Quick Start Guide

New to this site? So is everyone else – I just launched it today. Hi, I’m Leo, and I’m the author of the Zen Habits blog and The Power of Less.

Here’s a quick overview of this site and how it will help you.

  1. About this site. What is 6Changes.com? Choose 6 habits for 2010, and I’ll help you form them.
  2. The 6 Changes Method. Here’s the method that you’ll use to form each of the 6 habits.
  3. Suggest habits. Which six will you choose? Some recommendations.
  4. The Importance of Public Accountability. Why it’s one of the foundations of the method, and how to do it.
  5. What’s a Trigger & Why Is It So Important? Another key to the method.
  6. Why You Should Do Only One Habit at a Time. Answers one of the most common questions people have about the method.
  7. How to Be Patient as Your Habit Develops. It’s not easy to do it this slowly, but here’s how it works and how to do it.
  8. The Problem With New Year’s Resolutions. Actually, a number of problems. And how this method will solve them.
  9. The Art of the Start of a Habit. Why starting is so hard and how this method overcomes it.
  10. How to Kick a Bad Habit. Suggested method that has worked for me in the past.
  11. How to Form the Exercise Habit. One of a series of planned posts about how to apply the method.
  12. Key to Habit Change: Enjoy the Activity. Don’t force yourself to do something you hate. Find ways to enjoy it instead.
  13. Make Your Habit Change a Priority. How not to let it drop by the wayside.
  14. Don’t Worry So Much About Long-term Goals. Focus on the process, not the end point.
  15. Why Daily Frequency of Habits is Important. Daily habits are better than ones you do once a week, or even 2-3 times a week.

I will put these articles and others together into a free ebook soon, for your downloading pleasure.

For more on successful habit change technique, as well as ways to simplify your life and become more effective, check out my book, The Power of Less.

Why Daily Frequency of Habits is Important

One very common question is: what about habits that aren’t every day? What if I want to exercise three times a week, or do my finances once a week?

It’s very possible to create a habit like that (think of weekend habits as a good example), but it’s harder.

Daily habits are easier to create, and therefore have a better chance of success.

Remember, you need to create a strong bond between the trigger and the habit, and this is done by being as consistent as possible. The more the habit is consistently done immediately after the trigger, the stronger the bond, and the sooner the habit becomes automatic.

So if you decide to create a new habit in two months … think about the bond between trigger and habit if you exercise once a week, or every day:

  • The once a week habit will happen about eight times in the two months, giving the habit and trigger eight chances to form a bond.
  • The daily habit will happen about 60 times in the two months, giving the habit and trigger more than 7 times the number of chances to form a bond.

From this, it should be obvious why a daily habit is formed more firmly than a weekly habit. And it follows that doing a habit 2-3 times a week, or even 5 times a week, is less than ideal — not as good as a daily habit.

So, at least for your first few habits, choose habits that can be done every single day. Which means you need a trigger you do every single day — this is important: don’t choose a trigger you only do on weekdays and then forget about on weekends. For example, if you get up and get ready for work on weekdays, but sleep in and do a completely different routine when you wake up on weekends, don’t choose your weekday routine as your trigger.

If you choose a habit that’s less than daily — say 5 times a week or 2-3 times — choose a trigger that’s only done on those days. So if you ride the train to work 5 times a week, then it’s OK to use that as a trigger for a habit you do 5 times a week. But it’s not OK to use that as a trigger for a habit you plan to do 2-3 times a week, because then you’ll have 3 days where it’s a trigger for the habit, and 2 days when it’s not. Which means the bond will be very weak — you don’t automatically do the habit every single time the trigger occurs.

But again, daily frequency is best, because the bond will become the strongest. And again, choose a daily habit for at least your first 2-3 habits.

Suggested Habits: Which 6 Should You Pick for 2018?

Which 6 habits you choose for 2018 is a highly personal issue – it depends on what you want in life, where you’re at, what you’ve done already, what kind of a person you want to be.

Are you unhealthy or overweight? You might want to choose habits related to eating healthier and exercising regularly.

Are you stressed out and in debt? You might choose habits dealing with decluttering, simplifying your schedule, becoming more frugal.

Are you looking for a career change? You could choose things like waking early, so you can have more time to work on a new career, and creating something amazing every day.

Tired of smoking or drinking or procrastinating? Replace your old habits with new triggers.

But for most people, here are some great habits you could choose from that I believe will make the most difference:

  1. Daily exercise. Choose an activity you enjoy.
  2. Eating healthier. Choose real, unprocessed foods that you love.
  3. Waking earlier. This isn’t completely necessary for anything, other than it gives you some quiet time where you can relax and find peace, or create something amazing in quiet.
  4. Decluttering. Simplifying your schedule and possessions is an amazing way to find the focus you’re looking for.
  5. Focus on creating. Every day, set aside time at the beginning of the day to clear away distractions and just create that something amazing.
  6. Stopping impulse spending. This could make a great difference to your finances and help get you out of debt.

There are many other great choices, of course, including but not limited to:

  • Reading novels.
  • Taking photographs.
  • Flossing.
  • Quitting smoking or drinking.
  • Scrapbooking.
  • Spending quality time with spouse or kids.
  • Hiking.
  • Cooking.
  • Getting organized.
  • Keeping your house clean.
  • Saving or making debt payments.

And many more. What six will you choose?

How to Be Patient as Your Habit Develops

The hardest part about the super-easy 6 Changes Method is waiting.

You have to pick one habit, and stick with it for 2 months. I’ll admit, that takes a lot of patience, and most of us don’t usually have patience like that.

But the alternative is to be impatient, and to fail. Always remember that: you’re choosing between patience and success, and impatience and failure.

Sticking with a new habit for two months will almost guarantee your success. I’ve done it many times.

So how do you stay patient? Some ideas:

  • Think of it as a series of mini-goals, perhaps. Each week is a new step, and each week you’re going to accomplish something amazing. Even if the first week is way too easy, it’s a start, and starting is really something to celebrate. Don’t look at the larger picture of two months, or 12 months. Look at it one week at a time. That’s much more manageable.
  • Your very public commitment and accountability measures will help you stick with it. If you tell everyone you know, and more, that you’ll be doing this one habit for two months, you’ll want to succeed in the eyes of everyone. If you have to give them a daily update, you’ll want to stick with it.
  • Reward yourself each week. As you accomplish each mini-goal, you’ll feel great about it. Give yourself a little treat.
  • Focus on enjoying the activity. Don’t think about what’s ahead — focus on now. If you’re trying to exercise or meditate, think about how much you enjoy it. If you’re trying to eat healthy, choose healthy foods you enjoy, and savor each bite. Whatever you’re trying to do, focus on the enjoyable aspects of it, and make doing it a treat.

The Rule of Specificity

The habit you choose needs to be specific. It can’t be vague.

For example, don’t say that you want to exercise. Say you want to run for 10 minutes a day right after you drink coffee in the morning. Don’t say you want to drink more water. Say you’re going to drink 6 glasses of water every day.

If the habit is vague, there’s no way to know if you’re doing it. And as such, you’ll do it well on some days and not very well on other days.

You should have a measurable change — are you going to do 10 pushups, 5 minutes of meditation, floss once at night, wake up 15 minutes earlier, declutter 10 things from your home a day?

Vague habits fail. Specific ones are likely to succeed.

The Art of the Start of a Habit

Starting any new endeavor, any new habit, is the hardest part. It’s hard to get up the momentum, the energy, to start a really hard project, such as creating a new habit.

And when we don’t start, we never get there.

Most people fail because they don’t even start.

The 6 Changes Method beats this tendency, overcomes that initial inertia.

Here’s how to beat inertia and get started:

Start ridiculously easy and small.

That’s it. That, and public accountability.

When I tell people how ridiculously easy they should start, they think I’m kidding. They think that’s too easy, and they decide to skip the first really easy step. They’re making a mistake.

The first step is the most important step, in the beginning. After that, the next step is the most important step.

You want to start as small and easy as possible, so that there is no excuse for not starting. You won’t be intimidated or overwhelmed, because you’re setting the bar as low as possible — you can’t possibly get tripped up by it, so you have no choice but to do it.

And if you tell people you’re going to start with this ridiculously easy step (public accountability), you’ll be embarrassed not to start.

Here are some examples of ridiculously easy starts — engineered so you can’t fail:

  • Start exercise just by putting on your shoes and going outside.
  • Start flossing simply by taking out a piece of floss each night at the same time. Don’t actually floss.
  • Start eating healthy simply by drinking a glass of water at each meal.
  • Start waking early just by setting your alarm 5 minutes early the first week.
  • Start decluttering by choosing one thing you can get rid of each day. Just one.
  • Start kicking the smoking habit by starting your day reading (or watching a sunrise, or meditation, or whatever) instead of smoking. Just replace that one cigarette at first.
  • Start kicking the email obsession by doing it one less time per hour — and doing something else, like updating your to-do list or taking one action on a report you’re working on, or whatever.

Start really really easy and small, and tell lots of people about it. You won’t fail to start.

The Problems With New Year’s Resolutions

What I love about the New Year is the hope that we all seem to have, every year, at this fresh start.

We believe we can change our lives.

Unfortunately, that enthusiasm and hope often fades within weeks, and our efforts at self improvement come to a whimpering end. That’s not great, but it’s also not inevitable.

New Year’s Resolutions usually fail because of a combination of some of these reasons:

  1. We try to do too many resolutions at once, and that spreads our focus and energies too thin. It’s much less effective to do many habits at once (read more).
  2. We only have a certain amount of enthusiasm and motivation, and it runs out because we try to do too much, too soon. We spend all that energy in the beginning and then run out of steam.
  3. We try to do really tough habits right away, which means it’s difficult and we become overwhelmed or intimidated by the difficulty and quit.
  4. We try to be “disciplined” and do very unpleasant habits, but our nature won’t allow that to last for long. If we really don’t want to do something, we won’t be able to force ourselves to do it for long.
  5. Life gets in the way. Things come up unexpectedly that get in the way of us sticking with a habit.
  6. Resolutions are often vague — I’m going to exercise! — but don’t contain a concrete action plan and don’t use proven habit techniques. That’s a recipe for failure.

There are other reasons, but the ones above are easily sufficient to stop resolutions from succeeding.

So what are we to do? The 6 Changes Method solves these problems:

  1. We only focus on one habit change at a time, so our focus and energies aren’t spread thinly.
  2. We implement the habit changes gradually, so we don’t run out of steam.
  3. We start out really, really easily, so it isn’t intimidating.
  4. We focus on enjoyable activities, so we don’t need “discipline”.
  5. We have two months to do the habit change, so if something comes up, it’s but a small bump in the road. And because we’re publicly committed, we’re going to get back on track.
  6. We have a very specific plan with actions built in, using proven habit change techniques.

If you stick with the method, you’ll do much better than you’ve done in the past with New Year’s Resolutions.

‘Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.’

~ Mark Twain

How to Form the Exercise Habit

Of course, there are many ways to form the exercise habit, but here’s a suggested plan using the 6 Changes Method:

Commit as publicly as possible to forming this habit in 2 months. Also commit publicly each week to that week’s change.

Week 1: Lace up your shoes and get out the door. That’s it. Go back inside and do whatever you want after that. Choose a trigger (after your morning coffee, right when you get home from work, etc.) and do it right after the trigger each day.

Week 2: Lace up your shoes, get out the door, and walk for 5 minutes. That’s all. Baby steps.

Week 3: Lace up your shoes, get out the door, walk for 10 minutes.

Week 4: Lace up your shoes, get out the door, walk for 15 minutes.

Week 5: Lace up your shoes, get out the door, walk for 15 minutes, with a couple of 30-second jogging intervals thrown in.

Week 6: Lace up your shoes, get out the door, walk for 20 minutes, with four 30-second jogging intervals thrown in.

Week 7: Lace up your shoes, get out the door, alternate jogging and walking for 20 minutes.

Week 8: Lace up your shoes, get out the door, and jog for 20 minutes, with a few walk breaks thrown in.

That’s it. Small baby steps, and after two months, you have a new habit that’s pretty firmly ingrained.

‘Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.’

~ Jim Ryun

What’s a Trigger & Why is It So Important?

Triggers are a little-known key to forming a new habit (or breaking an old one).

A trigger is an event that will kick off that automatic urge to do a habit. For example, smokers have a number of triggers — when they drink alcohol or coffee, many smokers will automatically want to smoke.

But this works for positive habits as well. Waking up can trigger habits such as drinking coffee, brushing your teeth, going running, or anything you want.

Habits become automatic after we’ve created a bond between the trigger and the habit — the stronger the bond, the more ingrained the habit.

Triggers and automatic habits are how we’re able to drive home sometimes without even thinking about what we’re doing — the drive home has a series of triggers (a stoplight, a turn after a store, etc.) that cause us to do certain actions out of habit — turning, slowing down, etc. We want to put our new habits on autopilot, right after a trigger.

And if we have bad habits, we want to take them off autopilot and disassociate them with their triggers. We need to list every trigger for the bad habit, and then come up with a new positive habit for each trigger.

For example, when I quit smoking, one of my triggers was to smoke after meetings — instead, I went to my computer and typed up my notes for the meeting and sent out any necessary emails. Another trigger was stress — so instead of smoking when I got stressed, I did deep breathing and exercise. These are just examples, but you can think of your own positive habits to go with each trigger for your bad habit.

What you want to do is create a strong bond between the trigger and the new habit. So each time the trigger happens, you need to consciously do the new habit. It has to be very conscious and deliberate at first, but over time this gets easier and the new habit becomes almost automatic. Do it as consistently as possible, every time the trigger happens. The less consistent you are, the weaker the bond between trigger and habit. The more consistent, the stronger the bond.

‘It does not matter how slow you go so long as you do not stop.’

Confucius

Why You Should Only Do One Habit at a Time

Many people will read the 6 Changes Method and be put off by the idea that you have to choose one habit and work on it for 2 months at a time.

That’s too little. They want to do several habits at once.

I’m here to tell you that while several habits can be formed at once, it’s much more difficult, and chances are you’re setting yourself up for failure.

So sure, if you are too impatient, try doing 3-5 habits at once. I wish you all the success in the world. But … if that doesn’t work, try the 6 Changes Method. You’ll be setting yourself up for success.

I’ve tried to create multiple habits at once, and I’ve had very mixed success. Usually I fail at it.

I’ve tried doing one habit at a time. I’ve succeeded almost 100% of the time when I do that.

Creating a new habit is difficult — it entails doing something consciously, as consistently as possible, breaking old bonds between a trigger and your old habit and creating a new bond between a trigger and your new habit. It’s not easy.

And we lose motivation, and life inevitably gets in the way.

And will all that up against you, why stack even more odds in the favor of failure by trying to do this not with one habit, but with several?

Try doing one habit at a time. Your success rate won’t just double or triple — it’ll go up tenfold.