How to improve your habits with only 5 minutes a day (2020 update)

By 20/05/2019December 30th, 2019Discipline, Habits, Productivity

Words: 2462
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Professionals are the architects of their habits.
Amateurs are victims of their habits.

Imagine two versions of yourself in 5 years.

¿How would your life look like if you keep repeating the same bad habits every day?
¿How would it look like if you stick to good habits consistently?

It’s very hard to realize the impact of our bad habits on a daily basis.

We think there is no connection between habits and our mental and physical state, we see them as a consequence not as a cause and we tend to blame other things when we are not feeling well.

We neglect them and then we are surprised when we find us in a hard situation and we don’t even know how we ended up there.

If you go to the gym today you don’t expect to see any changes in your body tomorrow. If you don’t study today, or grind or learn from your mistakes, you won’t lose your bankroll tomorrow.

But these actions become your habits and it’s very easy to see how they will impact your life over a year or five years if you don’t change them.

You ARE what you DO.

(Not what you know you should do…)

The habits that you repeat (or don’t repeat) every day are the most important factor that will impact your health, wealth and happiness. Managing your habits means controlling who you are and the quality of your life. It means taking responsibility of your life instead of being a victim of circumstances. It means deciding, going to the attack. It means being proactive, instead of waiting forever.

It is very easy to lie to ourselves and think that our bad habits won’t have any consequences.

We don’t study, don’t improve our mental game, don’t prepare our sessions, don’t control our tilt…and think that it’s okey…that we will do it tomorrow.

“Tomorrow I will have time, tomorrow I will feel motivated, tomorrow I will work hard.”

Tomorrow…next month…never.

The reality is that we are lying to yourself. The mentality that makes us postpone the important now is the same one that we will have tomorrow, and we will do it again and again. Postponing directly means “never” because the only moment that exists is right now.

And time compounds the benefits (and losses) of our habits. It’s like investing money.

For example, the consequence of not studying over time is to get stuck, to not learn, to fall behind. And it’s something that happens gradually, almost imperceptibly. Tomorrow you won’t be a worse player if you don’t study today, but in 5 years it will be the difference between having quit poker or being a professional.

The consequence of not improving your mental game is tilt, killing your winrate, suffering, getting frustrated, losing your motivation, being results oriented,…

The consequence of not taking care of your body is worse health, worse body, lower energy levels, higher chance of diseases, lesser life expectancy,…

The consequence of not preparing your sessions is leaving your performance to luck, adding more variance to the game, having an inconsistent decision making, which lowers your winrate and increases your suffering and mental vulnerability.

Why is then so hard to do what we know we should do but so easy to become addict to the bad habits?

Because every positive habit that has the potential to change our lives long-term, does not give us any immediate results. Their benefits are delayed.

Our brains are not able to understand cause-effect when they’re separated by time.

On the other hand, all “bad” habits, or the habits that don’t help us progress towards our goals, are very easy to acquire because they directly affect the chemistry of our brains: the immediate gratification.

They are the easy path, the comfort zone, the shortcut, the law of least effort: social media, porn, videogames, fast food, netflix, tv,…

These things give us short-term pleasure, we immediately feel it, so we stick to them. But long-term they take the life that we want away from us and they destroy the opportunities that we take for granted.

Now that we know why…what can we do to stick to the good habits even though they don’t have immediate rewards?

The first step is to change your mentality. Accepting the facts we’ve just talked about and not doing anything is being a victim. You have to stack the balance to your favor by internalizing the real cost of immediate gratification and the cost of not doing what you know it’s best for you. Internalizing that tomorrow does not exist and that postponing is a habit in itself. TODAY is the day when your objectives are accomplished, not tomorrow.

Tomorrow does not exist.

If you want to become a professional you should act like one TODAY, it can’t wait. The cost is too big.

The second step is to establish systems that help you stay in the path of your goals. Taking responsibility and creating strategies. One of them, simple and very effective, is the “habit tracker”.

The habit tracker

The habit tracker is a simple way to keep track of your habits every day.

You make a list of the habits you want to repeat, read the list every day, and at the end of the day mark the habits you completed.

At the end of this article you can download our Pokermind’s Habit Tracker, which looks like this:

Jerry Seinfeld, one of the most successful comedians ever and creator of the 90’s sitcom “Seinfeld”, used this strategy to be consistent and productive during his career. This is how Seinfeld made sure to stick to his habits on good and bad days alike.

He used to have a wall calendar and mark with a red pen each day that he accomplished his most important habit: writing. His goal was just “to not break the chain”.

Improving your habits is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Important things and durable changes take time and while you don’t see results you need to find other ways to motivate yourself to repeat what you know you should do every day.

You know what happens otherwise. You start a new habit motivated and energized, you imagine how much your life will change IF you internalized that habit and how amazing it will be and that “this time is going to be different” and after three days you are fighting against the same old excuses and forget the commitment you made. And when you give up you lie to yourself again and say “It wasn’t that important…”.

Here is where a habit tracker can help you for the following reasons:

  • It remembers you the habits that are important for you. When you look at your habit tracker at the beginning of your days, you will know what you should do and then it will be easier to actually do it. We are very forgetful beings.
  • The habit tracker will keep you honest. Most of us think that we are doing it better than we really are. Measuring it every day will give us a clear view of reality and will guard us against self-deception.
  • It helps you stay motivated. What happens when you think you are not making progress? Quit. The habit tracker gives you small wins every day that help you stay on the track.
  • It helps you overcome the bad days. Bad days are inevitable and they will test your will and how bad you want it. When you feel down or don’t feel like it is very easy to forget what’s important and forget what you were accomplishing. Keeping track of your habits will give you perspective in those days.
  • Tracking your habits helps you focus on what you can control and not on your results. Results are almost always out of your control and focusing on them puts you in a worse position to maximize your success. The only solution is to focus on yourself and your actions.
  • It helps you get back on track after failing. Perfection is not the goal, you will fail. What to do after failing? Rebound quickly. Using the habit tracker you will review your progress every day and have a motivation to do it better the next day and avoid falling into a habits downswing.

The habit tracker will be your guide, you will never forget what improves your life and will be your lighthouse on your bad days.

What habits should you track?

It all starts by knowing what you really want.

If you chase anything that is trending or that “could help you” you will fail, because you don’t really want those habits, you just want the fantasy of its benefits.

How will you overcome the guaranteed difficulties if you don’t want to do that habit?

So, ask yourself.

What is your main goal?

You have to be able to find what you really want and discard the rest. Don’t start with the habits, start with yourself. If you don’t prioritize the important, life will prioritize for you.

Once you do, once you know what you want and prioritize it, your life will be simplified because you will be able to use the following question for everything: is this going to help me achieve what I want?

The next step is to ask yourself: what do I have to do every day to achieve what I want?

In other words, what habits do you have to internalize to achieve your main goal?

And that’s what you will write in your habit tracker and commit to do every day.

If your goal is to play high stakes and/or become a great poker player your habits should help you improve every day and grind at a high level consistently.

How to start tracking your habits?

KISS: keep it simple stupid.

Simple is good. Simple doesn’t mean easy or comfortable, it means knowing what works and discarding the rest.

If you have never tracked your habits, do not start tracking 15 different things that are not second nature yet. The difficulty will be high and you will have resistance to start.

Create a manageable but tough challenge, do not go from 0 to 100. Start small and improve every week.

For example, if you want to start running, what will happen if your goal is to run 12km every day right of the bat? You will burn out and quit. But if your week 1 goal is to put on your running clothes and shoes and go out, what will happen? It will be easy to do, the pressure to start will be low, you will experience quick wins and then you will be able to increase the challenge every week in a sustainable way.

In the beginning, volume and quality are not that important. The most important thing is to do the habit, to stick to it. It is way better to have a simpler routine that you will follow than a hard one that you will rarely complete.

The EV of starting big and giving up is 0 or negative (lost time).
The EV of starting small and progressing = infinite.

Identify the simplest actions that you need to do to start your complex habits and make that your goal.


  • Instead of 50 push-ups a day (if you never did them regularly), your goal is 2 pushups a day.
  • Instead of playing 6 hours a day (if you’ve been grinding 1 or 2), make the Warmup your goal.
  • Instead of writing a book, your goal is to write a page every day.
  • Instead of meditating for 20 minutes (if you are starting), meditate for 1 minute a day.

Make your life easy.

With these goals, you will progress even in your absolutely worst days and every small win will give you inertia.

If at the end of the week a particular habit was easy to complete, increase its difficulty. If it was hard for you, lower it a little bit.

How to develop the habit of using the habit tracker?

Important point…the habit tracker will help you remember your habits…but you have to remember to use the tracker every day. It’s also a habit.

There is no secret. Just do it. Commit to open your habit tracker every morning and every night. Set an alarm, bookmark it, prioritize it.

At the beginning of your day, look at what you want to do and at the end of the day review your progress, identify what went wrong and improve tomorrow.

At the end of the week, review your progress and adjust your goals accordingly.

For how long do you have to track your habits?

To internalize a habit you need be consistent during several weeks. There is a lot of data and contradictory advice that ranges between 21 to 100 days.

It also depends on the complexity of the habit and on yourself. Brushing your teeth is way easier to implement than going to the gym…but if you already like the gym and are very aware of its benefits you will have an easier time than someone that doesn’t.

It depends.

But the relevant information here is that the reason behind tracking our habits is taking control of our life and our performance. The goal is to have a better life and improve every day.

That is not a destination. That is a path.

If you want to improve yourself you are starting a journey that will never end. It’s a way of living, not a destination.

In summary, I’ll finish with the most typical mistakes when tracking goals:

  • Your job is to USE the habit tracker. Internalize this key habit and the rest will follow. This is a keystone habit, a habit that will point you towards the other important things in your life.
  • Complexity is your enemy. Make your life easy. Start small and progress constantly, don’t try to be the boss from the first day, it’s the recipe for failure. The EV of quitting is 0, the EV of going slow is infinite. Remember the compounding benefits of your habits.
  • Be specific. Ambiguity is the enemy of your future self. The habits have to be defined in specific and clear orders for yourself. “Going to the gym” is a bad plan that your weak side will try to bargain every day. “Going to the gym Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 3pm for 60 minutes to complete this specific routine” is a better plan, easy to follow, no doubts.
  • Don’t be stubborn. If you fail routinely you are not a failure if you lower your expectations and set an easier goal. You are giving time to yourself to internalize it and once it’s easy, increase the challenge. You are stacking the odds in your favor.

Now you just need to take action and apply it every day.

To make it easy for you I have created this awesome new tool, the Pokermind’s Habit Tracker so you can start from today!

Enter your email below and you will receive in a couple of minutes.

I hope it helps you improve your life.

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