Daily habits

In 2002, Britain’s national cycling team was notoriously bad. At the Olympics, they had won only 1 gold medal in 76 years. They had never won a Tour de France. The best bicycle manufacturers refused to sell to them because they were such big losers.

In 2003, they hired coach Dave Brailsford and everything changed. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Britain won 8 gold medals. In 2012, a British cyclist finally won the Tour de France. It wasn’t a fluke—Britain won the next 3 Tours.

What did Brailsford do? He optimized every factor impacting performance, no matter how small. He tested aerodynamic clothing in wind tunnels. He painted floors white to show dust affecting maintenance. He hired a surgeon to train cyclists to wash their hands properly. He shipped cyclists’ personal mattresses to their hotels.

Brailsford called his strategy “the aggregation of marginal gains”. While each new optimization might improve performance by only 1%, the sum of all optimizations compounded for a huge improvement.

This is the power of daily habits. By optimizing your routine, you can massively improve your life.

The effects of compounding even moderate returns over many years are compelling, if not downright mind boggling.

-Seth Klarman

How habits work

Habits are actions you do routinely without thinking. They are programmed into your subconscious mind. Habits run in a loop and have 3 parts:

  • Cue: a trigger that initiates action

  • Routine: the action you do

  • Reward: your benefit from doing the action

For example, bedtime cues you to brush your teeth. Your reward is the minty, tingly feeling in your mouth.

To create a new habit, identify the cue, routine, and reward. Then repeat the loop daily. For example, if you want to do yoga in the mornings, cue yourself by placing a yoga mat beside your bed. Your reward is feeling relaxed.

To change an existing habit, identify the cue and change the routine and reward. For example, if you want to stop biting your nails, cue yourself by noticing when you raise your fingers to your mouth. Change the routine by using a nail clipper instead of your teeth. Your reward is long nails that feel smooth instead of ragged.

It takes 6–10 weeks of daily repetition to solidify a habit in your subconscious mind. Once established, it’s performed automatically. Focus on creating one habit at a time.

The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.

-Charles Duhigg

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

-Jim Rohn

Daily habits

I recommend a daily routine of 3 core habits:

In addition, here are other useful habits:

You should see noticeable improvements within 2 weeks of starting each habit. And while each is useful on its own, they’re more powerful together as a system.

Let’s dive deeper into each habit. You’ll learn why it’s useful and how to do it.

We are trained in habits from when we are children, including potty training, when to cry and when not to, how to smile and when not to. These things become habits—behaviors we learn and integrate into ourselves. When we’re older, we’re a collection of thousands of habits constantly running subconsciously. We have a little bit of extra brainpower in our neocortex for solving new problems…I started realizing it’s all about habits. At any given time, I’m either trying to pick up a good habit or discard a previous bad habit. It takes time.

-Naval Ravikant


Harrell E. (2015, October 30). How 1% performance improvements led to Olympic gold. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2015/10/how-1-performance-improvements-led-to-olympic-gold

Power of habit

Nilsen P et al. (2012). Creatures of habit: accounting for the role of habit in implementation research on clinical behaviour change. Implement Sci. 7: 53.

  • Habits involve cues, behaviors, and rewards

Wise RA. (2002). Brain reward circuitry: insights from unsensed incentives. Neuron. 36(2): 229–240.

  • Rewards reinforce habits in the brain

Kaushal N, Rhodes RE. (2015). Exercise habit formation in new gym members: a longitudinal study. J Behav Med. 38(4): 652–663.

  • A study of 111 new gym members found that exercising 4 times/week for 6 weeks was the minimum requirement to establish an exercise habit

  • Predictors of habit formation: exercising consistently, simple and easy exercises, comfortable exercise environment, and experiencing rewarding emotions

Lally P et al. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Eur J Soc Psychol. 40(6): 998–1009.

  • 96 participants performed an eating, drinking, or activity behavior every day for 12 weeks

  • On average, it took 66 days for behavior to become habit, with a range from 18 to 254 days

Hagger MS et al. (2010). Ego depletion and the strength model of self-control: a meta-analysis. Psychol Bull. 136(4): 495–525.

  • A meta-analysis of 83 studies found that ego depletion decreased self-control (effect size = 0.62)

Carter EC et al. (2015). A series of meta-analytic tests of the depletion effect: Self-control does not seem to rely on a limited resource. J Exp Psychol Gen. 144(4): 796–815.

  • A meta-analysis of 116 experiments found that self-control was decreased by previous acts of self-control (effect size = 0.24)

Wood W, Witt MG, Tam L. (2005). Changing circumstances, disrupting habits. J Pers Soc Psychol. 88(6): 918–933.

  • Changing the environment removes cues and disrupts habits

Cleo G et al. (2020). Efficacy of habit‑based weight loss interventions: a systematic review and meta‑analysis. J Behav Med. 43(4): 519–532.

  • A meta-analysis of 5 randomized or quasi-randomized controlled trials of weight loss with 630 participants found that habit-based interventions resulted in 1.5 kg more weight loss over 8 to 14 weeks, and were 2.4X more likely to achieve 5% weight loss

Gardner B, de Bruijn G, Lally P. (2011). A systematic review and meta-analysis of applications of the Self-Report Habit Index to nutrition and physical activity behaviours. Ann Behav Med. 42(2): 174–187.

  • A meta-analysis of 22 studies with 6,174 participants found that habits influenced behaviors (effect size = 0.44)

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