A good children’s tale tells the best life lessons for adults.
Goldilocks was a young girl venturing into the woods. Strolling across earthy grounds and lush greens, she came upon a hut. Always the nosy one, Goldilocks peaked inside – and saw three bowls of porridge on the kitchen table.
The exploring had made her hungry, so she helped herself. But the first bowl was too hot – steaming and burning her lips. The second one was already cold – stale and boring. The third one, finally, was just right.
Tired from the meal, she wanted to rest. In the hut were three beds – one too big, one too small, but the other one just right. Perfectly cozy, she fell asleep and had sweet dreams.
The tale is so catchy, it has made it into the works of the world’s best habit experts:
“The Goldilocks Rule of habit formation: Make it small enough to be sustainable, but meaningful enough to make a difference.” – James Clear
Science says it takes between 18 and 254 days to build a habit. In my years of coaching and self-improvement, I’ve noticed people mostly give up before they’ve cemented the behavior for two reasons.
- It’s too small and boring so they don’t see results
- It’s too big and challenging to keep up
Here’s a simple tool you can use to get the Gold out of Goldilocks and build habits that stick.
The Secret Of Unskippable Habits
Doing something every day is hard because not every day is the same.
Sometimes, you’re motivated and full of energy. Other times, you want to hug the pillows all day.
This makes it hard to stick to your habits because your Goldilocks zone isn’t the same every day.
If you don’t adjust for it, you’ll either become overwhelmed or bored – and skip what you want to do. Interestingly, science shows missing a day every once in a while makes no difference when it comes to habit-building. But it’s when you miss two or more in a row that you shoot yourself in the foot.
It’s why I use a simple tool that helps me stick to my habits no matter how I feel – the 3 Division Matrix.
I’ve used it to build a daily meditation practice, regular headline writing, and a habit of approaching at least one stranger per day.
It’s as simple as powerful – take any habit you want to build and divide it into three levels:
- Level 1: Good. The minimum standard you can set for yourself. Five minutes of meditation, twenty minutes at the gym, three pages read.
- Level 2: Better. This is your Goldilocks habit – challenging but doable. 10,000 steps per day, one page of journaling, turning your phone off one hour before bed.
- Level 3: Best. For the days when you want to excel. A full 90-minute workout. Not checking your phone before lunch. Three hours of deep work in the morning.
This gives you three options you can engage in no matter how you feel.
On bad days, level one. On normal days, level two. On great days, level three.
Instead of skipping your habits because they become too boring or too hard, you’ll always be able to do them. This is especially important because in habit-building, the repetitions count more than the weight. Doing it is more important than how much you do.
This alone is a huge advantage of the 3 Division Matrix versus regular habit-building – but there’s more.
How to Level up
Over time, you’ll notice your habits will become easier to do.
It’s part of the adaptation process of your brain – due to its neuroplasticity, it forms new pathways, which make behaviors easier the more often you do them.
You can use the 3 Division Matrix to automatically level up your habits over time:
Once you can stick to level two consistently for four weeks without much deviation, make it your new level one – your old level three becomes level two and you create a new level three.
When life inevitably causes a regression in your habit, simply recalibrate your levels and begin the progress again.
Of course, you can also keep your Goldilocks level indefinitely – but if you want to progress your habits, this is the best way to do it without getting overwhelmed.
Summary To Help You Build Habits That Stick Like Superglue
Putting the 3 Division Matrix into action is easy.
- Make a list of the habits you currently have or try to build.
- For each habit, set the level one, two, and three behaviors.
- Create a tracker (either digital or on a sheet of paper) that allows you to see how you’re doing.
- Assess your habits at the end of every month and make according tweaks.
Not every day in your life will be the same – so set your habits accordingly.
Doing something is better than doing nothing. Doing everything is better than doing something.
But what’s most important of all is that you do.