Are Your Habits Preventing Success?May 28, 2019
What is the first thing you do each morning upon waking, and/or last thing you do each night before sleeping? I’ll venture a guess and say brush your teeth. Do you think about this, or do you just do it? I’m assuming that you just do it. Why? Because it is an automatic process (i.e. a habit). How did it get this way? Repetition!
In previous blog posts I have discussed the importance of thoughts, and the positive (or negative) effect they have on our lives. You can read more about this here. In the current post, you will learn about the following in depth:
- Habits form the foundation of our being. Positive habits drive us forward by building momentum. Poor habits limit our growth. In order to excel in one or more facets of life, the development of strong, positive habits is critical.
- A little secret: Overcoming any form of a challenge early in the morning shifts our minds into a positive, conquering state. This sets us up for a productive day ahead.
- Remember that on average it takes 66 days to form a habit, so remain consistent even if it still feels like a chore!
- Habits can fade if they are not reinforced, so don’t let your hard work and will power go to waste by getting lazy.
What is a Habit?
Research from the British Journal of General Practice* defined ‘habits’ as
“...actions that are triggered automatically in response to contextual cues that have been associated with their performance: for example, automatically washing hands (action) after using the toilet (contextual cue), or putting on a seatbelt (action) after getting into the car (contextual cue).”
The goal of a habit is to automate our responses to external cues. Remember, when choosing new habits, select based on your personal, internal motivation and desire. External reasons will likely not be strong enough to form a new habit.
Why are habits important?
Habits form our thoughts, and in turn our being. Our being shapes our future. Habits are wonderful because they play a major part in our futures, and they are totally within our control! Our lives already have so much randomness to them that we ought to take advantage of the things within our control.
A personal example:
In squash, both as a player and a coach, I (and the rest of us), constantly harp on the importance of a good serve. The serve is the one shot we have total control over, and it can begin the rally by putting us in an advantageous, neutral, or defensive position. Obviously if one has total control over something, you’d hope that people practice it over and over such that they are consistently putting themselves in an advantageous position. Don’t you agree?
Habits work exactly like the squash serve (or any other set scenario in sports – a penalty kick in soccer, a free throw in basketball, a serve in tennis etc.). If you and I practice waking up in the morning followed by a swift hit of the snooze button on your alarm clock or cell phone, what habit and overall feeling(s) are we reinforcing?
I’d argue that laziness is being reinforced, as is the idea of succumbing to comfort / not being able to push through a ‘challenging’ situation. This notion of course extends to many other scenarios. Getting out of bed immediately after waking up can’t be classified as a ‘challenging’ scenario, but I think you get the point. Just to reinforce this concept, imagine that you have an important presentation coming up at work / school. You’ve completed the slide show, and are feeling nervous about your effectiveness. What can you do to help increase confidence? That’s right – practice! Practice in the mirror to further build your confidence. Practice your introduction, your body language, your tone, your speaking rate, hand gestures, and so much more. This, similar to the squash serve example is a situation where you have control.
I hope that this short discussion on the importance of habits has convinced you to pay more attention to your own habits. Please take a moment and do the following:
ACTION REQUIRED: Write down (yes, physically write it down on a piece of paper), what your typical day looks like from the time you wake up, to the time you go to bed each night. Identify the recurring scenarios and common themes. What habits do you currently have? Are they (mostly, if not all) productive habits, or is there significant room for improvement? As you go through this process, feel free to send me a message to discuss!
The importance of creating challenging habits, especially early in the morning
Each day is a fresh start. A clear canvas. An opportunity to operate our lives on our terms. Are you consciously aware of this fact, and do you engage in tasks as such? If not, don’t worry, most of us don’t. Based on my personal experience, I promise you that it’s never too late to start; assuming you want to!
How often in your day to day life do you feel like sitting around? We say, “nah, I’ll do that later. I’m too tired right now”, or “that’s too difficult. Why should I even bother?”
Have you ever stopped to wonder what impact these minor decisions in your daily life are having on your future? Let me ask you a question: Is there something that you’re good at (or consider yourself to be good at)? It could be cooking, playing a sport, socializing, writing, etc. How did you become good at it? If you’re being honest, you’ll probably say through practice / by doing it over and over again (even if you didn’t deliberately plan to do so). Correct?
Well what do you think is being reinforced when we say “nah, I’ll do that later”, or “that’s too difficult”, and then push off the task that needs completing? You got it – we’re reinforcing the habit of putting things off. We’re telling ourselves that we’re not good enough, or tough enough to do something. We’re reinforcing a feeling of dependence. Potentially a feeling of incompetence. Definitely a feeling of laziness and defeat (whether it’s conscious or not). Imagine what happens if these feelings are constantly reinforced through our minor day to day actions…you got it – it isn’t a pretty picture for our future!
Through the discussion thus far, is it beginning to become clear why our morning habits are important? As I mentioned, the start of each day is like a blank canvas. We can do with it as we please. If we begin the day by overcoming a challenge, we place ourselves in a ‘can-do’ attitude, and every subsequent experience we have is approached with that same attitude. If we begin the day with laziness, or a defeatist attitude, every subsequent part of our day will be approached in that manner.
Would you like to own the day and rise above the challenges that come your way, or do you want to fold and confine yourself to just ‘getting by’, likely with a gloomy mood? The choice is yours. Speaking of which, I recently wrote a post on decision making. If you’d like a few new ideas for the next time you’re tackling a decision, check out that blog here.
Examples of good habits of highly successful people
You can go online and see a ton of information about the habits of highly successful people, so I’m not going to go deep in to them, other than to just list out a few here for you with a quick description of their value:
- Stop wasting time – whether it’s browsing endlessly on social media, watching excessive TV, YouTube, Netflix. Stop it. Time is valuable and limited. Build this habit and you’ll have time to make all of the other changes you want!
- Get adequate sleep – everyone is different on this front. Whether it’s 7, 8, or 9 hours. You know your body, and get what you need to function optimally.
- Keep a daily journal, and create robust SMART goals (updated regularly) to ensure constant growth.
- Train (fitness) regularly to maintain good health, high energy, confidence, and to build mental toughness. All of this translates to positivity and productivity in your professional life.
- Begin your day early in the morning, and begin by overcoming something challenging. This primes your mind and sets you up to overcome challenges for the rest of the day. Whether that be unloading the dishwasher or getting in a morning run.
- Read lots! Who do you admire? Someone you wish you could have a conversation with, and ask questions of? Can you physically sit down and have a conversation with highly successful people? For most of us, the answer is ‘no’ unfortunately. The next best way to learn from successful people (past or present) is to read their autobiographies, or other written works. If you’d like some book recommendations, send me a message here and I’ll be happy to share!
- Meditation / mindfulness – lots of successful people practice this first thing in the morning to center themselves and begin the day with purpose. This ties in to #4 as well (especially initially) because it isn’t easy to sit down quietly for 5 or 10 minutes for most ‘go getters’.
Examples of Less than Optimal Habits
Let’s be clear. I am not judging anyone in any way! I honestly find myself doing a couple of the following from time to time, and that’s okay. Take stock of the ‘less than optimal’ habits you have, and create your own list below (ACTION REQUIRED):
- Consistently staying up very late at night – as a result, feeling tired / groggy throughout the day, lacking motivation, and unable to be productive.
- Being distracted – this doesn’t simply mean that you can’t focus on a task at hand. This means using other tools that distract us (potentially without even realizing that you’re distracted). Think about how often you’re on Instagram and you keep scrolling down your feed, liking things. You look at the clock, and an hour has gone by. YouTube and Netflix probably extend that hour to two, or three! There are certainly benefits to social media since lots of valuable information has been made available to the masses. If we can all leverage it in a more positive, less material-based manner, it could become a great tool for positive change. Video games and other similar things fall in to this category as well.
- Partying excessively – drinking and taking drugs. This is an obvious one. Excessive drugs and alcohol remove us from reality. They drown our inhibitions, and often take us to senseless places, with senseless experiences. If you’re looking to create a life of happiness, productivity, and growth (in which success will come), excessive partying will likely derail you.
- Gossiping – speaking ill about people behind their backs is not ideal for several reasons: (1) Karma – at the end of the day it all comes back to us; (2) Time waster – when we’re talking about random things, we’re not focused on the things we could and should be doing.
ACTION REQUIRED: You already have a summary of what you day and current habits look like. Now take a moment and write down which habits you want to develop. Alongside each habit, write down how your life will look and feel once the habit has been realized. Note: research shows that you can’t ‘delete’ an existing habit. Thus, focus on building new habits which will eventually replace old habits.
How Long Does it Take to Develop a Habit?
On average, it takes 66 days to form a new habit. The 21 day ‘rule’ that has often been cited was taken from patient experience post plastic surgery, but is not realistic. Give yourself a 10-week window when developing a new habit!
Bonus: After the first few weeks of conscious effort on your part, it will become easier to follow through because you will be automating the process for yourself. After the (approximate) 10 week period, you will be performing your habit without thinking about it, and can hone in on the next habit you’d like to form!
How Long Does it Take to Break a Poor Habit?
Research has shown that it is actually quite difficult to simply break a habit (i.e. stop doing). Instead one must replace the current ‘poor’ habit with a new action. E.g. Smokers use nicotine patches to break their habit – i.e. replace the cigarette with a nicotine supplement. If they simply tried to just stop smoking, it would be a LOT more challenging.
Similarly, if you’re looking to break a late-night snacking habit that is preventing optimal sleep, and is also keeping on those last few pounds of fat, you may want to replace your go to food with water. I’m not saying that it will be easy, but if you stick with it for 10-12 weeks (as noted earlier), it will become automatic and you will experience the benefits!
- From you list of habits you’d like to change, rank them in descending order.
- Pick the top 2 most important and impactful habits you want to create. Imagine what your life will look like once you begin living out your new habits, and the positive impact they will have on your life. This will be your motivation.
- Identify ‘when’ and ‘where’ you will execute your new habit. It should be a consistent time and place. Remember to link your new habit with a recurring external situation / cue.
- Execute your new action daily (in response to the external cue) to reinforce the change, and before long (approximately 10 weeks), they will become automatic.
- Continue proceeding down your list of change and tackle habits number 3 and 4 via the same process!
Can habits fade over time? Yes – Just like anything else, habits do fade over time. They may not get completely wiped out (sort of like riding a bike), but if you were extremely competent at something and then stopped completely for an extended period of time, you definitely will not be nearly as proficient. Continuing with the bicycle example – if you could pop wheelies, jump off ramps, do 360 degree flips etc., and then completely stopped for an extended period of time, yes, you’ll still be able to ride a bike, but you likely won’t be able to perform at the same level you did previously, when practice was a strong habit.
Some of my Habits
- Regular reading – I read daily, for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours (often spread out throughout the day). I read books on spirituality, personal development, strength & conditioning, and more. Whatever piques my interest.
- Focus my energy where my mind and interest are at that moment – I often have a list of things I need to get done. If I’m not dialed into one thing, I switch to the next and tackle that instead; returning to the original one later.
- Regular fitness training – I ensure that I move my body and raise my heart rate on a regular basis. It releases endorphins and makes me feel good – internally and externally.
- Get fresh air regularly – My wife and I take our cat out on his harness every day (some times twice a day) for 10-15 minutes each time. This provides some bonding time, as well as an opportunity to complete some breathing exercises.
- Pray – I pray as often as possible – on average 2-3 times a day. This is all connected to my spiritual growth journey and helps ground me.
- Meals (among other things) with my wife – I make a conscious effort to eat at least 2 meals with my wife each day (depending on our work schedules). These times provide an opportunity to chat, laugh, catch up, and bond. Occasionally we watch part of a movie during meal times, but more often than not we just hang out.
- Create & review daily, short term and medium-term goals – I review my short and medium term goals every couple of weeks (on average). I create daily goals / tasks every night (or first thing in the morning) for the day. I have a separate training journal / log, and other training related tools I review and update regularly.
There you have it guys. I hope that I’ve managed to convince you of the importance of positive habits. Please complete the ‘action required’ sections to really extract maximum value from this post. If you’d like to discuss anything, please message me here.
Till next time,