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The power of habit and momentum

So, it’s January 14th and I’m writing my first blog of the year. There’s an important lesson here: habit, momentum, and daily rhythm are important.

I have come to believe the power of habit is one of the most-neglected truths of the human experience. Too often, we want to do something, we have great goals, but year after year passes and we don’t quite get there.

Self-help literature has many solutions, and as this body of work has matured in recent decades, the verdict is clear: most of these solutions don’t work. You can plan at any time horizon, you can create vision boards, you can engage in positive visualization and repeat affirmations endlessly–and, the results are so often disappointing.

You can even make logical, clear plans with signpost mini-goals to evaluate your progress. You can create synergies by bringing other people and resources to focus on your goals. You can work to develop fundamental skills to support your quest. You can, and should, do all of these things, but you’ll still fail without one key ingredient: you must do the right things, over and over, and keep doing them.

Success in any challenging field is built on a foundation of habits. We usually think of the word “habit” in a negative context: We all know how hard it can be to try to break a bad habit, but we can also turn the powerful force of habit to our advantage. How? By actively shaping habits that will reinforce our big picture goals.

  • Have a plan and vision for why you are doing what you’re doing. Know where you want to end up. This is important, but it’s not enough.
  • Plan what you need to do
  • Make your goals tiny. (My goal today was to write this blog, no matter what.)
  • Make daily action points out of your goals.
  • Don’t make too many daily goals. 2-4 is enough.
  • Write them down. Write down the goals you will accomplish that day. Most of these will be repeated from the day before
  • Each day, spend 30 seconds evaluating how well you did following the goals for that day. If you didn’t do what you were supposed to, spend another 30 seconds reflecting on why. Make adjustments for tomorrow.
  • Write down your goals for the day before the day begins… either first thing in the morning, or the night before.

As you can see, this isn’t complicated! In fact, it can’t be complicated–if you make it complicated, you’ll fail. Simple is powerful, and the process is simply deciding what your goals are, what “habits” will support your goal, and then committing to doing those simple things every day.

I have done many important and useful things with these past two weeks, but I’ve been scratching my head at my inability to get blogs and podcasts done. Why? I like writing these, and they don’t take that long! I love doing podcasts… so why haven’t I done them?

The reason is simply because the holiday broke my momentum and habits, and I did not take the time to refocus and reshape them in the new year.

Think about your own workflow, both in the day-to-day, and in the pursuit of your big picture goals. Think about what small steps you can take to support your goals, and then commit to shaping constructive habits. This is how you accomplish anything great. This is how you change your life.


Adam Grimes has over two decades of experience in the industry as a trader, analyst and system developer. The author of a best-selling trading book, he has traded for his own account, for a top prop firm, and spent several years at the New York Mercantile Exchange. He focuses on the intersection of quantitative analysis and discretionary trading, and has a talent for teaching and helping traders find their own way in the market.