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.
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.
Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.
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.
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
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On average, it took 66 days for behavior to become habit, with a range from 18 to 254 days
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