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How a Tiny Habit Can Change Your Whole Life

This post has been written by my buddy, Joshua. We first met in grad school and soon realized that we both want more out of life than a simple job and a 401(k). I moonlight with this site, and he with real estate. In this new year, he wanted to be sure to learn and grow, and what better way than to write? This is the result of one of his growth explorations. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Have you ever sat and wondered why some people are much better off in certain aspects of life while many others seem to be falling behind? Along with the financial aspect, I am also talking about aspects such as:

  • health
  • family
  • relationships
  • giving
  • service and more

The big reason people become successful is because they learn to build good habits early in life and those tiny habits start to spill over into their relationships, finances, and other areas. Even though a good habit may be small today it has the potential to grow and change your life.

tiny habitGrowing Up On The Farm

When I was younger, I grew up on a farm. So naturally when I turned the ripe old age of five, my parents decided it was time for me to be a productive member of society. Obviously, I did really simple things like feed the calves, help pick rocks, and move straw bedding. Fast forward to when I was eighteen years old and you could find me doing almost everything imaginable. I was out there driving tractors, milking cows, planting fields, and fixing machinery. I was up every day at 4:30 in the morning and many times worked late into the evening. Honestly, I thought that getting up that early sucked (and you know what, it still does) but since my family was depending on me, I learned to deal with it.

But it turns out something great happened, I had built good habits like being on time, getting up early, and being responsible. All of a sudden it was not so difficult to be at school by 7:30 am, complete my homework on time, learn to play the guitar, or to study. It seemed like my good farm habits were spilling over into other parts of my life like school, sports, and music, but I was not really sure why.

20150123 - the power of habitThe Habit Loop

The reason I bring up my story is because over the years I unknowingly built good habits in my life by following something called the habit loop. I recently came across a book titled “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, and he explains that the habit loop involves three steps:

1) the cue

2) the routine

3) and the reward

And those three steps can be almost anything in your life. For example, when I head to work in the morning my cue is my alarm clock, my routine is my commute, and my reward is the cup of coffee I purchase from the cafeteria.

Now with time, eventually my behaviors become automated in my brain and  the tiny habit was formed. Some days, I honestly do not remember much from the time my alarm goes off until I get that first sip of coffee. People like to have a reward and eventually without even knowing it, they are doing some type of behavior to get that reward.  For me, it took me almost a year to realize I formed this coffee habit (actually, I figured it out as I wrote this article, thanks guys!). Rewards can really be anything. It can be the feeling of a runner’s high after an hour on the treadmill or buying that new BMW you always wanted.

How to Form Habits of Your Own

tiny habitSo how do you increase the amount of good habits in your life? The secret is that habits usually cannot be erased, instead they must be substituted. So how can you substitute a bad habit into a good one? Let me explain. I know people who make a New Year’s goal of paying off their credit card debt. They usually start off well, making more than their minimum payment but in a month or two their old spending habits creep back in and their balance is back to where it started (or sometimes even worse).

The problem is they want the reward of buying something new and the instant gratification that goes with it. They have trained themselves that at the end of a hard week or even hard day, that they deserve something nice like new clothes, video games, junk food, or maybe even an expensive dinner. However, those old rewards can be replaced. Maybe the new reward for someone paying down their debt could be financial peace, or the satisfaction of hitting a goal, or even security. The trick is to recognize you are receiving a reward for your hard work and it will make the whole routine much, much easier. Eventually it will be automated in your brain and voila! A habit is born.

How a Tiny Habit Can Change Your Whole Life

So you’re probably asking yourself, “How much of a difference can building one or two good habits really have?” Well the answer to that question is that one good habit could have a massive impact on your life because not all habits are created equal. Going back to Charles Duhigg’s book, he discovered that certain habits had a large impact on people’s lives and referred to them as keystone habits. Some keystone habits could include:

  1. delayed gratification
  2. exercising
  3. using a budget
  4. getting to work early
  5. or doing tasks as soon as possible

Do you know anyone that has built one these keystone habits in their lives? I have, and it seems like once they get one or two of them mastered they slowly start picking up other good habits.  I am thankful that I learned a couple of these tiny habits at an early age (even though I didn’t exactly love every minute of it!) because it has helped me build other good habits in my life. I have used many of those good habits in order to make it through college, to help land a job, to build a real estate business, and to even make it through college a second time!

What About You?

So what about you? We all want to improve something in our lives so why not start now?  We come to this site to learn about personal finances but all of that knowledge is of no use if we don’t put any action behind it. I encourage you to start building a couple of good personal habits right now, even if they seem like small ones. Like they say, the pyramids were not built in a day; instead it was a block by block process that took many years. I truly believe that little shifts in our habits have an enormous impact over time. Instead of going out to eat for lunch three times a week, reduce it to two times. Instead of making the minimum credit card payment, add another $20 onto it. It may not seem like much at first but it could start to snowball fast and who knows, maybe sometime soon you’ll find yourself much closer to your goals than you ever imagined.

Are you ready to create some good habits? Like what? Let me know in the comments below!



My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. Keystone habits are a great term. I’ve been now making regular investments of $6,000 a month into the stock market so I can grow my passive income.

    What’s my reward? Delayed gratification! I love knowing my work now will pay huge dividends in 20 years.

    • Sometimes it’s hard to get started doing that good habit but now it probably feels like second nature to you. You’ll be light years ahead of many people by sticking with that habit. Good for you!

  2. Persistence. That’s always been the key for me.

    • That is great Aras! I am on board with you. I believe that if you keep going after a goal eventually you will find a way to reach it.

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