“Take it one step at a time” is good advice for most things in life, but particularly when it comes to habit change. Yet the typical approach is often to try to change all our bad habits at once. For example: We try to quit drinking and go to bed earlier and start exercising regularly. But rather than speeding the change process, this actually sabotages it.

Scott H. Young describes a significantly more effective (but counter-intuitive) approach in our new 99U book. Changing your habits serially, rather than simultaneously:

A smarter strategy is to implement each new habit successively, focusing on just one new habit a month. The first month you focus on waking up earlier. The second month on regular exercise. The third month on a new system for your work. Although thirty days may not be enough time to form a new default habit (one study suggests 66 days as a median time for habituation), it will at least mean the habit requires less effort to pick back up in case of a setback.

Some people might see this approach as being prohibitively slow, but in practice, doing habits one month at a time is fast. In one year you could:

  • Wake up earlier
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat properly
  • Set up a productivity system
  • Establish deliberate practice time for your craft
  • Become more organized
  • Read a book per month
  • Cut out wasteful Internet surfing
  • Keep your e-mail inbox empty
  • Cut down on television
  • Learn a new skill
  • Maintain a journal or diary

Even if you only accomplished a quarter of this list, my guess is you could make significant gains in your life. The focus principle for habit change isn’t actually slow. In fact, it’s much faster than the alternative.

You can read the full essay from Scott, as well as contributions from Joshua Foer, Teresa Amabile, Scott Belsky, and more, in Maximize Your Potential, the latest addition to our 99U book series.

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