Creating new habits that stay


1% better

It was the following philosophy I discovered on Twitter two years ago that led me down the rabbit hole of self-improvement: if you become 1% better every day, you’ll be 38x the person you started off as at the end of a year. The math? (1 + 1%) ^ 365 = 37.78, and round it up. (Conversely, you’re 3% of your former self if you become 1% worse every day… LOL.)

How exactly do we become 1% better? For me, I chose to look into my own habits - the everyday routines I follow that make up my life’s foundation.

Image by James Clear

Image by James Clear

While I like to think I was mindful of the habits that shaped me, it wasn’t until I found out about author James Clear and read Atomic Habits in late 2018 when I finally took action. Because I thought my main problem was a lack of “good” habits rather than eliminating “bad” ones, I specifically wanted to develop new habits that would help me earn that 1% on a daily basis.

I bet you’ve heard this Aristotle quote before… “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” I believe it.

In his book were two ideas that really stuck with me: 1) identity-based habits and 2) specificity.

For the first one - if we are what we do, then defining who we are should help change the actions we end up pursuing in the long-term. If two people trying to quit cigarettes is offered a smoke, who do you think will stick with it based on these two responses - “No thanks, I’m trying to quit smoking”, or “No thanks, I’m not a smoker anymore”?

On another note, specificity is clearly defining how a habit starts and stays with you. James suggests that there are four key components to every habit: a cue (the event that starts it off), a craving (the change in our current state that we desire), a response (what we do to satisfy our craving), and a reward (filling our craving). What I found really helpful from this model was setting my own cues that would help kickstart a habit into action, and understanding what I’m actually craving out of each reward.

Here are a few of the daily 1% habits I’ve developed since reading the book and do my best to maintain right now:

Pushups… everyday

This was the first habit I implemented in the start of 2019. Before I shower, I do pushups. The key element: I don’t allow myself to get into the bathtub unless I do it (or a similar exercise). Physical activity before I shower also seems logical because I can wash it off right away.

Why do it? I identify myself as someone who is fit and active. I’m someone who enjoys going to the gym, which is an activity that I strongly associate with being fit. However, I’m not able to go everyday, and doing pushups is my way of reaffirming this identity on a daily basis. I originally started with a requirement of 20 pushups, but since then I’ve been bumped it up to 30 as I got stronger!

Cue: In the washroom, before I shower in the evening…

Craving: I want to shower! But I can’t, unless…

Response: I do 30 pushups. Right now.

Reward: I get in the shower.

Duolingo champion

Since I’m in Montreal, I hear French everyday. That’s great! But I don’t understand the conversations going on around me. This is something I want to change, especially since my office speaks in French half of the time. So I decided to learn French through the Duolingo app and complete some of its lessons on a daily basis. It’s also been a social thing - one of my housemates who’s here in Montreal in French uses Duolingo, and I’ve also gotten my girlfriend on board with it as well!

Why do it? I identify myself as an aspiring bilingual (and then trilingual… and then maybe a polyglot). Learning a language seems like something an aspiring bilingual would do, right? The longest streak I’ve had going was 8 days before I broke it (this was REALLY recent. I’m still upset). But I’m promising myself that that’s gonna be the last time in a long time.

Cue: After I get home from work, while I’m eating dinner…

Craving: I want to feel productive with my time post-work!

Response: I complete one full level of a French lesson on my phone’s Duolingo app, earning enough XP (50 points) to complete my self-imposed daily requirement.

Reward: I feel productive. And slightly more Francophone.

Pay myself first

Currently, I save a portion of my paycheque right when the direct deposit hits toward my emergency fund and investments. Once the emergency fund is complete, I’ll move more toward my goals, such as traveling and being financially independent (because I can, not because I’m 65). While it’s not a daily action, I’m more mindful of my day-to-day spending because my available funds are lower compared to keeping the money around. It’s also a major component of my personal finance stack.

Why do it? I identify myself as someone with a positive relationship with money. This includes having a healthy attitude toward spending/saving, an awareness of my personal goals/concerns/weaknesses, and finally performing the actions to back it up. Saving money right when I earn it is a healthy approach to achieving my goals that also reaffirms my relationship with $$$.

Cue: When the direct deposit hits…

Craving: I want to do something with that money…

Response: I automatically move 30% of the paycheque to increase my emergency fund/investments.

Reward: I did something with that money… and I didn’t even spend it. Ça va bien.

Habits I want to develop

Gym: Pushups don’t do the full job. I want to figure out how to incorporate a simple routine that gets me to the gym 2-3 times a week. Right now I go 1-2 times a week. My proposed solution: Set specific days throughout the week that I assign as workout days. I’m thinking Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday.

Writing: I want to build 25 mill, and I consider writing to be my highest form of self-expression. The only question is how in between work, social life, survival, and errands? My proposed solution: Like the gym, I’m thinking of setting specific days where I write and also just read on the topics that excite me.

Dancing: In hindsight, I can’t believe I didn’t dance in high school. While I was timid back then, I don’t view myself as a timid person now. I enjoy moving to music, and I want to pursue something involving that as a hobby. My proposed solution: Nothing… yet. I’ll get on it.

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Self-improvement is performed daily and experienced monthly. Looking back and reflecting on the growth achieved has been the ultimate reward out of all of this.

(Updated July 2019 - v1)