The basic idea is that the beliefs you have about yourself can drive your long-term behavior. Maybe you can trick yourself into going to the gym or eating healthy once or twice, but if you don’t shift your underlying identity, then it’s hard to stick with long-term changes. Most people start by focusing on performance and appearance-based goals like “I want to lose 20 pounds” or “I want to write a best-selling book.” But these are surface level changes.
The root of behavior change and building better habits is your identity. Each action you perform is driven by the fundamental belief that it is possible. So if you change your identity (the type of person that you believe that you are), then it’s easier to change your actions.
This brings us to an interesting question. How do you build an identity that is in line with your goals? How can you actually change your beliefs and make it easier to stick with good habits for the long run?
How to Change Your Beliefs
The only way I know to shift the beliefs that you have about yourself and to build a stronger identity is to cast a vote for that identity with many, tiny actions.
Think of it this way…
Let’s say you want to become the type of person who never misses a workout. (If you believed that about yourself, how much easier would it be to get in shape?) Every time you choose to do a workout — even if it’s only five minutes — you’re casting a vote for this new identity in your mind. Every action is a vote for the type of person you want to become.
This is why I advocate starting with incredibly small actions (small still count!) and building consistency. Use the 2-Minute Rule to get started.
How to Stop Procrastinating with the “2–Minute Rule”
The “2–Minute Rule” … goal is to make it easier for you to get started on the things you should be doing.
Here’s the deal… Most of the tasks that you procrastinate on aren’t actually difficult to do — you have the talent and skills to accomplish them — you just avoid starting them for one reason or another. The 2–Minute Rule overcomes procrastination and laziness by making it so easy to start taking action that you can’t say no. There are two parts to the 2–Minute Rule…
Part 1 — If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.
Part I comes from David Allen’s bestselling book, Getting Things Done.
It’s surprising how many things we put off that we could get done in two minutes or less. For example, washing your dishes immediately after your meal, tossing the laundry in the washing machine, taking out the garbage, cleaning up clutter, sending that email, and so on.
If a task takes less than two minutes to complete, then follow the rule and do it right now.
Part 2 — When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.
Can all of your goals be accomplished in less than two minutes? Obviously not.
But, every goal can be started in 2 minutes or less. And that’s the purpose behind this little rule.
It might sound like this strategy is too basic for your grand life goals, but I beg to differ. It works for any goal because of one simple reason: the physics of real life.
The Physics of Real Life
As Sir Isaac Newton taught us a long time ago, objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. This is just as true for humans as it is for falling apples.
The 2–Minute Rule works for big goals as well as small goals because of the inertia of life. Once you start doing something, it’s easier to continue doing it. I love the 2–Minute Rule because it embraces the idea that all sorts of good things happen once you get started.
Want to become a better writer? Just write one sentence (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll often find yourself writing for an hour.
Want to eat healthier? Just eat one piece of fruit (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll often find yourself inspired to make a healthy salad as well.
Want to make reading a habit? Just read the first page of a new book (2–Minute Rule), and before you know it, the first three chapters have flown by.
Want to run three times a week? Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, just get your running shoes on and get out the door (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll end up putting mileage on your legs instead of popcorn in your stomach.
The most important part of any new habit is getting started — not just the first time, but each time. It’s not about performance, it’s about consistently taking action. In many ways, getting started is more important than succeeding. This is especially true in the beginning because there will be plenty of time to improve your performance later on.
The 2–Minute Rule isn’t about the results you achieve, but rather about the process of actually doing the work. It works really well for people who believe that the system is more important than the goal. The focus is on taking action and letting things flow from there.
Follow the Seinfeld Strategy to maintain consistency.
Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most successful comedians of all‐time. However, what is most impressive about Seinfeld’s career isn’t the awards, the earnings, or the special moments — it’s the remarkable consistency of it all. Show after show, year after year, he performs, creates, and entertains at an incredibly high standard. Jerry Seinfeld produces with a level of consistency that most of us wish we could bring to our daily work.
Compare his results to where you and I often find ourselves. We want to create, but struggle to do so. We want to exercise, but fail to find motivation. Wanting to achieve our goals, but — for some reason or another — we still procrastinate on them.
The “Seinfeld Strategy”
Brad Isaac was a young comedian starting out on the comedy circuit. One fateful night, he found himself in a club where Jerry Seinfeld was performing. In an interview onLifehacker, Isaac shared what happened when he caught Seinfeld backstage and asked if he had “any tips for a young comic.”
Here’s how Isaac described the interaction with Seinfeld…
He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.
He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.
“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”
You’ll notice that Seinfeld didn’t say a single thing about results.
It didn’t matter if he was motivated or not. It didn’t matter if he was writing great jokes or not. It didn’t matter if what he was working on would ever make it into a show. All that mattered was “not breaking the chain.”
And that’s one of the simple secrets behind Seinfeld’s remarkable productivity and consistency. For years, the comedian simply focused on “not breaking the chain.”
How to Stop Procrastinating
Top performers in every field — athletes, musicians, CEOs, artists — they are all more consistent than their peers. They show up and deliver day after day while everyone else gets bogged down with the urgencies of daily life and fights a constant battle between procrastination and motivation.
While most people get demotivated and off–track after a bad performance, a bad workout, or simply a bad day at work, top performers settle right back into their pattern the next day.
The Seinfeld Strategy works because it helps to take the focus off of each individual performance and puts the emphasis on the process instead. It’s not about how you feel, how inspired you are, or how brilliant your work is that day. Instead, it’s just about “not breaking the chain.”
All you have to do to apply this strategy to your own life is pick up a calendar and start your chain.
A Word of Warning
There is one caveat with the Seinfeld Strategy. You need to pick a task that is meaningful enough to make a difference, but simple enough that you can get it done.
So step one is to choose a task that is simple enough to be sustainable. At the same time, you have to make sure that your actions are meaningful enough to matter. Choose tasks that are simple to maintain and capable of producing the outcome you want.
Mastery Follows Consistency
The central question that ties our community together is “how do you live a healthy life?” This includes not merely nutrition and exercise, but also exploration and adventure, art and creativity, and connection and community. But no matter what topic we’re talking about, they all require consistency. No matter what your definition is of a “healthy life,” you’ll have to battle procrastination to make it a reality. Hopefully, the Seinfeld Strategy helps to put that battle in perspective.
Don’t break the chain on your workouts and you’ll find that you get fit rather quickly.
Don’t break the chain in your business and you’ll find that results come much faster.
Don’t break the chain in your artistic pursuits and you’ll find that you will produce creative work on a regular basis.
So often, we assume that excellence requires a monumental effort and that our lofty goals demand incredible doses of willpower and motivation. But really, all we need is dedication to small, manageable tasks. Mastery follows consistency. Each actions becomes a small vote that tells your mind, “Hey, I believe this about myself.” And at some point, you actually will believe it.
Of course, it works the opposite way as well. Every time you choose to perform a bad habit, it’s a vote for that type of identity.
But here’s the interesting part… research shows that making a mistake or missing a habit every now and then has no measurable impact on your long-term success. It doesn’t matter if you cast a few votes for a bad behavior or an unproductive habit. In any election, there are going to be votes for both sides.
Your goal isn’t to be perfect. Your goal is simply to win the majority of the time. And if you cast enough votes for the right identity, eventually the good behaviors will win out.
You may have a couple false starts yourself, but eventually I’m hoping that both you and I can simply tell ourselves, “Don’t break the chain.”
What Can We Learn From This?
Every time we participate in a ritual, we are expressing our beliefs, either verbally or more implicitly.
I find it useful to think about identity-based habits for a few reasons.
First, identity-based habits focus on you rather than your goals.
It is surprisingly easy to achieve a goal and still not be happy with who you are as a person. Society pushes us to obsess over results: What are your goals? How busy are you? How successful have you become? And while there is nothing wrong with achievement and improvement, it is also very easy to forget to ask yourself the more important questions: Who am I? What do I believe about myself? What do I want my identity to be?
Identity-based habits are one way to match your values and beliefs with the outcomes that you want in your life.
Second, the idea of “casting votes for your identity” reveals how your daily actions add up over the long-term.
Your actions drive your beliefs and each action you take is a vote for the type of person that you believe that you are. What beliefs are you expressing through your actions?
Third, this framework helps to remove the “All or Nothing” philosophy that can so easily wreck our progress.
For some reason, we often think that if we fail to follow our exact plan step-by-step, then we have totally blown it. The truth is that it doesn’t work that way at all. If you make a mistake, remember that it’s just one vote. Be aware of the votes you’re casting and try to win the majority. Every action is a vote for your identity.
As always, I’m just learning as I go. If you know of other ways to change your beliefs and build a new identity, feel free to share.