. For example: When I first wake up in the morning to work out my mind would want to start an internal dialogue that began something like “Do I really want to do this?”. Half of the battle is won if you immediately silence that internal conversation and just let your body carry out the commitment in silence.

48 Dan Smith December 16, 2009 at 2:01 am

Very great and timely wisdom on developing good habits and breaking bad habits- especially with the approaching binge of New Year’s resolution making. My only fear, however, is that in a society of unhealthy perfectionism (where people constantly pursue the perfect body, perfect reputation, and perfect job performance), the temptation to be driven by a fear of failure is tremendous and debilitating. In my own experience, study, and conversation with others, I have found that many people often do not start good habits because they are afraid of caring too much and being disappointed with themselves when they fail. A similar facet is guilt. As a motivator, guilt seems only to work for a short period. Even if it does work for a while, it enslaves us. As men, slavery to something, whether bad habit, fear of failure, or guilt, is an abomination. How might a man set goals that he actually cares about (especially as the new year approaches), and not be enslaved to a fear of not being perfect? I haven’t perused all of your articles to discover an answer (and there are many great articles left to read), but perhaps it has something to do with where a man finds his identity and security. Thoughts anyone?

49 lloyd December 18, 2009 at 2:22 am

While the post has some sound advice, I do have one point that NEEDS to be made. It has to do with your comparison between the amazing book titled “Psycho-Cybernetics” and the overhyped movie “The Secret”.

Not every man knows the keys to developing mental fortitude, which contributes greatly to will power. The book you mentioned in the post, titled “Psycho-Cybernetics”, is like a handbook for the mind, and it will give you the tools every man should have for exerting control in their own life.

Psycho-Cybernetics is NOT even remotely like “The Secret”. “The Secret” is full of fluff, with no detailed instruction whatsoever. Psycho-Cybernetics on the other hand, provides thorough explanations on the psychology of successful thought patterns.

The book provides useful descriptions of practical exercises. I’ll personally attest to their effectiveness, but who cares what I think. The exercises detailed in this book are copied by millions of authors worldwide, not to mention highly successful athletes and leaders.

In this book you will find answers related to things such as:
- Choosing Success
- Living without fear or inhibition
- Handling Crisis
- Managing emotions
- Living to your fullest potential

I could go on, and on with this list, but you might get bored with that.

Please don’t make such a quick judgement of this book. It’s sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, and your snap judgement may prevent your readers from experiencing the power of such a great book.

I am not being paid to write this post. This 100% what I truly believe. It was only a week or two ago while I was reading this book, that I honestly said to myself, “If i had to own only one book in my library, it would undoubtedly be this one”.

Best wishes to you and your readers on following through with your goals.
Happy Holidays!

50 James January 11, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I have a couple of habits that I am starting and found this a timely read, thanks.

51 Dr. Mateen January 24, 2010 at 8:25 am

Honestly Ive had this window open for some time now. At the end of last year I bookmarked it to review it at a later time. I finally made that “time” to read the article in its entirety and it was well worth it. The fear of change, beliefs and hard work are the most demanding of ones self. And I to have struggled to open and honestly revise my lifestyle for the better in hence leaving this window open until now. Reading this is one thing but being in the right state of mind is most critical in advancements. Its a new year but once your hungry enough you will make a change.

52 Matt February 28, 2010 at 10:50 am

I hope this post will help me out some. It has certainly given me some ideas that should help me start changing some things. I think I’ll start with my procrastination…I’ll get on it tomorrow. ;)
But in all seriousness I am going to try to start making some small changes and see what happens.

53 Stan November 16, 2012 at 5:45 am

Streaks motivational calendar. Greatest self-improvement app available on the iPhone. Simple, intuitive, effective.

http://fanzter.com/products/streaks

54 Andrew Wiens May 27, 2013 at 10:10 pm

What if there are many habits that you want to break. Can you do more than just one at a time.

55 bentley July 6, 2013 at 3:48 am

I think we all really hate porno, deep down.

56 Félix October 3, 2013 at 10:57 am

Great article!
As a happy young man, freshly graduated from university, I feel important to look back on the habits I’ve taken over the last few years.

As I’ve gained more responsibilities and my parents diminished the ones they’ve had towards me, I’ve realised maybe I could have started my adult life a little better.

Mostly, I wish I’d worked harder in school. I managed to complete my bachelor degree in time but I now that I want to continue to graduate studies, good grades are generally a prerequisite and help to obtain loans and bursaries.

Also, like many other guys, I’ve been browsing porn regularly over the last years. My self-confidance was low and I had trouble getting in relationships with girls. As I started working part-time and getting involved in school activities, my self-esteem went up and I managed to start my first serious relationship with my girlfriend over a year ago, at 23. But I haven’t lost the porn habit yet, even though I’ve acquired an active sexual life.

THIS is a habit I want to quit because I don’t think it is bringing me anything valuable in life and also because my girlfriend is not really comfortable with that. I would like to change that to regular/daily exercise because I wish to reach a certain level of fitness in my life. It can be also something else I could be proud of.

Next things will be to start saving 20% of my money and to plan ahead better :)

57 Andrew January 7, 2014 at 4:03 pm

i am a catholic and every year do the old lenten fast. what always fascinates me is whereas i would usually drink 4-5 cups of coffee a day, it’s rather easy to stop during lent, the same goes for alcohol. As a man i do enjoy a beer after a long day, during lent it is pretty easy to drop it. one year in fact not having an evening beer was so easy, i decided to continue for the rest of the year. it seems that when one has a clear mind toward a purpose and recognise also the uselessness of the habit, it takes half the weight of effort away. paricularly perhaps, it enables and frees up the power to believe. therefore, at one end we need belief, at the other end strong decided purpose that rules it out to a degree as an option.

58 Joel February 20, 2014 at 9:53 am

Great post and a great site overall. Keep up the good work. I love the fact based note about 66 days.

So far I have:
stopped biting my fingernails
begun flossing my teeth every day
decreased my caffeine intake
increased my water intake (good habit to balance the caffeine)

Right now I’m focused on:
cutting down my mindless screen time (and replacing it with actually reading)
Going to bed at a consistent time and getting enough sleep.
Not buying anything else every time I get get gas (I’m a sucker for breakfast sandwiches. 2 for $3 is even better!)

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