I've gotten tremendous gains out of breaking actions that are easy to fail into multiple steps so I know exactly where things worked or didn't.
The one I've written about before is in regards to healthy eating. I split "Eat Healthy" on my Lights Spreadsheet into two things I try to do in a day:
1. Eat Healthy -- Plan
2. Eat Healthy -- Execute
In my experience, there's a tremendous difference between eating junk food as a result of no plan to eat healthy vs. a failure of execution and followthrough when you have a plan.
The vast majority of the times I've eaten poorly, it's been a result of not having a plan for where to get easy, fast, convenient good food. Transit days, the restaurant is closed, there's nothing in the refrigerator, or whatever else.
When I know exactly where good food is going to come from, it's very easy to follow through on.
But if I was only tracking if I ate healthy or not and say "No" for three days in a row, is it because of a lack of will or because of a lack of good options around?
Most people subscribe to the "Try harder!" approach to life. When they fail, instead of analyzing, they just say, "I need to try harder!"
This usually doesn't work by itself. Much better to dig into root causes. If I arrive in London and don't know the neighborhood I'm staying and eat kind of junky food for a few days, the way to fix that isn't try harder but to rather identify a mix of grocery stores and healthy restaurants nearby.
This applies as well for making progress on a big project, such as:
1. Major Achievement Defined
2. Major Achievement Completed
There's a large difference between not knowing the next step and failures that stem from that (confusion) as opposed to breakdowns of will or followthrough.
If there's something you're having a hard time sticking with, try breaking it up so you can see where things go off the rails. It takes very little effort and great increases success rates.
I eat pretty well and take pretty good care of myself. But it's taken quite a while to get here - before 2006, I had a pretty standard American diet. Lots of pizza, junk food, fast food, liquor, soda, sweets, etc. I smoked cigarettes, cigars, sheesha, and other kinds of tobacco.
Since then I've refined my diet and I eat pretty well. I have more energy, feel better, look better, and God willing, I'll live a lot longer as a result. It's a gradual process though, and I'm still improving. There's a few things I use to do it:
First, I'm all about incremental improvement - I think trying to crash change your diet is unlikely to work unless you have immense amounts of willpower and self-discipline. If you do have these Herculean amounts of will and discipline, you know who you are and don't need my advice. If you're more mortal, then you'll want to pick one or two things to be refining in your diet at a time.
Second, there's two ways I quit food or habits I don't like - "hard quitting" (cold turkey) and "soft quitting" (gradually reduce my consumption and eventually eliminate it). I pick which of these routes to go based on how convenient it is to quit something outright and if there's any detox process. If there's detox (like there was with nicotine), I think it's better to just get it over with once instead of constantly feeling deprived as your body re-adjusts to its new biochemical levels. The most successful method for quitting smoking is cold turkey, isn't it? Something like 80% of successful attempts to quit smoking are cold turkey? I don't have the statistics onhand, but that's the general idea. Quitting something like sugar, bad oils, or excess salt might be easier to do incrementally, since you need to replace the consumption with something else.
Which brings us to third point - I actively introduce new good behaviors before and during the time I quit something. Now, I don't know if the following is a good strategy, but it's what I did - when I started cutting down the sweets I ate, I increased my consumption of the kinds of salty foods I already ate: Chips, french fries, nuts, etc. Later I cut the salt content back. I don't know if that's a good habit, but it's worked okay for me. I also try to actively introduce fruits and vegetables before I quit something - it's hard to go from no fiber food that's highly processed to stimulate you immediately to fruits and vegetables. Fruit tastes bland compared to ice cream. So I introduce fruits and vegetables first, get comfortable with them, then increase my consumption of them as I decrease or eliminate bad consumption.
Skills require time to attain. There's no magic pill to become stronger; we have to go to the gym consistently. If you want to learn Russian, you need to study, practice, and probably spend some time in Russia. If you want to become a better writer you can learn some good practices, but you ultimately have to produce a lot of writing before you'll be any good.
But what about habits like diet change, sleeping habits, and introversion? While we may not all be able to speak Russian, we all have the innate ability to wake up early in the morning. Our mouths will all accept healthy food. We all have the physical ability to walk up to a stranger and begin talking.
Why do these switches often take so long to flip? Why is it a gradual struggle, rather than an instant change?