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  • Writer's pictureInno Wambugu

Simple Success Podcast - Habit - The #1 Reason for Investing Success

Countless researchers and authors have written about the topic of habits. Among them are Charles Duhigg, author of "The Power of Habit", James Clear, who wrote "Atomic Habits" and does a blog at, and of course Mark Manson’s author of, among other things, The Subtle Art of Not…well, lets keep it family-friendly, at least for now. Other influential thought leaders in this area include "The One Thing" by Gary Keller of Keller-Williams fame and of course tons of behavioral psychologists. How does this play into Simple Success? Let's find out!

How long does it take to form a new habit? The common answer for about 50 years has been 21 days. It didn’t even occur to me to question it until a few years ago when I, shall we say, again became conscious of the power of forming new habits. As I questioned, I found the source of that 21-day number. It’s an otherwise wonderful book, perhaps one of the most important books written in recent centuries, called “Psycho-cybernetics”, by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. He was writing about the idea of course correction, the idea behind cybernetics. To give you an idea of this, imagine flying in a plane from one city to another, thousands of miles away. When the flight crew enables autopilot, sensors in the plane keep it on course to get to the destination city lined up on the runway, ready to land.

During the flight, the nose of the plane strays off course countless times, and the autopilot gently brings it back on course, getting it safely to the destination. That covers cybernetics in a very over-simplified way, so where did the 21-day thing come in? That came into play for those of us, hopefully all of us, who understand how habits work, even when they work on us, and wanted to purposefully introduce new habits. How long did they have to “fake it until they make it?”, to use a common phrase , and 21 days became the most common answer. Turns out that some things can move from active action to passive action in 21 or even fewer days. But some things take closer to 250 days, and the average across most things if not all things is 66, we’ll go with that. 66 days. Mark your calendar. That’s about 9 weeks of this weekly podcast.

No, you don’t put the habit in place faster when you binge-listen as I know some of you do, but you can still binge-listen and in fact I encourage it. Ok, we’ll say “worst case”. In 9 weeks, you can have the habit in place. Will you be perfect? No, you won’t. Not yet. But you will be a step closer to perfect and that’s big.

A big, huge step toward FUN is SIMPLE. Things have to be easy until they become habits. Even if we are the most stoic of all the stoics, we will end up reverting to our habits. And while we can both have and nurture all habits, bad as well as good, when we line up what we do with what we want, we have motivation to bring only good habits to pass. Things which serve us, or more accurately things in which we’ve already decided to be willing to find out why “THAT’s GOOD”. The biggest step you or anyone can take toward getting to any goal successfully is to make it simple and fun and done.

How do we make habits, particularly effective habits?

The first one is:

Start Small (Break Goals Down)

We've talked about having goals and how important that is. But there’s more to this idea than just setting goals. Let me give you a quick example, every January people all over the world make a resolution to lose weight, look better, feel fit, or some such equivalent. So, they sign up for a gym membership. Gyms LOVE January. It’s revenue like they can only dream of the rest of the year!

The problem is that all those people, me included, have not taken the time to make the goal small enough. Let alone specific enough. “Lose weight” is not the same thing as “lose 10 pounds”. There’s a reason that all those health apps for your phone want you to be specific, and it’s not just because they can’t do the math otherwise. That is true, but also, they don’t want you to feel like you can let yourself off the hook so easily.

Why? Because on the day when you get overwhelmed, and that WILL happen, you will let yourself off the hook right at that place you’ve already created. It’s so easy. Wondering if that’s true? Go look at a gym nearby you on February 1st. There will be a ton of parking spaces and lockers there.

So instead, I say you take that goal, whatever it is, and break it down into little things. Instead of “today I’m going to write an entire book” then laughing to yourself and turning on Netflix instead, break it down to “today I’m going to write the outline”. Or maybe it’s, “Today I’m going to write for 10 minutes”. What works for you is what’s important here.

But then, even if you still aren’t laughing to yourself, break it down some more. How about this? “Today I’m going to start an outline.”

And forgive yourself, over and over. Be kind to yourself. Be firm in the sense that progress is the most important thing ever but also, be your own best friend when you need to try again tomorrow.

Next is (Rinse and) Repeat

Now that you’ve set one or more goals, and now that you’ve taken the time to be both realistic as well as kind to yourself, you’re ready for the next step.

That is doing it.

That’s also doing it again.

Then again.

And then even again.

Is it too small? The answer is no.

Let’s go back to the example I used a while ago about the importance of ROI or Return on Investment.

In the phone app StepBet from Waybetter apps, gamers like me and you join together virtually in a game – usually 6 weeks long – where they each put up $40 US of their real money into a pool, and at the end of the game they split the pot among everyone who meets a customized (for them) step goal. It’s pretty common to make a 10 – 20% ROI on each one of those bets, and for those of you who know any detail about the makeup of ROI, that number is on an annual basis.

Head in the clouds, yeah, I know. What I mean is, since you made that in only six weeks instead of 52 weeks, your real ROI is a whole lot higher. I mean like, a WHOLE lot.

The small part? 20% ROI on $40 is only $8. Not enough for dinner for some people. But that is NOT the point. The point is practicing getting a phenomenal ROI and practicing putting real money at risk but, at the same time, keeping that risk REALLY REALLY low. That’s gotta be appealing! In fact, in a shameless plug here (although I really don’t think it qualifies since I don’t get paid). I would like to point you all to a StepBet game I’ve created which starts very soon, April 6th in fact, to help demonstrate what I’m saying here.

The name of the game is YESIWILL. To join, get the StepBet app on your phone, open it, and search for “YESIWILL” all one word. That will take you to where you can join in a game. You can also go the link in the show notes, and they will send a link to your phone when you put in your phone number.

If you’ve never done one before, you’ll need to connect to your bank, and you’ll need to have either a Fitbit, a Garmin watch or some access to Apple Health through a phone or a watch, so that they have an impartial way to see if you really do it. After all, money is involved, your money and other people’s money, so it’s good to be careful, just not so careful that nothing good happens.

You don’t have to be an Apple user either, since you can get StepBet in the Google Play store for Android phones. If you don’t have an iPhone or a Droid, I sympathize, but then again, you’re probably not listening to this or any other podcasts, either!

I’ll do more of those games in the future, assuming you guys all join in like you should, and there will be some other cool challenges as well, so stay tuned for that.

Next point, Patience.

At the risk of stating the obvious here, since, even if we get generous, or stoic, depending on your perspective, then you managed to earn 2, maybe 3 meals for yourself and zero other family members, in return for six weeks of effort and six weeks of risk.

Did I mention uncertainty?

Yeah, well, that’s kind of what risk is, at least in one respect. I mean really, if you’re certain of something then there’s not much of a risk, is there? When I say “Patience”, I mean taking away all attachment to time. Yes, that’s a part of the Buddhist idea of taking away attachment to outcome, but we’re not going that deep here.

We don’t have to.

Instead, we pointedly identify any benchmark, any benchmark we already have AND any we develop after today. We recognize it for what it is – someone else’s benchmark – and we get rid of it, choosing instead to put our own benchmark in its place.

What’s an example?

Imagine yourself in your town, your neighborhood, your driveway if you have one. You’re talking to the person who lives next to you. That person says to you “well, my broker is blah blah blah, and blah blah blah says…”

What do you do? If you’re like most people, you listen.

If you’re like a lot of those people, you create new benchmarks. At first, you do this quietly.

“Well, if their broker is blah blah blah, and they made 16% last year, that should be my goal, instead of the stupid 12% or whatever I made.” Don’t laugh – this happens all the time. In fact, it’s a key reason which got in the way of me wanting to continue to be a licensed stockbroker…when anyone is judging you, or in this case if you let anyone judge you, then you are putting your own happiness down the list.

And when you do that with a goal like this – where you really get only one shot at doing it right (at least as far as we know) then you’re allowing someone else’s standards to become yours.

Instead, what I’m suggesting is the same thing as creating your own happiness – it’s just from a financial perspective as I’ve promised.

And last, don’t shock yourself.

Just a little bit, that’s how you start. Stay standing on the ground and just grab the rope.

Hold the rope. Don’t climb the rope.

Not yet anyway.

That day will come, and since we’re going to do it right, it will be easy when it does. So ridiculously easy in fact that two other things will happen. The first one is that we might not notice it. How’s that for irony? Something happens and we don’t notice it!

Remember, “THAT’S GOOD”.

Also remember, this is financial life coaching from a happiness perspective!

Coaching Happiness.

Just doing it, just getting started, is the first thing to focus on. Since we’re taking it small and slow to start, we don’t have to waste time with over-analyzing, even with analyzing at all. Instead, we let our own experience get us there, which in turn helps us find a form of happiness by helping others.

I said two things happen, the first being that we might not notice something happening. The second one is, since as I said, it’s so easy, that we will forget to do it again. But don’t worry, I like repetition if you don’t already know that (see what I did there?)

And just like magic, I turn the question around, this time into a statement.

“Should I mess with my habits?” becomes “Of course I improve my habits!”

It’s flipping the script.

Remember this is financial life coaching from a happiness perspective!

Coaching Happiness.

Anyway, to wrap up the story:

Habit – The #1 Reason for Investing Success

We take it slow.

We make it simple.

We take it slow.

We’re deliberately small.

And most important, we’ve made ourselves okay with that.

We don’t waste our own brains on a fantasy that we can have everything AND not risk anything.

And we also don’t shock ourselves into trying to go “zero-to-sixty” without any practice.

It’s sort of why a lot of financial companies “recommend” that you use a broker – while glossing over how that costs you and sometimes even twisting the reasons.

It’s also why most “do-it-yourself” advice ignores the huge roadblocks that you can face when you don’t have any experience.

You should have some guardrails when you’re starting out – it’s just up to you to make sure they don’t get in your way.

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