The Two-Day Rule (and Why You Need it for Your Goals and Habits)

A stack of progress tracking notepads

If you need help building a new habit or dropping a bad one, then you’ll definitely want to start using the two-day rule.

A habit is a task or a routine that you do regularly. Brushing your teeth. Taking a walk after work. Eating veggies with dinner. Reading a book before bed. These are all examples of habits that you might do without even thinking twice about them.

Even though habits are tiny components of your day, they actually play a huge role in leading a successful and satisfying life, especially if you’re trying to achieve your dream goals. 

Think about it: if you’re trying to run a marathon, it’s not just about crossing the finish line. You need to think about all the actions you do on a regular basis that will help you get there. You would need to make sure you’re training regularly, getting enough sleep, eating well, etc. In other words, you need to have good habits in place in order to effectively reach your goals. 

So if you’re trying to reach personal and professional goals, it’s essential to build positive habits and drop the bad habits that are getting in your way. Example: your goal is to create a meditation routine in the morning. You would then need to build habits to get to sleep earlier and wake up earlier to achieve that outcome.

And if you’re trying to drop bad habits like scrolling your phone before bed or biting your nails, the trick is to swap the bad habit with a positive one. For example, instead of biting your nails, you would swap it for another activity that occupies your hands like knitting or coloring or using a stress ball.

Because our habits are so integrated into our daily routines and patterns, it can be incredibly hard to build new habits or stop bad ones. Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on sheer will power alone to develop new habits.

In order to successfully build new habits, you need to monitor your progress with the two-day rule. 

What is the two-day rule?

The two-day rule is a technique to help you develop positive habits by making sure that you don’t skip two consecutive days when building a new habit. 

They say that it takes anywhere from 30 days to several months to build a new habit.  The conventional wisdom has been that you need to work on this habit every single day, without breaking the streak, until it finally sticks and becomes a normal part of your routine.

The problem with this “streak” theory is that if you skip a day then you have a really hard time getting back in the saddle. It’s human nature to get down on ourselves when we fall short. And we think it’s not worth it to continue since we already broke the streak. But streaks aren’t necessarily what’s important in habit development. What’s important is that we regroup and pick up where we left off. 

This is where the two-day rule comes in. So if you skipped a running workout one day, you wouldn’t quit your workout altogether, you would start again the next day.

The two-day rule gives us a much-needed grace period and recognizes that we are human beings. We’re not always going to be super disciplined and laser focused on our goals and habits. And on those days when we skip a workout or forget to meditate, we can tell ourselves that we can always start again the next day.

So if you want to create positive habits, then you need to abandon your all-or-nothing mentality. What you want to do is adopt a two-day mindset instead. 

How to track your habits with the two-day rule 

To make a new habit feel routine, it’s important that you regularly track your progress and write everything down. 

The human mind is not the most reliable support system. We have a lot going on in our lives and it’s easy to lapse into familiar routines and patterns. We might think that we’re eating nutritious meals when really what we’re doing is eating food that makes us feel tired. We might think that we’re putting in the effort to write when really we’re getting distracted by what’s online.

To help you stick to your new habits, you need to log your progress. You can’t see where you’re going unless you know where you’re coming from. Plus, a daily log is a great way to motivate yourself and find solutions to any challenges that arise. 

Here’s how to do it:

Keep a dedicated habit notebook. Use a daily planner or notebook as a habit tracker. You’re going to keep this with you when you exercise or write or meditate or whenever you’re developing your habit. 

Create a calendar system. A calendar system is key to tracking your progress and holding yourself accountable. If your notebook doesn't include a monthly calendar then create one of your own. You don’t need anything fancy. You can simply make a list numbered 1-30 and track your habits each day.  

Make a daily record. With your dedicated habit tracker, start keeping a daily log or checklist. You can describe your workout and record the number of reps you did or the length of your run. Or you can cross off your tasks to help you stay on track.

Here’s an example of a simple checklist system:

  • Morning run
  • Healthy breakfast
  • Meditated for 5 minutes 

Here’s an example of a more in-depth log:

Morning run

  • Start time: 7:30 am
  • End time: 7:50 am
  • How did it feel: tired at first but then felt easier after the first 5 minutes
  • What to try differently: next time try running with a playlist to help energize me

Follow the two-day rule. A daily log will keep you honest and let you know if you’re maintaining your streak. If you skip a day, don’t beat yourself up. Just follow the two-day rule and make sure you don’t skip another consecutive day. The key here is to start resuming your work as soon as you can. 

By using a habit tracker and following the two-day rule, you’ll be able to commit to your new habit until it seamlessly integrates into your daily routine.

Written by JiJi Lee

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