• Misbah Haque

How I used the paper clip strategy to stick to this habit every day

Sometimes the simplest tasks are the things that move you forward. But it's SO hard to actually execute with the consistency you need to see results.

I was experiencing this with my writing. I spent time everyday doing it, but I would not get to the exact thing I wanted to be working on. My motto was and still is, "Just write." But I knew I had to channel that even more directly. I had to do it with the elements of my writing I wanted to improve the most.

It's the Kobe Bryant strategy too (RIP). He's mentioned in interviews how he would focus an entire 6 months on just his jump shot in order to get better. Then he would move on to something else. He mastered the microskills of his game one by one. There's a way we can all apply his "Mamba Mentality" to our respective pursuits.

Step 1: Understand the paper clip strategy

I stumbled upon the chapter in Atomic Habits by James Clear, where he tells a story about a sales guy who was bringing in $5 million dollars to his firm by the age of 24. He climbed to the top with one simple focus.

He started at 8am with two jars. One with 120 paper clips. The other was empty. He would make these cold calls one after the other until the jar was empty. I encourage you to read James' full story here. It's an excerpt from his book.

This visual cue was genius. You could see your progress tangibly and visibly in front of you.

Step 2: Mold  it to your life

I closed the book immediately. Then I quickly rummaged the house to find two jars I liked to look at. I used sticks instead of paper clips. Now the number I went with was 15 attempts at improving this element of my writing.

Why 15? It’s more than 10. That’s the number where you get over your analytical brain and let the floodgates open to the shit you really want to tap into.

At the end of the day, this would make me feel very good about myself. And it was a true tangible action item to move myself forward in my craft.

The physical action of moving the sticks over as I made progress gave me a tingly feeling. It can wear off with time, but that’s okay. Just keep moving it over to the other jar. That's the beautiful part.

Eventually you become numb to the resistance. You still feel it. But your brain is so hooked on the game you've set up for yourself and the rewards you get from practicing, that's the biggest gift you could ask for.

As of writing this, I’ve been practicing this habit 131 days unbroken of doing this consistently. And I don't plan on stopping. 

If I procrastinated all day, I’ve stayed up till 3 in the morning to get this done. I remember falling asleep a few times as I was writing.

So this made me go…why are you doing this at the end of the night? Prioritize it and do it first thing in the morning or earlier in the day.

But that type of optimization would never have even occurred to me if I didn’t just try it out to gain some data.

You could use this in so many creative ways:

  • have positive thoughts

  • track

  • your cravings

  • take more pictures

  • repetitions of an exercise

  • start conversations

  • the possibilities are endless

Just make sure whatever you choose is something you care about improving. And you dilute it down to a practice that ultimately makes you feel good about yourself. Or else this is pointless and you will fall off the boat.

Step 3: Track it for feedback

I’ve always loved Habit List. I’m sure there’s fancier ones out now, but this is perfect for me.

  • You can see your consistency build with the calendar.

  • You can set it up to give you reminders.

  • You could even use this for  other  habits that you are doing at less of a  frequency. ex. Laundry 2x / week.

Whatever the method is that you go with, you must be honest and keep track of when you don’t hit your target.

Don’t look at this as failure. It's feedback. Expect there to be some turbulence.

It will inform how you can adjust or adapt your day to hit your target. OR you can simply dial down the intensity and volume of that specific practice.

If you enjoyed this, you would love my free Habit Chess newsletter. We talk strategy, productivity, and more. Good luck and keep me posted on how this goes for you!

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