How To Make It Easy To Form Habit - Make It “Just Hard Enough”
Aug 15, 2022
Have you ever wondered why some people can stick with a new habit, putting in the reps they need to build up a super fit body, become an expert guitarist, score a 3-pointer 40% of the time, or speak multiple languages fluently?
Well, there’s no hard and fast rule about how long it takes to form a habit. It’s all about the number of times that you repeat the action. Even then, it varies dramatically from person to person. It also depends on the type of habit you’re trying to form and a lot of other factors. Either way, it all comes down to persistence.
So, why is it that some people are more persistent when it comes to building habits? How can they continue to learn and improve while the majority of us fall off track and never pick it up again?
Ask any teacher the best way for kids to learn and they’ll tell you that if the lesson is too challenging, the kids will get frustrated and switch off. If the lesson’s too easy, they’ll get bored, lose concentration and all hell will break loose. Well, the principle is exactly the same when it comes to habit formation and there’s a really good reason.
Your brain loves a challenge but…
…only if it’s “just hard enough”.
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear demonstrates this concept with a cute analogy he calls the “Goldilocks Rule”. I’m going to assume you’ve heard the fairytale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears here. In a nutshell, the Goldilocks Rule states that:
“Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right”
Or as I like to think of it “just hard enough”.
A few years ago I played my first year of paddle tennis. It’s a brilliant game that was created for those having to endure frigid winters and are looking for something to do other than count the days to spring. It’s smaller courts than regular tennis, you play doubles, and you can play the ball off the back screens like racquetball.
As an improved newbie, I was put on the lowest skilled team the first year. But because I’d played tennis growing up, I quickly realized that my skill level was on par with only about 10% of our team who also had a tennis background. Each week at practice, we’d seek each other out to play together because we knew that we’d have much more fun matched against opponents of similar abilities. It just wasn’t fun otherwise.
Similarly, as I hung around the courts more and befriended much higher skilled players than myself, I’d find that it wasn’t fun to get my bell rung every time we’d play.
The following year I was put on a “goldilocks team.” All 12 of us were similarly matched, but I’d say I was on the lower end of the talent pool. No matter who I played, I knew I always had to give it 100% and that sometimes I’d win, sometimes I’d lose, but ALWAYS had a blast and was improving every time I played.
…it was ‘just hard enough’ to keep me motivated.
And that’s exactly the same for forming new habits. If the challenge is too difficult, it will trigger anxiety, stress and frustration – you’ll be much more likely to give it up before you make any real progress.
And if it’s not challenging enough or too repetitive, you’ll become bored and passive. That means you won’t be operating at a heightened state of focus, clarity, and presence – and you’ll probably give it up too!
But when the challenge is just right – just hard enough – you’re fully engaged to want to win.
But there’s more to it than picking a challenge that’s “just hard enough”, you also need to…
Get in the ‘Flow State’ to build habits faster
The flow state is that sweet spot between the challenge of the task at hand and your current level of skill. The trick to finding that sweet spot is in pushing yourself just enough out of your comfort zone, scientists have even found it to be around 4% beyond our current ability.
By pushing yourself just 4% harder each time, you’ll create that flow state that improves your learning and retention (and helps you get 4% better the next time).
The flow state isn’t only responsible for helping you achieve a higher performance. There’s also a direct connection between being in a flow state and happiness. It’s that feeling when you’re so engaged in a task and feeling truly content, that time flies and the world around you fades into the background.
To use the flow state to build momentum and take your life to the next level, the real trick is to seek out challenges that are in line with your overall life goals. Working on those challenges just enough that they push you to your limits, so you continue to make progress and stay motivated.
At Moore Momentum, I’ve come up with a simple equation you can apply. I call it…
The “Equation of Life”
I like to see life as a game. And like all the best games, it’s not easy to win but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to try. To master the game of life, you have to create success habits in all Five Cores of life:
Mindset: Getting your mind working FOR instead of against you. Becoming an unstoppable growth owner who fails beautifully, sees obstacles as temporary roadblocks waiting for solutions, and gives fear the finger.
Career & Finances: Doing what you love and are great at, executing your purpose, and exponentially growing your wealth along the way.
Relationships:Creating and maintaining deep, fulfilled relationships and allies to help you achieve your goals.
Physical Health:Taking care of your physical body to ensure looking good, feeling good, and gaining the energy and stamina to propel you through life.
Emotional Health & Giving Back: Managing stress, expressing your passions regularly, and making sure the world is better, not worse, for having you in it.
That starts by challenging your belief system about who you are and what you’re capable of. Reprogram all that glitchy code by identifying the habits that hold you back – and replacing them with success habits.
Repeat those actions enough, and your success habits will work on autopilot building momentum the same way those failure habits kept you from achieving true happiness and fulfillment.
This is The Equation of Life. And the aim of the game is to get it working FOR you instead of against you. Hitting the reset button on your broken belief system to center around your Five Cores, and shifting your actions so they start forming the success habits that will compound you into a winning player.
A key element in The Equation of Life is ‘Repeated Actions’ + ‘Time’. So getting in a flow state with success habits in each of your Five Cores is absolutely vital.
But there’s a problem with that, because the “just hard enough” rule for challenging yourself and getting in the “flow state” aren’t always enough to build momentum. There’s one more piece of the puzzle that we need to look at because…
The greatest threat to success is not failure…
… but boredom!
Any habit that we want to build has to be attractive and satisfying to the brain – otherwise it’s an uphill struggle. But for any behavior to stay attractive, it needs to stay fresh and interesting. There’s a saying that “variety is the spice of life” and, while familiar things can also feel very comfortable – when it comes to building new habits, I have to agree with the saying!
Without variety, habits become routine and they become less interesting and less satisfying. We get bored – plain and simple. Think about it, even your favorite junk food, sex, video games, gambling, social media…
If you do it every day, you lose interest and you start looking elsewhere to scratch the itch. The thing is, Humans crave predictability, your brain is busy looking for patterns all the time so it can make sense of the world. When the brain recognizes a pattern it gets logged and becomes a default. But when no patterns exist, the brain goes into overdrive prioritizing ‘working this stuff out’ over other functions like self-control, moderation, and boredom.
In short, humans need novelty.
If you’ve ever asked someone a question while they were playing a video game, chances are the only response you got was a mumbled “sure, ok, whatever”. Well, that’s exactly what’s going on here. When you’re engrossed in a game, you’ll agree to almost anything to shut out the distraction so you can keep playing.
In psychology this is known as a ‘Variable Reward’, the more variety in the reward – the more dopamine floods our system – and the more motivated we are to take action. Variable rewards keep your brain busy, shutting down the defenses, and creating the space to plant the seeds of a new habit.
The sweet spot is a 50/50 ratio of success to failure. Just enough “winning” to be satisfied and just enough “wanting” to experience desire. Hence the “just hard enough” rule to stay motivated.
And if you think about it, this also connects directly with The Equation of Life – to create true happiness and fulfillment in life, you can’t sit back and rest on your laurels – you need to keep challenging yourself to level up. Because with no challenge there is no excitement and you’ll fall back into old failure patterns. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.
Motivation is essential for building habits but the problem is…
Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated but…
…the real key to success is the ability to keep on working when motivation is lacking.
There are so many examples of famous athletes, journalists, actors, scientists, entrepreneurs who were only able to achieve the top of their game by doing what they had to do… even when they didn’t want to do it.
So what’s their secret? How is it that they were able to stick to the schedule while the rest of us let life get in the way?
The answer is actually pretty simple, most, if not all, of these successful people do one thing to ensure that motivation doesn’t slip.
They visualize their progress by tracking their wins. It works because the human brain needs a way to see that progress is being made.
A New Way to level up your life by gamifying your habits
At Moore Momentum, I’ve found a way to combine all of these elements – “just hard enough”, creating a flow state, exciting variable rewards, and progress tracking – to help you build success habits in your Five Cores.
My new app uses the same science and technology big tech has used to monetize our attention at the expense of our well-being – and uses it to reduce the friction to building success habits. Discover the power of gamification to push through the boredom of habit creation and build momentum towards success and happiness.