How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day

Dyrsmid began each morning with two jars on his desk. One was filled with 120 paper clips. The other was empty. As soon as he settled in each day, he would make a sales call. Immediately after, he would move one paper clip from the full jar to the empty jar and the process would begin again.

Within eighteen months, Dyrsmid was bringing in $5 million to the firm. By age twenty-four, he was making $75,000 per year—the equivalent of $125,000 today. Not long after, he landed a six-figure job with another company.

Making progress is satisfying, and visual measures—like moving paper clips or hairpins or marbles—provide clear evidence of your progress.
Visual measurement comes in many forms: food journals, workout logs, loyalty punch cards, the progress bar on a software download, even the page numbers in a book.


A habit tracker is a simple way to measure whether you did a habit. The most basic format is to get a calendar and cross off each day you stick with your routine.

Beginning at age twenty, Franklin carried a small booklet everywhere he went and used it to track thirteen personal virtues. This list included goals like “Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful” and “Avoid trifling conversation.” At the end of each day, Franklin would open his booklet and record his progress.

Jerry Seinfeld reportedly uses a habit tracker to stick with his streak of writing jokes. In the documentary Comedian, he explains that his goal is simply to “never break the chain” of writing jokes every day. In other words, he is not focused on how good or bad a particular joke is or how inspired he feels. He is simply focused on showing up and adding to his streak.

Benefit #1: Habit tracking is obvious.

One study of more than sixteen hundred people found that those who kept a daily food log lost twice as much weight as those who did not. The mere act of tracking a behavior can spark the urge to change it.

Habit tracking also keeps you honest. Most of us have a distorted view of our own behavior. We think we act better than we do. Measurement offers one way to overcome our blindness to our own behavior and notice what’s really going on each day.

Benefit #2: Habit tracking is attractive.

The most effective form of motivation is progress. When we get a signal that we are moving forward, we become more motivated to continue down that path.

On a bad day, the empty square you see each morning can motivate you to get started because you don’t want to lose your progress by breaking the streak.

Benefit #3: Habit tracking is satisfying.

This is the most crucial benefit of all. Tracking can become its own form of reward.
It feels good to watch your results grow—the size of your investment portfolio, the length of your book manuscript—and if it feels good, then you’re more likely to endure.

Habit tracking also helps keep your eye on the ball: you’re focused on the process rather than the result.

Despite all the benefits, it forces you into two habits: the habit you’re trying to build and the habit of tracking it.
I once made a food log to track my calories. I managed to do it for one meal and then gave up.

whenever possible, measurement should be automated.
add a note to your calendar to review it each week or each month.
Finally, record each measurement immediately after the habit occurs.


I try to remind myself of a simple rule: never miss twice.
The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows.
Too often, we fall into an all-or-nothing cycle with our habits.
Lost days hurt you more than successful days help you.

“The first rule of compounding: Never interrupt it unnecessarily.”

-- Charlie Munger


if you’re only measuring revenue, the food might be getting worse but you’re making up for it with marketing or discounts or some other method. Instead, it may be more effective to track how many customers finish their meal or perhaps the percentage of customers who leave a generous tip.

This pitfall is evident in many areas of life. We focus on working long hours instead of getting meaningful work done.

In short, we optimize for what we measure.

“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

-- Charles Goodhart

it’s crucial to keep habit tracking in its proper place.

Chapter Summary

17. How an Accountability Partner Can Change Everything

Any sitting president would have access to launch codes that could kill millions of people but would never actually see anyone die because he would always be thousands of miles away.
“My suggestion was quite simple,” he wrote in 1981. “Put that [nuclear] code number in a little capsule, and then implant that capsule right next to the heart of a volunteer. The volunteer would carry with him a big, heavy butcher knife as he accompanied the President. If ever the President wanted to fire nuclear weapons, the only way he could do so would be for him first, with his own hands, to kill one human being.

The cost of cutting the wrong blood vessel makes a surgeon master human anatomy and cut carefully. When the consequences are severe, people learn quickly.
The more immediate the pain, the less likely the behavior. If you want to prevent bad habits and eliminate unhealthy behaviors, then adding an instant cost to the action is a great way to reduce their odds.

We repeat bad habits because they serve us in some way, and that makes them hard to abandon. The best way I know to overcome this predicament is to increase the speed of the punishment associated with the behavior.


Whenever a new piece of legislation impacts behavior—seat belt laws, banning smoking inside restaurants, mandatory recycling—it is an example of a social contract shaping our habits. The group agrees to act in a certain way, and if you don’t follow along, you’ll be punished.

A habit contract is a verbal or written agreement in which you state your commitment to a particular habit and the punishment that will occur if you don’t follow through. Then you find one or two people to act as your accountability partners and sign off on the contract with you.

Thomas Frank, an entrepreneur in Boulder, Colorado, wakes up at 5:55 each morning. And if he doesn’t, he has a tweet automatically scheduled that says, “It’s 6:10 and I’m not up because I’m lazy! Reply to this for $5 via PayPal (limit 5), assuming my alarm didn’t malfunction.”

Chapter Summary


The 1st Law: Make It Obvious

The 2nd Law:Make It Attractive

The 3rd Law: Make It Easy

The 4th Law: Make It Satisfying


Inversion of the 1st Law: Make It Invisible

Inversion of the 2nd Law: Make It Unattractive

Inversion of the 3rd Law: Make It Difficult

Inversion of the 4th Law: Make It Unsatisfying

ADVANCED TACTICS: How to Go from Being Merely Good to Being Truly Great

18. The Truth About Talent (When Genes Matter and When They Don’t)

Phelps has relatively short legs for his height and a very long torso, the perfect build for swimming. El Guerrouj has incredibly long legs and a short upper body, an ideal frame for distance running.

Now, imagine if these world-class athletes were to switch sports.

The secret to maximizing your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition.

people are born with different abilities.

genes do not determine your destiny. They determine your areas of opportunity.

“Genes can predispose, but they don’t predetermine.

-- Gabor Mate

The key is to direct your effort toward areas that both excite you and match your natural skills, to align your ambition with your ability.


five spectrums of behavior:

  1. Openness to experience: from curious and inventive on one end to cautious and consistent on the other.
  2. Conscientiousness: organized and efficient to easygoing and spontaneous.
  3. Extroversion: outgoing and energetic to solitary and reserved (you likely know them as extroverts vs. introverts).
  4. Agreeableness: friendly and compassionate to challenging and detached.
  5. Neuroticism: anxious and sensitive to confident, calm, and stable.

Extroversion, for instance, can be tracked from birth. If scientists play a loud noise in the nursing ward, some babies turn toward it while others turn away.

You don’t have to build the habits everyone tells you to build. Choose the habit that best suits you, not the one that is most popular.


Pick the right habit and progress is easy. Pick the wrong habit and life is a struggle.

the explore/exploit trade-off.:
In the beginning of a new activity, there should be a period of exploration. In relationships, it’s called dating. In college, it’s called the liberal arts. In business, it’s called split testing. The goal is to try out many possibilities, research a broad range of ideas, and cast a wide net.

After this initial period of exploration, shift your focus to the best solution you’ve found—but keep experimenting occasionally. The proper balance depends on whether you’re winning or losing. If you are currently winning, you exploit, exploit, exploit. If you are currently losing, you continue to explore, explore, explore.

Google famously asks employees to spend 80 percent of the workweek on their official job and 20 percent on projects of their choice.

What feels like fun to me, but work to others?

whether you can handle the pain of the task easier than most people.
The work that hurts you less than it hurts others is the work you were made to do.

What makes me lose track of time?

Flow is the mental state you enter when you are so focused on the task at hand that the rest of the world fades away.

Where do I get greater returns than the average person?

What comes naturally to me?

For just a moment, ignore what you have been taught.
Look inside yourself and ask, “What feels natural to me?
When have I felt alive? When have I felt like the real me?
Just feelings of engagement and enjoyment. Whenever you feel authentic and genuine, you are headed in the right direction.

“Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.”

-- Scott Adams

A great player creates a new game that favors their strengths and avoids their weaknesses.

Boiling water will soften a potato but harden an egg. You can’t control whether you’re a potato or an egg, but you can decide to play a game where it’s better to be hard or soft.


Our genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. They clarify it. They tell us what to work hard on.

Once we realize our strengths, we know where to spend our time and energy.
The better we understand our nature, the better our strategy can be.

In summary, one of the best ways to ensure your habits remain satisfying over the long-run is to pick behaviors that align with your personality and skills. Work hard on the things that come easy.

Chapter Summary