How to Unlock Habit-Building Success and Achieve Your Goals

Photo by Christian Kitazume from FreeImages

This is a guest post from Michael Schechter, my good friend and former co-host of my former podcast, Mikes on Mics. When I reached out to him to join me on a special episode of The Productivityist Podcast to celebrate International Podcast Day, he not only accepted the invite but shared with me this piece on how he’s trying something new to help him with his goals. I asked him if I could publish it on the blog. He was cool with that idea, so I present it to you along with the bonus podcast episode in question. Enjoy! – Mike

As someone with a decent amount of responsibility and a low level of impulse control, I struggle to build and maintain good habits.

One of my biggest struggles is watching what I eat (and not eating absolutely everything I watch). At the moment, I’m doing The Whole30 Program with my wife. It’s going about as good as I had expected. I tend to excel in the obsessive part of diets. It’s Day 31 where my eating habits will drift quickly back toward my bad habits. Now, in this case, there is no shortage of advice on what to do on Day 31, but —

  1. I know myself. I’m going to go out of my way to avoid reading it.
  2. Because when Day 31 comes around, I am going to be highly motivated to eat all the things I didn’t eat for 30 days, as I now have a super awesome excuse to eat them again!

In my case, achieving success in short-term goals often gets in the way of the long.

So, while talking to my wife about both of my challenges, we acknowledged that a perfectly balanced diet and the always unlit faces of our children were slightly unrealistic goals.

Taking on The Whole30 Program

We started talking about the diet and came up with a reasonable guideline for Day 31. From Monday to Friday, we eat Whole30. On Saturday and Sunday, we let our metaphorical hair down a bit, but don’t go and decide to shave our heads. It’s a reasonable goal. But how to achieve it without some overly rigid system that inevitably makes me abandon the whole thing and go back to eating whatever my, likely clogging, heart desires.

Well… I have no idea yet if what I’m about to say is going to work, or if it’s even a good idea. But I’m going to try something different starting on Day 31 and will let you know how it goes in a year (or if I only manage to make it a week; if so, I’ll let you know then too).

As a former writer of productivity things on the internet, I love a system, especially a simple and catchy one. Early on, until something really becomes a part of my routine, I need a way to lock in and secure the goals. Which brings me to my new metaphor: a combination lock.

Setting My Combination

I’m going to secure my goal with a lock. In the case of my eating plan, I’m setting my combination to 52-52-52.

  • Five days on and two days off a week.
  • Fifty-two weeks a year
  • Five vacation days and two sick days

Is this too rigid for what you’re trying to solve? No worries — just change and set your own combination. Need it to be three days a week, every week, but only for the summer, with no days off and no sick days? Well, 34-13-00.

As long as you lock in a combination that can successfully ensure your goal, it’s fine. But I strongly suggest setting a minimum as well before you begin.

In the case of my diet, 52-52-52 is probably a noble ambition, but not a realistic goal (I mean we all take vacations… right?). 52-48-52 seems like it might be ultimately more realistic, and anything less ain’t going to get me to my kids’ weddings. Not quite as “secure” as my initial combination, but secure enough to lock in a habit that helps me maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Success* (*with less structure)

Over time, I hope this habit will just become a part of my everyday life, as I’d ultimately like to maintain a healthier lifestyle without so much structure. Assuming it does, it will be time to take off the lock, identify a new habit, and find a secure combination that helps me to succeed in my large goals.

So, Setting Your Combination: How to Unlock Habit-Building Success and Achieve Your Goals (patent pending, totally untested). Am I onto something? Or is this yet another case of productivity porn over actual productivity?

I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes for me. If you give it a try yourself, I’d love to hear how it goes for you. You can connect with me at @mschechter on Twitter and share your thoughts.

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