The Anchor Habit

The fatal mistake made by almost everyone when trying to improve themselves is to take on too many things at once. You see this all the time in people’s New Year’s Resolutions.

  • I’m going to eat healthier
  • AND I’m going to workout everyday
  • AND I’m going to finish that knitting project
  • AND I’m going to journal everyday
  • AND …

It doesn’t work. Few people are able to force themselves to make all of those changes at once. If you made such a list as your New Years resolutions, tell me: Do you even remember the things you planned to do?

I’m betting the answer is no.

Luckily there’s an easier way. One that doesn’t involve the ability to use up an extreme amount of willpower.

The Ultimate Secret to Forming Habits

Ok, here it is. The big secret. The one people buy all those fancy self-help books to learn. You ready?

When you want to form a new set of habits (or get rid of some bad ones) pick one, and only one and do that first. Do that alone for a minimum of 3 weeks. Then you can add another one.

If two of your habits complement each other, only then can you try to do two at once. For example, I talked last week about taking Cold Showers. Since I had seen that several other people reported it to have much the same calming effect as meditation I paired it with a renewed interest in a daily meditation practice, which worked surprisingly well.

Repeat until you’ve acquired all of the things you wanted. Or gotten rid of all the bad habits you’ve picked up over the years. Or until you’re dead, that works too.

Trying to expend your energy on too much at once depletes your willpower and makes you fail all of them. It just isn’t going to work in most circumstances.

So now you have a list of things you want to change about yourself, but you are only allowed to do one at a time. They all look so exciting…where do you start?

The Anchor Habit

Introducing big secret #2, the Anchor Habit. I even capitalized it, so it must be important.

An Anchor Habit is a habit that helps you form other habits. One that helps you do better in your life just from that one single change. It is turbofuel for changing your life, and a base upon which you can grow a better you.

Wow, that sounded cheesy.

For me, the most important determination of whether I will have a good day or a bad one is my Anchor Habit. On the days I meet my habit, I am almost twice as productive as days that I don’t, and it is rare that I have a bad day when I do this one thing. For my life, it is far more important than any other single thing I do.

My prime Anchor Habit is good sleep and early rising.

If I wake up before 8 am (before 7 is even better) after a good 8 or more hours of sleep, I will have a good day. If I don’t meet both of those, then my day is a bit of a toss up. Either I’m too groggy to get myself to do what is necessary, or I waste time getting distracted because of my late start to the day.

Getting an early start to the day is my rocket fuel. I can immediately get time to work for myself before I have to start dealing with other people. I can get some solid work done during the early hours of the morning while everybody else is eating breakfast or still sleeping.

I’m usually not a very productive person, admittedly, but when I’m out of bed at 6 am with a full nights rest, that’s almost guaranteed to be the most productive day of the week. So when I get off track in my work habits, getting back on track is as simple as changing one thing: my sleep. Everything else I need to do follows from that.

Finding Your Rocket Fuel

But that’s just me. Maybe you already have sleep dialed down, or maybe you have young kids and never get to sleep a full night anyways. Your Anchor Habit is probably something entirely different.

If it’s not obvious you’ll probably need to spend a little time trying things out or thinking about it. I promise it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

If you need help, take a look at your ultimate goals. I assume that you have a bucket list, or short term goals, or some habits that look cool that you’ve been thinking about taking up. Something of that sort. Even if you have a long list, I’m betting that there are actually very few themes. You likely have only a few different themes of things in your life you want to do or change: improving your health, traveling more, better personal relationships, success in your work, etc.

Each of these broad themes have one or two habits that get you 80% of the way there. For example

  • Want to improve your health? Upgrade your diet, one step at a time.
  • Want to travel more? Save up money and/or travel rewards points.
  • Want better personal relationships? Talk to your loved ones more often.
  • Want success in work? Work smarter (on the right things) then work harder (be more productive).

Hopefully in looking at your own list you can identify a common thread that you can build a base upon.

In my example, I am trying to be more productive in my professional life and my personal life, and I found that the best way to do that is just to get better sleep and start my day earlier. It sounds simple, but literally the most important part of my day actually happens the night before, when I choose when to go to sleep.

Don’t try to do everything at once. Focus on the most important of your habits, the Anchor Habit, and the rest will follow.