Get In The Habit of Making Habits

Habits are the foundation on which success is built. No one has become successful overnight and definitely not by sitting around and expecting something to happen. Okay, there may be some exceptions, there always are. But we want to give you real tools, not an idea you gamble with and hope it works, something that has worked for those at the tops of their industries and fields. This tool is called habit and it is very powerful. (There’s literally a book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Great book if you want to dig more into this subject.)

 

Habits have the ability to take something very difficult and make it part of our daily life, where it actually begins to feel more difficult to not perform the habit we’ve developed. We are creatures of habit. Whether we realize it or not, our bodies crave routines. One of the biggest examples is sleep. Not that we ever give our body a chance to get in that habit, but if we did, the results would be night and day. If we take something daunting, strenuous, or stressful and build a habit around it our bodies starts to handle this action differently. The first gut feeling of panic, fear, or anxiety subsides and begins to feel bearable if not enjoyable. Going to the gym becomes natural, your body will crave the exercise. You may actually feel ‘off-balance’ if you don’t exercise for a couple of days. Getting up early will soon bring renewed energy to start the day ahead of everyone else. Practicing an instrument brings with it the feeling of accomplishment each time you complete a more difficult song or skill.

 

Habits also have a way of stacking on each other. To try and learn Spanish, while practicing martial arts, and at the same time learning to cook seems impossible. And yet, I know someone who is doing this right now (yes, while working a full time job). Is it the most productive use of their time? Maybe, maybe not. But I digress, productivity is a discussion for another time. They are able to do this because they started with one of these and developed it into a habit before they moved on to the next one. Have you ever heard someone tell you all their New Year’s resolution and then a month later they’re right back to their old ways? I’m not pointing fingers and shaming anyone whose done this. Heck, I’ve done it. We just weren’t informed of any better way to do it. So we were left fighting an uphill battle with the odds stacked against us.

 

I read somewhere, I believe it was The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, that we can imagine our willpower as a tank that gets refilled every night while we sleep. I can’t say how scientifically accurate this information is, but it gave me a very clear picture and sometimes that’s more important. The idea is that every decision we make during the day spends a little bit of that willpower. Some decisions and tasks take more than others, but we’re constantly burning this fuel throughout the day. This is why at the end of the day we just want to sit in front of the TV and zone out. No decision to make, nothing else to think about. It also explains why the thought of turning it off and doing something else seems next to impossible. So how does this pertain to habits? While a habit is being built it also requires willpower. So more of this fuel is being burned. This is why if we take on too many habits out once we burn out very quickly. However, if we focus on one habit and put extra willpower towards it, our chances of successfully building a habit are significantly higher (Which is what we want, right? We need to stack the deck in our favor whenever we can). Once the habit has been ingrained in our body, like I mentioned earlier, it becomes almost second nature. We naturally gravitate towards it and it feels like a lot less work to keep doing it. This is because we are no longer burning willpower to keep this habit going, at least not nearly as much. It is no longer a decision we have to make, it is just something our body knows to do now. All of a sudden you have all this extra willpower and what do you do with it? Start creating your next habit.

 

Everyone always want to know how long it takes to start a habit. While different numbers are always being thrown around and studies are showing that it’s not even a consistent number[1], I still refer to Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning which I have read multiple times and highly recommend for some motivation to get going on developing habits and becoming the best version of yourself. Hal mentions that it takes 30 days to develop a habit. I don’t agree on the specific number necessarily but I like how he uses the 30 days to describe the basic cycle of forming a habit. He says the first 10 days are the easiest. You are excited about your new habit and are willing to work hard to develop it. Days 11-20 are a different story. These are where you’re gonna start questioning why you’re doing this and if it’s even worth it. Hal says around the 20th day is when the habit will actually become an ingrained pattern in your life so all of a sudden it becomes easier to maintain. But then people fall off on days 21-30 because they worked so hard and it seems like they have nothing to show for it. Hal argues that if you can make it through this 10-day period, then you will begin to see the fruits of your labor and this will reinforce the habit in your mind because you have been rewarded. Only then will it truly be a habit. Again, I don’t know if I can agree on the 30 day timeline, since science seems to say otherwise[2], but I really believe in the process Hal lays out. Too many people fall off when they feel like they haven’t gotten results from there hard work.

 

So, between learning the process of developing a habit and knowing that you have a finite amount of willpower to spend each day, I think you are ready to successfully start developing your own habit. Start with something as simple as breakfast. Make a conscious decision to make the same breakfast every day. If you’re digging through your pantry looking for something to eat every morning you are wasting precious willpower. Then you can slowly build habits and consistent processes for other parts of your life. And for those who would argue that developing these habits and processes is actually detrimental to the creative process, that sparks of inspiration come from not being tied down to a process, I would argue otherwise. The structure created by doing this will create a time period for you to do your creative work and in this time, when developed into a habit, your brain will know it’s time to work and will have a lot of extra willpower to put towards this it rather than worry about what you have to cook for dinner that night or something irrelevant to your work.

 

Actionable Step: Start a habit today. Nothing complicated, just something that is good for you and simple, such as flossing your teeth. Make a promise to yourself that you will do this. If you really want to hold yourself accountable, make a bet with yourself. Don’t make this something you could care less about like I can’t watch TV tonight. Choose something that will really make you think twice such as you have to donate $100 to a charity. Also, you can get an accountabilibuddy. This is someone that knows about what your trying to do and there for moral support. It is also a lot easier to let ourselves down than it is to let someone else down. If you tell someone else you are going to do something you have a lot higher chance of going through with it. Again, it’s all about stacking the deck in your favor. You keep doing things to raise your chance of success and it becomes almost impossible not to succeed. Heck, leave a comment below and I’ll be your accountabilibuddy. I’ll check in on you to see how you’re doing and try to give you some positive motivation 🙂

 

Notes
  1. http://jamesclear.com/new-habit
  2. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ejsp.674/abstract
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