Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Let me tell you a story. So it's a story about a strategy and approach philosophy… one that I've been thinking a lot about. And it starts with a guy, that maybe you haven't heard of. His name is Dave Brailsford. And to set the stage for this, I want to tell you a little bit about British Cycling. So about 15 years ago, early 2000s, British Cycling hires this guy named Dave Brailsford. And at that point, last like 100 years, British Cycling had been incredibly mediocre. They had won a single gold medal back in 1908. They had never won the Tour de France, which is the premium race in cycling, the premier race. And so they hired this guy named Dave Brailsford to change that. And in fact at the time, they were so mediocre that when they went to buy a new set of bikes, they're getting like 200 from a top manufacturer in Europe, they actually weren't even given quotes from the manufacturer because they didn't want other teams to see the British riders using their gear, for fear that it would hurt sales. And so they brought Brailsford in, and they said: “What's your plan for changing this?” He said: “Well, I believe in this philosophy that I call the aggregation of marginal gains.” The way that he described it is the 1% improvement and nearly everything that you do. So they started with a bunch of things you would expect the cycling team to start with. So for example, they put slightly lighter tires on the bike. They got a more ergonomic seat for the riders to sit on. They had their outdoor riders wear indoor racing suits because they were lighter and more aerodynamic. They had each rider wear a biofeedback sensor so they could see how they would respond to training and then adjust it appropriately for the person. But then they did a bunch of things you wouldn't expect a cycling team to do. So they split tested different types of massage gels to see which one led to the best type of muscle recovery. They taught each rider how to wash their hands to reduce the risk of infections, they wouldn't get a cold after and get sick. They also figured out the type of pillow that led to the best night's sleep for each rider and then brought that on the road with them to hotels when they were competing. And Brailsford said if we can actually do this right, if we can execute all these little 1% improvements, then I think we can win a Tour de France within 5 years. He ended up being wrong. They won in two years and then they repeated again the third year with a different rider. And then after one year break they won two more; so they've won four out of last five now, have gone to British cyclists. But it was at the Olympics in London in 2012 and this kind of strategy really came to a fruition. They won 70% of the gold medals available. And so this idea that small improvements, tiny habits, little choices are not just a cherry on top of our performance, not just like a nice thing to have but actually can be the key that unlocks significant success. That's an idea that I want us to carry with us as we go through the rest of this presentation. And one way to think about it is just kind of basic math, like if you just look at the numbers. If you were able to improve by 1% each day for an entire year and those gains compound, you would end up 37 times better at the end of the year. And if you were to get 1% worse, you would little yourself almost all the way down to zero. And what's interesting here is that everybody wants a transformation, right? Everybody wants a radical improvement, want rapid success. But we fail to realize that small habits and little choices are transforming us every day already. That these times when you make a choice is slightly better, slightly worse, a little mistake or a small error, 1% better or 1% worse that these things compound over time. And habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. And so if you can learn to master those, then you can make time work for you rather than get against you, right? Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy. And so throughout the rest of this presentation I want to talk about how we can do that. Today I'm going to teach you how to build the habits that you need to get the results that you want. And in order to do this, I'm going to take you through a framework for building better habits. And I'm also going to share a personal example of how I use this. So my writing habit. If you don't know I write at Jamesclear.com, write about how to build better habits, improve performance and generally live better. Over a million people visit the site each month. There's over 400,000 subscribers on the weekly email newsletter. And it all came out of the simple writing habit. So for the rest of this talk, there are four stages of habit formation. I'm going to take you through each of those four. All right. So the four stages are: Noticing; Wanting; Doing; and Liking. Noticing; Wanting; Doing; and Liking. You cannot perform a habit or take an action if you do not notice something. I need to see a coffee cup sitting on the side in order to pick it up first. But if it's not in my realm of knowledge, if I don't know it exists I can't do anything about it. But then I need to want it. I need to want to drink coffee and pick it up. If I don't desire it or crave it, then I will not take the action. Then there's doing. You actually do the habit. And then I need to enjoy the reward. You need to enjoy drinking the coffee to repeat it again. So noticing; wanting; doing and liking. Let's talk about each one, and as we do this, I'm going to give you a little bit of research about why it works. I'm going to give you practical action steps, at least one for each that you can use to implement in your life. NOTICING So one of my favorite things about noticing, one of my favorite strategies for discussing it, it's called Implementation Intentions. And there are hundreds of studies on this, over 100 studies on implementation intentions, if you feel like digging out and getting into the research. But if not, I'll just give you the simple version here. So one of my favorite studies is about exercise. And they had three cohorts in this study. So they had first cohort, they said I just want you to track how often you workout over the next few weeks, right? So that's the standard cohort, the control group. Second group is that we want to track often your exercise, we're also going to give you a motivational speech, presentation, talk about the benefits of heart health, why habits are good for you, so on. So this is the motivated group, all right. The third group; they got the same presentation, so they are equally motivated and then they did one thing differently. And that one thing was they filled out this sentence. They said: during the next week, I will for taking all these 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on this day at this time in this place, right? They specifically stated their intention to implement the behavior. So implementation intention. Here's what happened. First group, one out of three of them worked out. Second group: motivation did nothing. As soon as they left the researcher's facility the next day they were motivated. It's like reading a book or watching a YouTube or listening to a motivational speaker and then you forget all about it 20 minutes later. But the third group… the group that has specific plan for how they were going to implement the behavior, nine out of ten of them worked out. So you can increase your odds of success 2x to 3x just by having a specific plan. And this is the insight: many people think that they lack motivation, when what they really lack is clarity. They think that they need to get more motivated that they need willpower in order to execute on a habit. If I just felt like writing, if I just felt like meditating, if I felt like working out, then I would do it. But in fact, they don't have a plan for it, so they wake up each day thinking I wonder if I'll feel motivated to write today, wonder if I'll feel motivated to workout today. But instead you can take the decision-making out of it by explicitly stating when, where, and how you want to implement the habit. So here's how I did this with my writing habit. I decided that on November 12, 2012 which was a Monday if you check, that was going to be the first day that I published an article. And I was going to publish every Monday and every Thursday. That was my implementation intention. That was my specific plan. Didn't matter how good or how bad it was; it didn't matter how long or how short it was. It didn't matter how I felt about it. If all I could do was write three good sentences that day, then that was getting published. But I did that, and I did it for three years. And that was how the site grew. It was just that core habit that drove the growth. So you need to give your goals a time and a place to live in the world, right? Give them space on your calendar. Now it sounds easy to say let's just start a plan, let's write down exactly what you should do and then maybe you'll follow through on it. But of course, we all know that there are challenges that arise. It's not quite that easy. Failure Pre-Mortem So here's a little strategy that I like to use to make sure you can come up with a better plan of action. And it's called the Failure Pre-Mortem. So the way that it works is you think about the habit, the project, the goal, whatever the most important thing is that you want to work on. And I want you to imagine fast forward six months from now and you fail, and then tell the story of why you failed, what happened, what challenges did you encounter? What was that took you off course? When I do this with businesses, sometimes we call the kill the company exercise. So everybody sits around, thinks about ways to kill the company in the next six months. And once you have all that stuff laid out on the table in front of you, you can start to make better choices about how to develop a plan. You can start to have if-then plans. So not only do I want to exercise for 20 minutes on Monday at 5:00 p.m. but also if I do not exercise because I have to take my kid to practice or whatever, then Tuesday morning at 7:00 a.m. I would go in, right? You can have ways to adjust for these challenges. So core point about noticing is it's hard to change something if you're not aware of it. And one way to become more aware of the opportunity to take action is to have a specific plan for what is going to happen. All right. STAGE 2: WANTING One of the most overlooked drivers of habits and human behavior is our physical environment. So let me tell you a quick story. This comes from Harvard. So these researchers at Harvard went to Massachusetts General Hospital and they had a very interesting question. They wondered if they could change people's behavior without talking to them at all, without giving them anything to do, without trying to motivate them, but how can we shift their behavior without asking them to do anything? So they… this is a drawing of the cafeteria at the hospital. This is drawn to scale. So the shaded pink boxes are areas where there are refrigerators that have soda in them. The two black boxes on the side are water, all right, refrigerators, water and then all the other tables are food in the cafeteria. Now they made a few little changes. They turned the pink boxes into ones that also had water. Okay, so they just added… but these refrigerators still have soda available; they just added water to it. And then they had a bunch of little rolling carts and they put those around the cafeteria too, so you can switch back and forth and see that, they just added a couple things. Now what happened? They didn't talk to anybody; didn't do anything. But over the next six months, people drank 25% more water and 11% less soda. And it's interesting because if you went up and talked to anybody sitting there and you asked them why are you drinking this, everybody would have a reason. They'd say, well I felt like drinking soda, I felt like drinking water. But in fact, many of them chose to drink it simply because they were presented with it. And this is an interesting insight about our desires. Your environment often influences them. We want things, simply because they are an option, right, simply because they are in front of us at the time. You walk into any living room in America, where do all the couches and chairs face? They all look at the TVs, like what does that room design to get you to do? We wonder why we sit and watch so much TV, it's because our desires are shaped in that way. So thankfully, you don't have to be the victim of your environment; you can also be the architect of it. You can decide to design something to make your good behaviors easier and your bad behaviors harder. So when it comes to habits you want to practice your guitar more frequently, put it right in the middle of your living room, so you run across all the time. You want to read more? When you make your bed in the morning, take the book you want to read; put it on top of the pillow. When you come back that night, pick it up, read a few pages, go to sleep. For me, I used to buy apples all the time and then I would put them in the crisper at the bottom of the fridge and they would sit there for three weeks and go bad. And I finally open it up and see them again, you get mad. And then eventually I bought a bowl and put it right in the middle of the counter. And so then when I buy apples I put them there, I see them every day. And now I eat them all the time. Many of our desires are simply shaped because we have an environment that shapes us in that way. So the moral of the story is I've never seen someone stick to positive habits in a consistent fashion in a negative environment.