Engineer Your Habits

A Realistic Guide to Behavior Change and Achieving Your Goals

Stop wasting your time, and start creating lasting change.

I’ve created this guide to show you the exact systems and strategies that you can use to build better habits and start living a healthier, more productive life.

habit formation

It’s 35 pages of science-backed information, wisdom from my own life, and insights from other habits experts.

For immediate access, just enter your email address and click “Grab my FREE eBook”.

You’ll get a downloadable PDF version of the full guide, plus you’ll receive new content every so often about healthy living and building good habits.

If you don’t see the opt-in form, just head over to Contact Me and drop me a note.

What I’ve done here is compile months of research and years of personal trial all pertaining to building better habits.

I’m an engineer by education, so naturally I went with the title Engineer Your Habits. 

Throughout this page, you’ll learn all about how habits works, how to fit them into your life, and how you can use this information to achieve your goals.

I write about a lot of different topics on this site – health and nutrition, productivity, minimalism, plus many others – and they all start with better habits. When you learn how to harness the power of habits and engineer them to your specific lifestyle, you can achieve anything you’ve ever dreamed of.

Let’s dive in.

Jump to…

Preface
Who the Heck Am I?
Overview
Your Commitment
Section 0: Defining Habit Engineering
Section 1: The Framework to Achieve Anything
Section 2: The Common Mistakes People Make When Setting Goals
Section 3: Automate Your Success by Forming Habits
Section 3-1: How to Harness the Power of Habits
Section 3-2: How to Eliminate Bad Habits
Section 3-3: Keystone Habits, aka The Strongest Habits
Section 4: How to Get Back on the Wagon and Make Any Habit Stick Forever
Section 5: How to Stay Focused on Achieving Your Goals
Next Steps

Preface

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” – Stephen King 

Picture yourself for a moment having accomplished and achieved all of your wildest dreams. What would your life be like? Instead of starting something, getting stuck, losing motivation, then giving up and hating yourself, you actually followed through. You set a goal, you went after it, and you achieved what you set out for. Every time.

I bet your life would be pretty darn awesome. Today, I’m going to show you how to make this your reality – to become a superhero version of yourself.

Do you know what the difference is between you and the world’s most elite, successful people?

Biologically, not much. Habitually, the mega-successful are lightyears ahead.

When they say things like, “I’m going to…” start a business, get in shape, quit smoking, release a chart-topping single, or whatever else, you know they’re going to do it. And you know they’re going to knock it out of the park.

When you try something, maybe you’ll do it, maybe you won’t.

Most of the time, you’ll give it the old college try, lose motivation, and give up. Then you berate yourself with negative self-talk until you feel motivated to give it another shot, only to fall back into the same dead-end pattern. Over and over again.

I call this the Hamster Wheel, because you never really get anywhere.

This can be incredibly frustrating and demoralizing. Most importantly, you’re not accomplishing any of your goals. Your hopes and dreams are beginning to feel more like just hopes and dreams.

Guess what? You are more than capable of achieving every goal you set. You CAN get off that damn Hamster Wheel. Everything you need you have within you, you just need a better strategy for finishing what you start and a solid system to put it all together.

With this free guide, that’s exactly what you’re going to get. I’m going to show you the same system that’s helped me buckle down to finish engineering school, become the top performer at a world-class engineering firm, rid myself of anxiety, and live a healthy, fulfilling life.

At its core, the system helped me to narrow my focus on what really mattered, ignore the noise, and finally get started on accomplishing my most important goals in life.

Who the Heck Am I?

habit formation

My name is Jason Gutierrez.

I’m not world-famous. I’m not an Olympian. And I’m by no means the smartest guy on the face of the Earth.

What I am is a regular guy who has made quite a few changes that have had astronomical impacts on performance and quality of life. Here’s a list of just a few things I’ve achieved in the last couple of years:

Those aren’t all of them, but they’re what I’m most proud of. The changes I made to get here weren’t easy, and I still stumble and fall out of habit every now and then, but I’ve dedicated my life to keep practicing and continue to better myself.

What does this mean for you?

It means I’m battle-tested and at your disposal to help you achieve everything you want and more.

This Guide Is a Gift to You

I wasn’t always as confident or relentless when it came to my goals and work. About 7 years ago, I was plagued by chronic anxiety and mild depression. My family was going through some tough times, I was trying to graduate college, and I was flat-ass broke, constantly worrying about money and being able to survive the next semester.

I had no idea how to handle myself. There was no crash course ever given to me in this thing called “life”. Shit had hit the fan and I was terribly unequipped to handle it – it was embarrassing.

My body was giving out on me. I was at the doctor’s just about every month for some new disease I thought I had. I had panic attacks and sleep paralysis. What does any 20-year-old, grown-ass man do when he starts seeing demons at night? He sleeps in the same bed as his mom for a week. I cried. I thought I was never going to get better.

I had officially hit rock bottom. If you’ve ever tried to focus when drowning in negativity, it’s damn near impossible.

With modern medicine failing me, it was time to take things into my own hands. I started reading. That led me to start looking at my own habits and behaviors.

It became painfully clear what I needed to do: I needed to develop better habits.

Now here’s the fun part – I desperately needed those habits to cure my anxiety, but my anxiety was making it damn near impossible to follow through. I was caught in a catch 22. I needed a way to succeed, and I needed a system to make things easier for me.

I revamped my strategy and put a system in place to ensure success, even when I “wasn’t feeling it”. Since those dark days, I’ve beaten anxiety and taken back control of my life.

But I didn’t stop there.

I took my foundation of good habits, and built on it to start actually achieving the things I wanted in life…fulfilling work being next on my list.

The reason I created The Monk Life is because I want to share my story and help others. It’s built on the premise that a strong foundation of health – physically, mentally, and spiritually – provides the energy and focus to accomplish all of your wildest dreams.

You too can experience this dramatic shift in your life. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve stumbled and fell flat on your face in the past.

Does this sound like you? 

Would you finally like to follow through and accomplish some of those goals? How about ANY of those goals?

With the free information I share with you in this guide, you’ll have the framework, system, and tactics you need to become a finisher. And once you achieve your first major goal, you’ll have developed lifelong habits that will guarantee success in everything that you do.

Overview

Section 0: Defining Habit Engineering

When most people think of engineering, they think of high-tech problem solving with lots of mathematics and physics calculations. In some cases this is true, but engineering is really just adapting science to real world application. In this section, I’ll attempt to reshape your thinking and help you foster the right mindset when it comes to habits.

Section 1: The Framework to Achieve Anything

You may not recognize it, but systems are a part of your everyday life. They’re used to repeatedly get a specific result. The water that you showered with this morning is a system. You follow a traffic system every day on your way to work, so mass chaos doesn’t occur. Systems yield results, every time. In this section, I’ll show you the framework of the system to consistently achieve your goals.

Section 2: The Common Mistakes People Make When Setting Goals

The vast majority of people are terrible at setting goals. They get inspired or think of something they want, then dive in head first to make it happen. When they quit or fall short, they’re left feeling shameful and demoralized, wondering why they failed. In Section 2, I’ll first give you a refresher on why we set goals, then teach you the best way to set and achieve them.

Section 3: Automate Your Success by Forming Habits

A significant portion of our daily lives is comprised of habits – behaviors we do without thought. Making change in your life is hard. Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be able to make changes with ease, while others struggle over and over? In Section 4, I’ll teach you the 2 main reasons habits are necessary and the simple system that makes forming and keeping new habits easier than ever.

Section 4: How to Get Back on the Wagon and Make Any Habit Stick Forever

The initial phase of starting a habit usually isn’t too hard. But once you’ve successfully started, how do you keep it going? In this section, I’ll teach you how you can make your new habits last forever, even when things get difficult.

Section 5: How to Stay Focused on Achieving Your Goals

Forming better habits are just one piece of the puzzle to accomplishing your goals. Often times, the hardest part can be staying focused long enough to follow through. In this section, I’ll show you the best strategies for keeping your eyes on the prize.

Next steps

By this point, you’ll have learned how to achieve behavioral change easier than ever. You’ll also have the strategies, tools, and mindset you need to accomplish anything you set your mind to. In this final section, I’ll summarize and hit some final points before releasing you back into the wild and well on your way to success.

Your Commitment 

If you were planning on hearing a bunch of “ra, ra, you can do it!” cheers to motivate you, think again. Everyone else is relying on motivation and not really getting anywhere, so we’re going to do things differently.

You can’t expect to keep trying the same old stuff over and over expecting a different result. Some would say that’s the definition of insanity, and that’s what hamsters do.

 habit formation

What I’m going to teach you is a system to achieve your goals, every time. You just need to promise me two things:

  1. You commit to change. You’ve probably done this many times before, but I want you to really mean it this time. We’re not going to go over the same old BS everyone else is feeding you. I’m going to tell you what you need to hear and what you need to do to make the lasting change in your life.
  1. You commit to the advice in this guide. Put everything else away for now and focus on implementing the action steps and strategies that I provide you. It’s worked for me. It’s worked for others, and it will work for you too. Commit and give the system time to work its magic.

Now, let’s get started, shall we?

Section 0: Defining Habit Engineering

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki

There is a concept in Zen Buddhism called Shoshin, which translates to “beginner’s mind”.

Shoshin essentially means checking your ego at the door and leaving it there. It’s dropping preconceptions or beliefs about a topic and approaching things with eagerness, an open mind, and an understanding that there is always more to learn.

The beginner’s mind is a fundamental principle of something I like to call Habit Engineering, and practicing it will pay dividends for the rest of your life.

Habit Engineering is something you’ll hear me talk about often on The Monk Life.

It means designing a life by building better behaviors in a way that works best for you – and you alone.

Habits are far from a one-size-fits-all type of deal, which is why most people fail right out the gates.

They think they can follow the exact same routines and rituals as high-performers and immediately become one themselves. What they don’t realize is that these people have engineered these habits over a lifetime and adapted everything to their own lifestyle.

This is where a framework becomes more valuable than a plug-and-chug equation.

Science vs. Engineering

Throughout your journey to better habits, you should always be searching for information that’s backed by science.

But even science has its flaws…or perfections, I should say.

Scientists have the luxury of studying our world under ideal conditions. Many of those conditions vary wildly in our day-to-day lives, and different things just so happen to work for different people.

Engineers, on the other hand, have to apply science to realistic and practical situations. Engineering is about taking what you know, adding in life’s factors (time, energy, money, etc.), to come up with a solution that actually works.

So in the realm of habits: be an engineer, not a scientist.

Section 1: The Framework to Achieve Anything

When I first went off to college, I remember sitting in the car telling my mom all the awesome ways I was going to get in shape.

One of them in particular involved me running up and down the stairs of our 18 story student housing building.

“I’m going to be super fit and have incredibly stunning calves” is what I probably said at the time.

Guess how many times I actually ended up doing that? One. And it’s not that I didn’t want to do it again, I just never found the same motivation I had originally experienced.

Well, forget that. Not us anymore, right? You can avoid the Hamster Wheel and finally follow through on your habits.

It’s important now that I say there is no single solution to every one’s problems. That’s why a framework is so important. It provides the results of a system but with enough flexibility to work for us as humans. We’re all different and we all find unique things that work only for us.

That said, here’s the framework we’ll be using to get results:

habit formation

Having the right system adds structure to your approach and allows you to manage your willpower, instead of relying on motivation. Combined with the right mindset and rock-solid habits, this makes you MUCH more likely to execute your goals and create lasting change.

Too many people think they have to try harder instead of using systems to make things easier.

In the sections to follow, we’ll break down each component of the system into actionable and useful advice to implement.

Section 2: The Common Mistakes People Make When Setting Goals and How to Correct Them

“Your audacious life goals are fabulous. We’re proud of you for having them. But it’s possible that those goals are designed to distract you from the thing that’s really frightening you—the shift in daily habits that would mean a re–invention of how you see yourself.”

—Seth Godin

The absolutely biggest mistake you can make is not having any goals at all. Without goals, you’re essentially a mindless piece of matter floating around waiting for the next interaction to see what happens.

With that said, let’s assume that you have a goal and you’re just struggling to achieve it.

Here are the top 3 mistakes people make when setting a goal…

Mistake #1: Focusing on the results

Our brains are wired to seek out instant gratification. If given the choice between $1000 today or $1200 two weeks from now, 99 times out of 100 you would choose the $1000 up front. After all, a bird in the hand is worth how many in the bush?

This is why overnight successes attract all kinds of attention. They’re fast, they’re sexy, and who doesn’t love a great success story.

But here’s the thing: when you hear about someone going from their friend’s couch to a 7-figure business or from obese to ultra-marathon runner, you only see the end result. What you don’t see are the daily habits and routines that, over time, got them there.

The Olympics are a perfect example of this. Once every 4 years, the world gets to see how incredible these athletes are. What people don’t see are the countless hours of training every single day that led up to the big event.

It’s very easy to let things like that motivate you in the wrong way. Sure, it should get you fired up when you see something awesome, but the problem is most people start doing too much, too fast. They try to condense years of practice into a single day.

This is a sure-fire way to kill motivation and quit from feeling overwhelmed.

Here’s what to do instead:

Instead of focusing on the end results, focus on becoming the person who is capable of achieving those results. This means shifting your mind from the end-game, to the process.

Forget about the overnight success or transformation, what you need are better habits. Rather than looking at success as one defining moment, it’s much more realistic to look at it as a series of specific actions done on a routine basis.

I have a very simple method of doing this. Just ask yourself:

“What are the activities I need to be doing on a consistent basis to achieve my goals?”

Let’s hit a couple of examples.

If you want to deadlift 300 pounds, focus on being the type of person who goes into the gym and lifts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

If you want to write a book, focus on being the type of person who writes every day.

If you want to see your abs, focus on being the type of person who eats healthier and makes conscious eating decisions.

By following this advice, then overtime the result becomes the outcome of your habits.

Note – if you’re unsure of what you need to do in order to achieve your goals, find someone who’s already achieved them and pick their brain. They will most likely be able and willing to help you more than you could ever imagine.

Here’s what you can do today: 

Mistake #2: Not being specific enough with your goals

I hear my friends, family, and co-workers tell me all the time they wish they could “get into better shape”. Usually what that means is they’ll get inspired for a few days or a couple weeks, opt for the diet Coke instead of the regular, run on the treadmill, and drink Michelob lite.

After the motivation fades and they’re not shredded like Ryan Reynolds, they give up and say “eh, maybe next time.”

habit formation

Media credit: New Line Cinema, 20th Century Fox

The funny thing is, they might’ve actually lost a couple of pounds during that time. But they had no idea what they were aiming for, so when they didn’t get significant results, they just gave up.

You’ve got to make sure your goals are concrete, and something you can measure progress against as you go.

Here’s what to do instead:

A better way to approach “getting into better shape” could be to “lose 10 pounds in 2 months. Very specific, very measurable.

And here are a few more examples:

Instead of “writing more”, write 500 words per day every morning after you wake up.

Instead of “building a business”, create a coaching business that helps 5 people per week and brings in an extra $1000 per month.

Instead of “being more relaxed”, spend an extra 5-10 minutes each morning meditating.

Make your goals clear, concise, and measureable. This is how you track and make progress.

Here’s what you can do today:

Mistake #3: Not making time for your goals

“I don’t have time for the gym. I’m too busy.”

This is probably the MOST common thing I hear from my out-of-shape friends.

YES, you do have time for the gym. You just haven’t made the time.

Here’s what to do instead:

Successful people schedule their habits just like their tasks because it helps them to plan their day. They dictate what they have time for and what they don’t.

When you physically put something onto your calendar, you create a time and place for it to exist. You also create reminders for when it’s “go-time”. This is really all the simpler you need to make things when it comes to planning your new habits.

Imagine for a moment you get to play a round of golf with Tiger Woods. You can have the best clubs, the most dapper-looking Nike clothes, a range finder, and his caddy. He’s playing with grandpa’s 20-year-old clubs, sandals, and no fancy gadgets.

I don’t care how “past his prime” or “has-been” you think he is – he’ll still kick your ass.

You don’t need the latest tools, gadgets, or life hacks to get things done. Leave that stuff for the rookies. You just simply do what works.

While everyone else is showing off their new app, “Look how cool and awesome I am with this new productivity app”, you’ll be busy doing the things that really matter.

An electronic calendar, or pen and paper – aka the fundamentals – work just as well if not better than some program you probably won’t use ever again.

Check out my calendar for the past week:

habit formation

I left one juicy detail on there for you guys 😉

It’s nothing fancy. I don’t have 5-10 things I need to update and keep in sync, I just have one place where I keep track of my tasks. It’s easy and incredibly effective. Most importantly, it works.

Here’s what you can do today:

Section 3: Automating Your Success by Forming Habits

Everything that you are – or aren’t – so far in your life has been a direct result of your daily habits.

Have you ever stopped to really think about that?

As we discussed in Mistake #1 when setting goals, people tend to focus on the overnight success rather than the daily behaviors that make it possible.

How do you think you got that body you strut around in? Habits.

The house or apartment (or mother’s basement) you live in? Thank your work habits.

The relationships you’ve made? Habits.

Your level of happiness? Habits.

The job or career you’ve pursued? You guessed it! Habits.

All of it is either a direct or indirect result of your habits. How you look is a direct result of your exercise, diet, and stress-reduction habits. The fancy stuff (or lack thereof) that you have can be correlated to how successful or unsuccessful you are, which is often a result of your work ethic and habits.

It would make sense then, that the more good habits you adopt, the more successful (and easier) your life becomes.

Habits, by definition, are autonomous behaviors – things we do without thought. Wouldn’t it be incredible if you didn’t have to think twice about achieving your goals? You could literally do what you needed to automatically, no thought required.

It almost sounds too good to be true, but trust me it’s possible. You just need to know how habits work.

And when you finally crack the code, you can coast your way to success again and again (and again).

How to Harness the Power of Habits

Let’s get into the science of how your habits actually work. This will help you to start forming new habits (or breaking bad ones).

There is a slew of different habit models out there. They basically all boil down to the principle that there is a simple 3-step cycle every habit follows. It’s been proven time and time again by just about every behavioral psychologist out there. I like to use James Clear’s explanation of the cycle. It’s referred to as the “3 R’s of Habit Change”, an adaptation from information in Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit.

  1. The reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)
  2. The routine (the actual behavior you perform)
  3. The reward (the benefit from doing the behavior)

Let’s take a look at the 3 R’s in action with a real life example.

Reminder. Your doorbell rings. This is the prompt that initiates your behavior. The sound produced by the doorbell acts as a trigger for you to get up and answer the door. 

Routine. You see who’s at the door. This is the actual behavior being performed. Typically, when the doorbell rings, you get up to answer it. This is a habit you have formed over repeated experiences throughout your life.

Reward. You find out who’s at the door. Your reward is the benefit you received from doing the behavior. In this example, you satisfy your curiosity of wondering who is at the door.

Doing this enough times with a positive reward (i.e. the mailman with a package for you and not someone to kidnap you) and you form a positive feedback loop in your brain. Basically, you learn that the next time the doorbell rings, you should answer it.

When was the last time someone knocked on your door or rang the doorbell? Did you have to sit there and think about what your next action was going to be?

No! You probably just got up and instinctively went to answer the door (or yelled for someone else to do it for you).

This is how a single behavior is turned into an autonomous habit over time.

habit formation

Now that you understand the science of how habits work, it’s time to learn how to apply them and start forming new habits.

Step 1. Pick a trigger for your new habit

If you want to form a new habit, first you have to identify the trigger that the desired behavior will follow.

Rather than doing what most people do and rely on motivation to start a behavior, we’re going to take a different approach. Motivation is a fool’s game for forming new habits. It comes and goes, which is why top performers don’t manage it when it comes to success.

Instead, they make it super easy to start new habits by including them into daily activities they already perform.

This takes the inconsistency of motivation out of the equation and allows you to form consistent habits.

For example, say you want to start meditating 5 minutes each day. You could try randomly inserting it into your routine, OR you could tie it with a behavior that’s already a part of your daily activities (say brushing your teeth). This lets the trigger for your new behavior be something you already do without thinking about it.

Wake up, brush your teeth, then start meditating for 5 minutes. You don’t have to randomly muster up the motivation to meditate each day, it’s something that you just start doing immediately after brushing your teeth.

Step 2. Start “stupid” small

You’re not just going to suddenly wake up and start writing 500 words per day for the rest of your life. If you do, then please contact me and tell me where you found the pill Bradley Cooper took in Limitless.

habit formation

Media credit: Relativity Media, 20th Century Fox

As we’ve discussed previously, we all feel the urge to do too much, too soon after getting psyched up about a new goal. But as we learned, actually achieving your goals is less about the result and all about the day-to-day habits that make it a reality.

So then, the question becomes “how do we make sure we do the necessary behaviors on a consistent basis?”

Answer: you make it incredibly easy, or “stupid” easy.

Starting an activity is hands-down the hardest thing about getting something done. Once you get started, it’s actually much easier to keep going and finish. This is Newton’s First Law of Motion in action: an object in motion, tends to remain in motion. You just need the momentum to get moving.

For example, let’s say you wanted to start running on a daily basis. You tell yourself that you’re going to run 2 miles every day. For most, that probably seems like a daunting task. Instead, tell yourself that you’ll simply get out and run down the street. If you do, then it’s a successful day. Chances are that once you get out and start running, you’ll want to keep going.

And even if you don’t, at least you accomplished your goal of running down the street.

Let’s look at another example – one from my own life. A few months ago, I struggled hard to write every day. I told myself I was going to start writing 1,000 words every morning before I did anything else.

Guess how many times that actually happened? Two, maybe three. Then I quit. This was before I dove deep into studying habits.

Performance isn’t something you need to worry about in the beginning. The important thing is just getting out there and doing the new behavior.

Later on once it’s become an automatic habit, you can scale up the level of performance to your desire.

Going back to my writing example, I changed my strategy from 1,000 to just 50 words per day. For me, that was something “stupid” simple. This is something I picked up from Stephen Guise, author of Mini Habits: Smaller Changes, Bigger Results. Basically, if a task sounds “stupid” easy to do, that’s when you know you’ve found the right limit.

When I wrote 50 words, I called the day a success and put an X on my calendar. More often than not, I write WAY more than 50, but that’s what helps me break the mental roadblock of getting started and staying consistent.

Step 3. Reward yourself

Last but not least, the habit cycle wouldn’t be complete without a prize at the end. This may be the most important thing for making a habit stick.

If there’s not an immediate positive result that follows your behavior, chances are you probably won’t stay with it (no matter how big the payoff later on). We want to keep doing things that make us feel good now.

That’s why it’s important to always celebrate and applaud yourself after successfully practicing your habit.

One way to do this is with positive self-talk. A simple “hell yeah, Jason!” or a “good job” can go a long way. If you’re not used to it, this will probably seem weird at first, but trust me, it helps.

Another way is to enlist a partner (perhaps a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, friend, whatever) and have them cheer you on. People love helping others out and making them feel good, especially when it’s someone near and dear to their heart. Have fun with it in any way you can.

The final way I’ll share with you is to reward yourself with a totally UNRELATED prize. Let’s say that you want to start exercising more. When you go to the gym and do even the smallest workout, you reward yourself with some ice cream.

You’re using reward association so that your brain starts relating working out to delicious ice cream. In this example, think of the ice cream as training wheels. Once you’ve done the hard work and consistently performed your habit, you can eventually take away the training wheels – the ice cream – and your habit will still exist.

How to Eliminate Bad Habits

Let’s say you’re a pack-a-day smoker. You’ve been smoking for the last however many years of your life, and something happens that makes you go “oh shit, I need to quit smoking”.

You might try going cold turkey. You might even try a few other methods that ultimately end up with you reaching for another one of those cancer sticks.

At this point, you’re feeling pretty down on yourself. You tried SO hard to quit.

What gives?

Try to imagine habits as neural pathways in your brain. The longer you perform a behavior – like smoking – the stronger, the pathway becomes. Over time, these pathways don’t really fade away, they stay forever.

That’s why eliminating bad habits is so hard; it’s actually damn near impossible. What you can do, is replace it.

Remember the 3 R’s of Habits Change: reminder, routine, reward. If you want to stop smoking (the routine) what you actually need to do first…is some research.

Action Step: What reminder(s), aka cue, triggers your habit of smoking? Is it stress? Boredom? Maybe EVERYTHING seems to trigger it. Whatever the case, take some notes and write them all down.

Then, focus on the reward. What is it about smoking – besides the obvious nicotine addiction – is your brain craving? Often times, it’s relaxation. Other times, it’s a social thing.

Your goal to “eliminate” a bad habit is to keep the reminder and reward as consistent as possible, but REPLACE the routine.

Let’s say you settle for getting up and taking a walk. Over time, you slowly override the bad habit of smoking with a new, better habit of walking.

Eventually, a new neural pathway forms, and it starts to take precedence over your smoking habit. Now, every time your old cue(s) triggers your habit, you go for a walk instead of smoking.

Here are a few other bad habit substitutes you can try…

If you’re hitting up the vending machine for an afternoon cookie, try packing an apple to curb your sugar craving.

If you’re drinking too much coffee, try drinking green tea or a caffeine-free herbal tea.

If you bite your nails, try taking a few deep breaths instead.

If you play too many video games, try writing a sentence for a project you’ve been working on instead.

I understand getting rid of bad habits is never easy. It involves a lot of mindfulness and experimentation. But if you can pull it off, you’ll be so much further ahead of your peers who struggle to get anything done.

They’ll be stuck with their bad habits, and you’ll be forming new, better ones.

Keystone Habits, aka The Strongest Habits

When it comes to peak performance, not all habits are created equal.

Certain habits are more powerful than others. These habits and behaviors make your goals exponentially easier to achieve, regardless of the obstacles you face.

I don’t know about you, but on days when I hit the gym, I feel much better and am infinitely more productive. I turn into a superhuman version of myself. Exercise is what is commonly referred to as a “Keystone Habit”.

Keystone Habits are routines that, when practiced regularly, enhance your performance in a vast array of other areas of your life. These habits have a tendency to start a positive chain reaction that can snowball you to success. As a result, Keystone Habits should almost always be the first place you start when evaluating your habits.

Do you have 1 or 2 habits that just seem to make life infinitely easier, happier, or better? If not, you know what you should probably be starting on.

Let’s go back to the exercise example. At times in my life when I’ve felt the worst or have been incredibly unproductive, almost always it’s because I’ve fallen out of consistent exercise as a habit.

When I’ve been exercising (like I have been consistently for the last few years), things just seem to fall into place. My body aches less. I feel more energetic. I feel happier. I feel more confident. I have an easier time thinking clearly. I am more productive.

With my exercise Keystone Habit set, everything else is easier to achieve.

How can you go about finding your Keystone Habit(s)?

Many of you may already practice some of these habits without even knowing it. Others are just a small step away from having a powerful tool in your toolkit. Below is a list of some common Keystone Habits. My honest suggestion is to pick 1 and make it a true staple in your life.

As someone who values health above almost everything else, I’m somewhat biased when it comes to Keystone Habits. If I had to choose for everyone, I would almost always pick either exercise, diet, sleep, or a mindfulness practice as a must-have Keystone Habit.

Your body is the vessel that runs your entire life. If it operates at an optimal level, with all its chemicals in balance and flowing smoothly, then you operate optimally.

For one last example, let’s look at a good night’s sleep. For many people. A good night’s sleep leads to waking up feeling energized, being more productive, eating healthier, and feeling less anxious. Just by getting a good night’s sleep, those other behaviors are 10x more likely to happen.

When you choose to sacrifice sleep in favor of competing priorities, you feel like crap. You’re sluggish, achy, and irritable. Think you can consistently accomplish anything without a good night’s rest? I didn’t think so.

Here’s what you can do today:

Section 4: How to get back on the wagon and make any habit stick forever

Do you know what the hardest part about building good habits is?

Yep, you guessed it – sticking to them long enough to ingrain them as a part of your routine.

Forming new habits isn’t easy, which is why the overwhelming majority don’t exercise and don’t meditate. Instead they smoke, procrastinate, don’t learn new languages, or are still in debt. If good habits were easy, I probably wouldn’t be here helping you. You’d already be a master.

But alas, sensei, to make new habits stick, you have to stay with them even when you fall off the wagon.

And you will fall off, trust me. It’s what makes you human.

The main difference between wildly successful people and the rest of the population is what they do when shit hits the fan. Here’s what I’m talking about. I’m sure at least a few of these will resonate with you:

What do you do when you’re supposed to go to the gym in the evening, but heavy traffic delayed your commute home an extra hour?

Are you the type of person that says “screw it, I’ll just try again tomorrow”? Or do you find a way to stick to your routine, no matter what?

The important message here is not to avoid failure all together – we all have our bad days – it’s to plan for it.

Having a few strategies to follow can mitigate missed habits and help to quickly get back on track when things go awry.

I’ve provided you my best tips below for how to deal with falling off the wagon. These work when forming new habits AND for replacing bad habits….

1. It’s incredibly important to understand why you choose a habit

This is king above all other strategies. If you don’t agree with a new habit and you’re just doing it because so-and-so said you should, then you’re doomed to fail from the start. Choose habits that are meaningful to you and are things you actually want to be doing.

Got it? Good, let’s move on.

2. Change your Identity

Identity-Based Habits is a strategy that I’ve learned and adopted from habits expert James Clear.

The principle is simple: “to change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself”.

Want to get into better shape? Start believing you’re the type of person who eats healthy and exercises.

Want to be an author? Start believing you’re the type of person who wakes up early and writes every day.

James’ recipe for sustained success with habits is to 1. Decide the type of person you want to be, and then 2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

3. Stick to your schedule, even if it’s just a little bit

Most often, one slip-up in your new habit routine won’t make much of a difference. However, missing several days in a row is a big no-no. The objective of the game is to ensure you minimize the number of days you miss, ideally not missing any at all.

If you can’t make it to the gym for your full workout, then do some bodyweight work at home. Whatever you have time for. The important thing is sticking to your habit. Even though pushups at home isn’t quite the same as deadlifts at the gym, you’ve still succeeded in not missing a workout. In the grand scheme of things, you haven’t set yourself back too much, assuming it’s not a common occurrence.

Many habit experts rave about Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t break the chain” approach to habits. And with good reason.

Basically, you get yourself a calendar (an old-school one you can write on), and then mark X’s on the days you complete your scheduled habit. After a while, you’ll start to see a chain of X’s form, and you’ll want to keep it going.

If things in your life get pretty hectic and you end up missing a couple of days, you’ll notice. But more importantly, you’ll be able to look at the bigger picture and see a couple blank spots in a sea of X’s. That’s what really matters.

habit formation

My calendar tracking my writing 50 words per day habit.

You’ve got to make sure those couple blanks don’t turn into several weeks of missed behaviors.

This strategy does wonders for your self-confidence. It teaches you that even when things go south, you’re still dedicated to becoming the type of person you want to be.

Last time you tried achieving your goals, you probably didn’t have a detailed plan to stick to. This time, when you get thrown off course, go back to what you know – your plan.

Note: To make things super easy for yourself, never try to miss more than one day in a row of your new habit. If you do, put yourself on an emergency status and do your absolute best to get back on track the next day.

4. Create an environment for success

Jim Rohn said it best: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

If you’re a recovering alcoholic and trying to replace your old drinking habits, then you probably shouldn’t be at the bar with your old drinking buddies. Start hanging around the people you want to emulate. Sooner or later, their good habits will start to rub off on you.

That’s the obvious one. The not-so-obvious tip is to start doing the same thing with your physical environment.

If you’re someone who’s trying to eat healthier, an example I love to use is to put your fruits and vegetables in front of a bag of chips. Even better, get rid of the chips all together if you know you’ll be otherwise tempted to eat them.

We are much more influenced by our surroundings than we think. Make it easier on yourself and design an environment that will help you achieve your goals.

Another example of this is getting up early to exercise before work. Maybe you’ve tried this before, but when you woke up to go for a run, you struggled to find the right shoes, clothes, and finally your house keys.

Instead of going for the run, you said “F it,” and went back to sleep. How could you design your environment for success in this case?

You could:

Remember, it’s not about trying to fight your lack of motivation, it’s planning for it that counts.

5. Ask for help

One of the dumbest things I hear people try to do when embarking on a life-changing journey is being a “lone wolf”. That might work when solo-queuing up for Call of Duty, but not with habits.

Find someone – anyone – who you can ask for help and call on for support when things get difficult. Obviously close friends and family would be the best, but even strangers or social media outlets can work just as well.

By asking for help, you immediately create a safety net for yourself. That net is there to rescue you and keep you on track when you feel like giving up.

Asking for help also acts as a built-in positive reward (remember how important rewards are for forming habits?) that you can use to further ingrain the habit into your routine.

For example, let’s say you successfully make it to the gym and absolutely crush your workout. You’re super excited and take to Facebook to post a bad-ass selfie of yourself flexing in the mirror with the tag line “Crushed it at the gym today!”

Your friends will probably like the post and provide words of encouragement (unless they’re assholes).

Boom. Instant reward.

6. Don’t give up

Failure is only the first step of the process. And remember that if you’re doing anything WORTH doing, there will be times when you fail.

When I was applying to my second “career” job, I somewhat expected to not get hired the first time around.

I had little experience in the specific field and there was a slew of better qualified applicants in the area. Where I stood out was in my follow-ups and relentless pursuit of the position.

I asked for constructive criticism on how my interview went. I asked what I could improve on to be highly considered for the position, and I kept in touch with the manager.

This is what successful people do. They don’t give up just because of one stupid “no”.

When things go wrong, you stick to the plan, tweak, adjust, and experiment until you find what works.

Here’s what you can do today:

After nailing down a routine, and choosing your triggers and rewards, implement the strategies above to help make them last. The items in this section, especially finding an accountability partner, were SO important for me when achieving the big goals in my life.

Section 5: How to stay focused and achieve great things

A funny thing happened to me earlier this year while building this blog.

For starters, I made Mistake #1 when it comes to goal-setting. I was focused on having this multi-million traffic website with a ton of subscribers, fancy design, a huge social media following, and several products to help my readers.

I didn’t have any specific goal. I was just trying to make it big. As a result, I was doing a whole slew of things:

The list could literally go on for another hundred items, though I’ll spare you the pain.

I was “busy” as hell, but I wasn’t really getting anywhere. I was essentially taking shots in the dark and hoping something stuck.

Fast forward a few months, and the only real traffic I was getting was some that I had paid for (add that to the list above). It ultimately wasn’t the audience I was looking for, and it was basically useless.

At some point on a Skype call with my friend George, a Bulgarian productivity coach, I stopped being dumb and gained some clarity.

I thought back to what made me so successful as an engineer. It wasn’t doing a bunch of stupid things to keep myself busy. That’s what everyone else was doing, and it clearly wasn’t working. Instead, I was the one laser-focused on one specific goal.

For each of my projects, I had always had one, clear-cut goal to achieve. And at the end of the year, I usually exceeded or at least met those goals.

That got me thinking about my fitness journey. I had the pleasure of working with Adam Bornstein as an online coaching client of his. At the beginning, I was telling him all sorts of things:

This is what I had been trying in the gym prior, and it got me nowhere. Adam’s advice to me, and one of the most important things I took away from my time as a client, was to focus on one specific goal, and pursue it relentlessly. After almost 18 months of coaching, I put on 20 pounds of muscle and was lifting more than I ever had in my life.

Going back to my blog, with my new-found clarity I created a goal of 1,000 new subscribers by the end of December 2016.

Now you might think, “What about making money from your blog? What about having a huge social media following?” Those are also goals that I would like to achieve some day. But here’s the thing…

When you’re trying to accomplish multiple things at once, you often do a bunch of random bullshit that keeps you “busy” and doesn’t really get you anywhere. Remember the Hamster Wheel? This is a major reason you’re still stuck on it.

You might think that honing in on a specific goal limits the possibilities of what you can achieve…NOT TRUE! I’ve found that the only way to succeed and crush all your goals is to focus on a specific result, achieve it, and THEN move on to the next. This allows you to focus all of your attention on that one important thing and cut out the noise.

Once I set the new goal for my blog, I stopped doing almost 80% of the stuff I was previously doing. 80%! That’s absurd. I instead started focusing only on my writing and posting to other blogs in my niche. This is what got me results, and it’s what continues to do so.

habit formation

Snapshot of my new email subscribers from early 2016.

Can you tell when I changed my strategy?

Just because I’m putting my social media following on the backburner, doesn’t mean I won’t accomplish it. It just means it’s out of focus until that becomes a priority in my business.

Don’t worry about “missing out” because of setting very concise goals. Worry about “missing out” because you’re trying to do too much at once.

Let me show the breakdown of my current goal for the rest of the year.

Goal: 1,000 new subscribers by year’s end.

That allows me October, November, and December – 3 months – to achieve my goal. I picked this because it works perfectly for the remainder of the year, since I was previously being a dumbass.

Breaking it down, that’s 333 subscribers a month, 74 subscribers a week, and roughly 11 subscribers a day.

I now have the clarity I need to achieve the results I’m striving for. If anything I’m doing doesn’t move the needle in a positive way towards my goal, I stop doing it.

Don’t think of constraints as constraints. Think of them as freeing up your time to focus on the right things.

Here’s what you can do today:

Next Steps

We’ve covered a ton of information in this guide.

First, we defined Habit Engineering, and we learned to approach habits, just like life, with a beginner’s mind.

We saw the framework that we should use to approach any goal. Systems make our lives easier. Take advantage of them when you can. Always.

We talked about the biggest mistakes people make when setting goals. Almost everyone is terrible at this, if they even do it at all. Don’t be almost everyone.

We talked about the science of how habits are formed and the loop that all habits follow. Using this information, you can focus less on the behavior, and more on the reminders and rewards. Most importantly, we learned to start “stupid” small.

We learned about bad habits and what you can do to replace them, not eliminate them.

We discussed keystone habits and how not all habits are created equal.

We talked about what to do when you get off course and feel like giving up.

And then we talked about how staying focused long enough to achieve results is a major problem. We learned how to overcome this and why you should focus on just one super important thing.

You should now have all the tools at your disposal to make real change in your life. You’ll be able to stick with better habits longer term and be able to achieve success over and over again.

That brings me to my final three cents:

  1. Reading this guide does nothing for you if you don’t take massive action. You have the tools in your kit, and now it’s time to act. Choose a goal or brainstorm one that’s important to you, then use the information in this guide to start making it happen. Slow change is better than no change, and consistency is much better than performance (at least when starting out).
  1. Buddha was a smart man. Listen to Buddha. “Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances. Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will lead to only delusion. Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real.”
  1. I’m here to support you. Remember that a key aspect of sticking to your habits longer term is having someone who’s looking out for you. I won’t pretend to have it all figured out, but I’m happy to share what I’ve learned so far. I’m always here for you.

If you have any questions or feedback for this guide, you can always reach me at www.themonklife.net/contact.

With love,

Jason Gutierrez

 

habit formation