The Momentum Framework: How to Build Difficult Skills & Habits

It’s 6:30am. Thursday.

Your alarm label reminds you to “GO TO THE GYM!!!”

Monday was hard. Tuesday wasn’t as difficult. You felt like you were starting to build the habit.

Wednesday you decided to take a rest day.

But today is the moment of truth.

Do you go?

This is where most people hit snooze. They quit. They lose the momentum that was starting to build.

“Might as well wait until the New Year anyway. I’ve got too much to do for the next few months.”

You can see this pattern everywhere.

It’s the person who wants to learn piano. Excited, they go out and buy a brand spanking new piano and spend the next few days getting stuck in. One week later, the piano is collecting dust and doesn’t get used ever again. 

Or it’s the person who attempts to build a new business. They read all the books, make a few decisions, and get started—only to give up at the first sign of difficulty. 

If you’re like most people, it’s you.

Why does this happen?

Why do you fail to achieve what you set out to achieve?

It’s not because you lack ambition. You have the desire to improve. You have the best intentions.

It’s not because you lack the ability to achieve what you want to achieve. You’ve developed skills before and you’re competent in many areas. That didn’t happen by mistake. 

And it’s not because of any external person or thing that you feel tempted to blame. 

It’s one or more of the following:

  • You lack a strong reason—a “why”—for developing the skill or habit (even though you have a strong desire to develop it). 
  • You have a skewed perception. You think the process is going to be too hard, so you quit before you even start. Or you think it’s too easy, so you’re taken by surprise when things get challenging. You’re either too confident, or not confident at all. 
  • You have no momentum. You can’t seem to build the habit. You get a few days in and give up. 

If these resonate with you, then welcome to the real world. This is normal.

But normal isn’t optimal.

And my bet is that you want to overcome these things so you can build complex habits and skills. Habits and skills that turn you into an exceptional person. 

Not only that, but you want to enjoy the process too. You want to experience the feeling of incremental improvement. Daily progress. The feeling of doing the work.o matter how hard it is. And experiencing the unique satisfaction that comes from directed effort. 

If that’s you, then this is a guide you want to read. It’s long. It’s comprehensive. It’s not a “sitting-on-the-toilet-quick-read” type article. 

So make sure to bookmark it if you can’t read it right now.

Table of Contents

Here’s what you’re going to learn in this guide: 

  • The Momentum Framework: What is it? Why does it work?
  • The core principle of The Momentum Framework: Consistent action
  • Intrinsic motivation: Why do you want to pursue this?
  • The power of perception: How to not sabotage yourself
  • Develop a laser-like focus on consistent action
  • Strategy: Increasing the return on your consistent action
  • Optimization and new heights (how to not lose momentum when you’re near the top)
  • Next steps and where to go from here

The Momentum Framework

The Momentum Framework is a system for developing skills and complex habits such as:

  • Lifting weights and building strength/muscle
  • Running
  • Losing weight through nutrition and exercise
  • Learning an instrument
  • Learning a cognitively demanding skill that requires a high volume of repetition (e.g., writing, drawing, design, music production, etc)
  • Being more intentional in your relationships (becoming an attentive listener might be a sub-skill here)

There are areas where this framework is not helpful, or simply overkill:

  • Simple habits like flossing, cold showers, going for more walks, or making your bed every morning. It’s overkill.
  • Complex systems that require multiple sub-skills like starting a business, building a career in music, or growing your personal brand.
  • Objectives that are outside of your control like winning a competition or making X amount of dollars per year

Once you internalize the framework, you’ll have a better idea of where it works best. 

One more thing: please feel free to make this your own. If the way I’ve laid it out works for you, great. If you feel like you need to make adjustments, do so. The best system is the one that works.

The Momentum Framework is a strategic approach to building skills and habits.

It’s the answer to weak personal development advice which just focuses on only one piece of the puzzle. 

You know what I’m talking about…

One guru tells you that the best way to build momentum is to set MASSIVE goals. 

Another guru tells you that it’s all about systems. 

Someone else tells you that all you need is a deep why for doing what you want to do. Everything else will fall in place if you have this. 

These are all different parts of a larger framework. None of these things are bad, but they are rarely able to stand on their own. You need a unified, complete system: The Momentum Framework..

How The Momentum Framework works

Step 1: Why

You start by developing your why. The core reason behind why you want to build this skill or habit. 

This doesn’t need to be some grand, esoteric or philosophical reason. But it needs to be important enough to encourage stickability. Step 2: Perception

Then, adjust your perception so that you have the right mindset and expectations. 

If you think it’s going to be easy, you’ll be surprised—and probably give up. If you think it’s going to be too difficult, you’ll lack motivation right from the start. Step 3: Consistent Action

Once you’ve built the mental foundation, it’s time to focus on pure consistent action. No strategy. Just imperfect action. 

If you’re building an exercise habit, this means doing something every day. You’re not doing what’s most optimal, you’re just doing.Step 4: Strategy

After you’ve been consistent for a while, and you find it easier to do the thing every day, it’s time to take a more strategic approach. 

You want to increase the return on your time investment into the skill or habit you’re trying to build. For instance, if your skill/habit is strength training, then you’d want to do some research and figure out a more optimal approach. 

Note: If you try to develop strategy before consistency, you risk overcomplicating the process. This will discourage you. Step 5: Optimization & New Heights

Once you’ve spent a great deal of time developing laser-like focus on strategic, consistent effort… it’s time to optimize everything.

This is where you take your game to the next level. 

If you’re learning piano, it’s at this point you hire a teacher. If you’re trying to build muscle, it’s at this point you want to look into the finer details of your nutrition plan. You might adjust your routine, experiment with supplementation, or find a coach. 

The core principle: consistent action

The only way this system works is if you take action.

A system that doesn’t drive action is not a good system. And in my experience, this is the area that people struggle most. They find it hard to take action. 

A system that doesn’t drive action is not a good system.Tweet This

Imperfect action is better than no action. That’s the underlying principle behind this framework. It’s why strategy follows consistency. Otherwise you’ll overthink things and work yourself out of doing the work.

Besides, if you want to develop good strategy, it helps to have some experience under your belt. You don’t know what you don’t know until you take action.

But while consistency is the most important piece, it’s also the most difficult. Once you’ve built it, and once you have momentum—great. But you need to get there in the first place. To do that, you need to have a strong why and positive perception of what you’re about to work on.

Intrinsic motivation: why do you want to do this?

What’s important to you?

I’m not talking about what’s important to your employer, your wife, or your friends.

What’s important to you?

Is it that you. want to feel better day-to-day, and exercise will help you do that?

Or is it that you love the sound of piano being played and wish you could play piano yourself? 

The more important a skill or habit, and the more intrinsic and organic your motivation, the easier it will be to build momentum. 

Think about what it feels like when you’re working on your own self-directed projects—things that YOU want to do—compared to working on a project for your employer. Even if you enjoy your job, there’s usually a greater sense of satisfaction that comes from working on your own thing. 

So, you need a why. How do you develop one?

How to develop your WHY

There are 4 simple steps to this. 

It might take you 5 minutes. It might take you 50. 

Step #1: Write down the skill/habit you want to develop

If you’re reading this, you likely already have an idea of which skill or habit you want to build.

Where did this idea or inclination originate from? 

Was it from seeing someone else who looked stronger and fitter than you, leading you to think, “I wish I could build a physique like that?”

Or was it that you woke up one day and felt tired, sluggish, and lazy due to your bad diet. Lying there, the thought crosses your mind, “I should probably do something about this.”

Whatever it is, write it down. Be honest with yourself. 

Step #2: Write down all the other reasons why you want to pursue this

If you want to build a strong physique, the obvious benefit is that you look good and you’re strong. 

But there are other benefits to consider:

  • Longevity
  • Better immune system
  • Mental clarity and higher energy
  • More resilient

If you want to learn piano, the obvious benefit is that you get to play piano (which is intrinsically rewarding if you like piano). But there are other benefits too:

  • It’s mentally stimulating because you’re learning something new.  
  • You can seduce the opposite sex and impress them (especially if you can play jazz).
  • It can lead to playing in a band, or group, or something else.

Write down as many reasons and benefits as you can. They don’t all have to have meaning to you, or motivate you. We’ll tackle that in the next step. 

Step #3: Choose the most important benefit or reason

Do you want to get fit to look impressive? Is that really what’s motivating you? Or is it because you want to be around to see your kids grow up and still be able to play football with them?

Do you want to play piano because you think it sounds cool to other people? Or is it because there’s one particular song you’d love to learn before you die?

Don’t be afraid to dig deep. The more powerful the reason, the more likely you are to build momentum. 

Step #4: The “one benefit” test

Once you’ve chosen what you think is the most important reason, ask yourself:

If this was the only benefit I got from pursuing this, would it be worth the time and effort?

If the answer is a resounding YES, then you’re on the money. 

If it’s not, then you might want to reconsider whether this is the best skill or habit for you to build. Maybe there’s something else that’s more important to you at this time. 

The power of perception: how to not sabotage yourself

You can have the strongest why.

You can have all the reasons in the world.

But if you lack positive perception, you’ll struggle to build consistency and momentum. 

Think about it: there are millions of people out there who want to lose weight, get fit, play piano, learn woodworking… the list goes on. 

They want to develop a new skill or habit. They have all the reasons for doing so. 

But they give up as soon as it gets tough. 

That’s if they even start in the first place.

It’s not like the 35-year-old father who’s severely overweight thinks that their problem isn’t significant. It’s not like they don’t have a why. It’s that he has a flawed perception of how to fix it: he might have already tried losing weight in the past and failed due to bad strategy or consistency. Now he thinks it’s impossible. He thinks he lacks willpower, or has the wrong genetics. 

In this case, his negative perception is causing self-sabotage. 

Perception is important. It can be the difference between starting then sticking with a habit—making it an integral part of your life—or giving up after a few days or weeks. 

How to develop a positive perception

One of the best ways to develop a healthy, strong perception is to do some preliminary research on the skill or habit you’re trying to develop. 

Specifically, you want to find truths that instil confidence. Truths that give you a sense of pride knowing that you’ve discovered something most people don’t know about. 

For example, let’s say you want to lose weight. 

Most people suck at doing this because they don’t know how. They go to a gym, kill themselves on cardio machines 4x a week, and then eat 3 muffins when they get home because—after all—they “burned it off.”

Personal trainers generally don’t help either. They don’t know anything about nutrition (generally speaking. Don’t @ me). They tell their client, “of course you can lose weight as long as you come in and exercise often.”

But that’s a stupid approach to losing weight.

A better approach is to forget about exercise in the beginning and just focus on nutrition. Not just that, but approach nutrition in a way that will lead to strong adherence. 

Intermittent fasting is a great example of a high-adherence diet. It’s simple. It makes sense. It doesn’t require you to track calories. It doesn’t say you have to eat this list of foods. Just look at how popular it is on Reddit.

If you’re trying to lose weight and you come across an idea like Intermittent Fasting—and after doing research on it you believe it’s the best approach—you can take a sense of pride in yourself for discovering it. You feel confident, and you feel excited. 

Another way to develop positive perception is to find success stories. Ideally from people who started in a worse place than where you’re at. The Intermittent Fasting subreddit I linked above is a good example. If you’re 220 pounds and want to drop to 160, finding a transformation from someone who’s dropped from 300 to 160 will give you confidence. You know that if they can do it, you can too. 

Once you get your perception down to the fact that with enough time and effort (mixed with a little strategy) you’ll win, then it becomes much easier to start, and much easier to remain consistent.

Mental preparation for embracing the suck

Regardless of how confident you feel after doing research…

…and regardless of how many inspirational stories you have in your back pocket…

…you need to remind yourself that this will be hard.

Harder than you think.

If you expect it to be difficult, you’ll rise to the challenge. 

But if you expect it to be easy? It will crush you. 

It’s not always going to suck. Once you develop consistency and momentum, it will become easier. But initially? It’s going to suck. Prepare yourself.

Develop a laser-like focus on consistent action (and nothing else)

Once you’ve found a reason (a why), and developed a healthy perception of how difficult your endeavour will be, it’s time to ACT.

If you’re like most people, it’s at this point you screw things up.

You delay action. You don’t start.

Or you trick yourself into thinking that you are taking action and making progress, when in reality you’re just spinning the hamster wheel.

  • If you’re reading business books for months on end but haven’t started working on your business… you’re not taking action.
  • If you’re watching “how to play piano” videos on YouTube, but you still haven’t bought a piano to learn on… you’re not taking action.
  • If you’ve spent months researching the best methods and diets for losing weight, but you changed how you eat, then you’re not taking action.

It’s easier to strategize. It’s easy to plan.

“Thinking” is often easier than doing the work. You’ll gravitate towards it wherever you can. It’s the path of least resistance. (By “thinking,” I mean the low-quality, hamster-wheel spinning type of self-talk that makes you feel good but gets you nowhere).

There’s nothing wrong with doing some preliminary research. I talked about that in the last section. But there comes a point where extra research, or another book, or that next YouTube video is not going to help. A point where the most optimal path is to take action.

You know what you need to know. It’s time to execute. 

Show up. Do the work.

At this point, you want to minimize “thinking.” Forget about strategy. Just show up.

Commit to imperfect action.

Chances are, you won’t be acting in the most optimal way, or with the best form, or with the right intensity. But that doesn’t matter. You’re developing the habit. You’re building consistency and momentum. 

This approach works because the metric for success is so damn simple:

Did you do it, or did you not do it?

It’s binary. 

  • Did you go to the gym today?
  • Did you play piano for at least 5 min today?
  • Did you work on your business today?

You don’t need to perform like a beast. You just need to show up. 

In fact, if you set the bar too high for yourself, you’re likely to quit. This is why I’m a firm believer in setting easy milestones and easy-to-reach metrics during the early stages. It’s going to be hard regardless, so you don’t want to make it any harder by setting insanely difficult goals or standards. 

Strategically increasing your return on consistent action

After a few weeks or months, you’ve developed a solid level of consistency. You’re doing what you need to do. You’ve built momentum.

You could stay here. You’ll still get some results. If you’re going to the gym 3x per week and bumming around, you’ll still see some progress.

But if you stay here, you’ll eventually get bored with the lack of challenge, and you’ll stagnate. Probably end up quitting and being one of those people who complain about how they just can’t stick to anything. Nah. 

That’s why you want to take things to the next level by being strategic about how you’re building your desired skill or habit. 

Are you taking the most optimal approach?

What could you improve upon?

What’s holding you back?

When should you focus on strategy?

Strategize too early (before you’ve developed any consistency and momentum) and you’ll think yourself into inaction.

Strategize too late and you’ll end up spending more time on suboptimal action.

Most people have a tendency to overthink things too early on in the process. I recommend erring on the side of later rather than earlier. 

But here’s a good rule of thumb to figure out if you’ve built strong momentum and it’s time to take a strategic approach:

Is it becoming easier to work on this habit or skill?

  • Do you feel a small sense of excitement or enjoyment each time you do it?
  • Are you starting to look forward to it?
  • Have you been reasonably consistent?

If so, it’s time to be strategic.

How to strategically build skills and habits

I can’t give you a framework or guide for building out strategy. It’s hyper-dependent on the type of habit or skill you’re developing. 

If you’re trying to build a business, gain physical strength, or increase productivity, sure. I’m your guy. But there’s no way I can give you a strategy on how to best develop the skill of making clay pottery.

With that said, there are three core principles that apply across almost all skills and complex habits. You should include these in your strategy. 

#1: Work at the edge

True progress is made at the edge.

The edge is the hard place. It’s strenuous. It makes you sweat. It makes your brain hurt because you’re thinking so hard. It makes your body ache because you’re pushing it to its limits.

When you’re working at the edge, you know it. You can feel it. It’s both dreadful and satisfying at the same time. You learn to enjoy it.

The edge is where you’ll find people like:

  • The overweight person who decides to push themselves a little more during their HIIT session, and then fast for 12 hours afterwards.
  • The skinny guy wanting to build muscle who does a few extra reps when he feels like quitting and going home.
  • The novice pianist who instead of practicing what he already knows, decides to spend an hour practicing that one scale that always gets under his skin because it’s so hard.

Work at the edge.

#2: 80/20 rule and asymmetrical returns

While working at the edge is a powerful principle it doesn’t mean you should just brute force everything. 

You want to make sure you’re getting the best return on the time and effort you put in. There’s always going to be a point where you reach diminishing returns. At this point, there’s a better approach that will get you more results from the same (or less) effort.

Ideally, you build a strategy and plan that gives you asymmetrical returns. You’re looking for the 20% of work that gives you 80% of the results, instead of the other way around. 

A good example? Doing cardio for burning fat.

Most people think that LISS cardio (Low Intensity Steady-State cardio) is the best way to lose weight. 

They spend 45-60 minutes on a treadmill 3x per week jogging at a snail’s pace. 

This is not an asymmetrical approach. The return on time investment is abysmal.

The asymmetrical approach is doing 10 minutes of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) sprints on the bike or rowing machine. 2 min on, 1 min off. 

Doing this 3x per week leads to significantly better returns that LISS in a fraction of the time. 

So, do you research. Look for ways you can increase asymmetry and get the best returns. 

#3: Increasing time and intensity

After you’ve built in more asymmetry to your approach, it’s time to ramp up the time and intensity.

This will help you stay at the edge so you know you’re progressing. But it also increases the speed of progression.

One caveat: this principle does not apply to all types of skills and habits. It also has an obvious limit.

If you’re trying to build muscle and you’re already hitting the gym 6x per week, then you can’t really add to that. Especially if you’re workouts are already long and intense.

If you’re already practicing piano for 3 focused hours per day, then trying to increase that amount of time may be detrimental. Most people cannot practice for more than a few hours per day. If they claim to practice for significantly more time than that, they’re probably not working at the edge.

But let’s say you’re trying to develop your drawing skills. Currently, you spend 30 minutes per day working at the edge. You’re getting asymmetrical returns. You notice yourself progressing.

Why not ramp that up to 45 minutes? Then an hour, and eventually 2 hours?

Optimization and new heights

At some point (usually after several months or a few years), you’ll reach the point where your strategy still works but you feel yourself slowing down.

This is unavoidable. It’s the nature of skill building. You’re going to make most of the gains in the first year, and then your returns are going to diminish regardless of how strategic you are.

But you can probably still make some changes and increase your return. 

If you’re at this point, either you’re dropping the ball and becoming complacent, or you need to further optimize (probably by working with a coach).

If you’re becoming complacent, you know what to do. 

If you need to further optimize, then start by reviewing your strategy:

  • Is there anything you can change to make it work better for you right now?
  • Are there asymmetrical returns that you haven’t considered? 
  • Is there any way for you to increase the time and/or intensity?

If the answer to these questions is no, then there’s a chance that you’ve reached a point where you need a third party—someone who’s more experienced than you—to act as a coach or mentor. 

For instance: if you’re trying to build muscle, you can get a long way by yourself, but at some point, it’s beneficial to work with a lifting coach and nutritionist.

If you’re learning piano, you can teach yourself a lot. At some point, it makes sense to work with a piano teacher to refine your technique and uncover weak spots.

You want to optimize. You want to push to new heights because otherwise you’ll get too comfortable. And when you get too comfortable, you lose momentum.

The 90% rule—or when to start optimizing

We all have a tendency to look for the silver bullet.

  • That one supplement that will give superhuman energy
  • That one lifting technique that will make our shoulders EXPLODE
  • That one guitar app that will help us improve at lightning speed

Silver bullets don’t exist. But that doesn’t mean supplementation or lifting techniques aren’t helpful.

What it means is that if you’re not already at 90% and haven’t mastered the important parts, then you’re focusing on the wrong thing. 

If you’re trying to build out a supplement stack to improve mental clarity and energy, but you’re still not getting 7+ hours of sleep per night or eating a healthy diet, then you’re focusing on the wrong thing. 

Supplementation and hyper-optimization is how you go from 90% to 100%, but it’s not how you get to 90% in the first place.

So, before you higher a coach, or try to hyper-optimize your routine, ask yourself whether there’s bigger fish in the pond.

Conclusion: where to go from here

If you’ve skimmed this article, then I recommend bookmarking it to read later. You won’t really internalize the framework if you spent 5 minutes skimming it.

Otherwise, if you’ve read this in full, it’s time to apply it.

Maybe there’s a habit or skill you’re trying to develop but you’re having a hard time building momentum.

Or maybe there’s something you’ve always wanted to pursue but keep failing to start.

Implement this process and do the work. Share the results with me 6 months from now. I’d love to hear about it.