From the article originally published on JamesClear.com.
Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick with your habits if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior.
Psychologists call these specific plans “implementation intentions” because they state when, where, and how you intend to implement a particular behavior.
However research has also discovered implementation intentions only work when you focus on one goal at a time.
In fact, researchers found that people who tried to accomplish multiple goals were less committed and less likely to succeed than those who focused on a single goal.
This is important: developing a specific plan for when, where, and how you will stick to a new habit will dramatically increase the odds that you will actually follow through, but only if you focus on a single goal.
What Happens When You Focus on One Thing
Here is another science-based reason to focus on one habit at a time:
When you begin practicing a new habit it requires a lot of conscious effort to remember to do it. After awhile, however, the pattern of behavior becomes easier. Eventually, your new habit becomes a normal routine and the process is more or less mindless and automatic.
Researchers have a fancy term for this process called “automaticity.” Automaticity is the ability to perform a behavior without thinking about each step, which allows the pattern to become automatic and habitual.
But here’s the thing:
automaticity only occurs as the result of lots of repetition and practice. The more reps you put in, the more automatic a behavior becomes.
For example, this chart shows how long it takes for people to make a habit out of taking a 10-minute walk after breakfast.
In the beginning, the degree of automaticity is very low. After 30 days, the habit is becoming fairly routine. After 60 days, the process is about as automatic as it can become.
The most important thing to note is that there is some “tipping point” at which new habits become more or less automatic.
That said, the study cited above found the average habit takes about 66 days to become automatic. (Don’t put too much stock in that number. The range in the study was very wide and the only reasonable conclusion you should make is that it will take months for new habits to become sticky.)
Change Your Life Without Changing Your Entire Life
You are 2x to 3x more likely to follow through with a habit if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you are going to implement it.
You should focus entirely on one habit. Research has found that implementation intentions do not work if you try to improve multiple habits at the same time.
Research has shown that any given habit becomes more automatic with more practice. On average, it takes at least two months for new habits to become automatic behaviors.
This brings us to the punchline of this article…
The counterintuitive insight from all of this research is that the best way to change your entire life is by not changing your entire life. Instead, it is best to focus on one specific habit, work on it until you master it, and make it an automatic part of your daily life. Then, repeat the process for the next habit.
The way to master more things in the long-run is to simply focus on one thing right now.