What if you could convert all your bad habits into good ones, and then stick to them? Would that make a difference? What’s stopping you?
If I were to ask you about your habits, what might you think about? You have some good ones and some “bad” ones, don’t you? What might the ratio be? How did you come by them? How do they affect your life and your success? What if you could convert all the bad ones into good ones? What difference might that make, do you think?
I have seen habits defined as an acquired behaviour pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.
Wikipedia speaks of it as routines of behaviours that are repeated regularly (usually unconsciously); in which they become automatic.
Habits – good and bad
I’m sure that every one of you reading this will be able to rattle off a number of habits, both good and bad, right? Well, certainly our partners will. We are all afflicted with them, differing over time.
Examples of bad habits could be “retail therapy” when someone is “down”, chewing fingernails or procrastination. Smoking is generally considered to be a bad habit, as is excessive drinking or many other vices that we may have become addicted to.
Examples of good habits may be the discipline to always (or mostly) perform a routine that leads to anticipated or desirable outcomes, for instance getting up at the same time each day to do exercises or meditation, or to be aware of the need to be listening when speaking to another etc.
Habits and Success
I have heard success defined as “the progressive realization of a worthwhile dream”.
Of course success means many different things to almost everybody. In this definition the work progressive is key to me, in that it implies that success is achieved over a period of time, not instantaneously. I also like the word “worthwhile” in there as it gives meaning and purpose that the goal or dream is worth chasing down.
I have also learned that it is the disciplined adherence to doing lots of the right little things right. It’s rarely a major blitz breakthrough leading to a monumental outcome – that really only happens with a lottery win and I won’t bore you with the statistics of its likelihood.
I mentioned lots of little things above. Doing them judiciously so that they occur for you on “autopilot” so you are doing them without noticing that anymore means to me that it has become a habit.
In his “Art of War”, Sun Tzu says “plan for what is difficult while it is easy; do what is great while it is small. The most difficult things in the world are done while they are still easy and the greatest things are done while they are still small. For this reason sages never do what is great and that is why they can achieve that greatness”. Sage advice indeed.
Perhaps we could then attempt a new definition for success along the lines of: “success is doing all the little things right every day that will manifest in the progressive realization of a worthwhile dream”.
What might some of these success habits be?
I would suggest that a good place to start is to know What is your purpose? so that you have a clear picture of what you are shooting for. The habit is to regularly and frequently remind yourself of your purpose or your dream or your goal, whatever you prefer to call that.
In my goals trilogy I spoke about the yacht metaphor, whereby if you don’t have a rudder, you are at the mercy of the winds and the tide and will probably drift all over the place without any purpose. In that situation you are directionless. However if you put a tiller onto a rudder, you can steer the yacht to wherever you want to go with purpose and direction. You have taken control. Setting and monitoring progress to goals is akin to that rudder, and the habit is just that: setting and measuring progress towards your goals.
What might some of these “little things” that I mention above be? Perhaps it’s forming habits around things like:
- Exercise, mindfulness, eating the right things, saying the right things (also to ourselves)
- Setting goals, planning, monitoring, reviewing, adjusting
- Recognizing, acknowledging, praising (also in yourself) what was done well
- Expressing gratitude, saying or writing thank you’s from every meeting
- Relaxing, enjoying, laughing, appreciating, relating, being – family and friends
- Networking, contacting, staying in touch (not only when we need something)
- Contacting 3 people each day
- Awareness around our communication style
- Doing something for my personal and professional development
The list can be quite endless, can’t it? Perhaps the list at: http://mysuperchargedlife.com/blog/back-to-school-17-good-habits-for-a-successful-life/ will give you some more pointers?
Forming new habits could be getting out of old and “bad” ones and replacing them with “better” ones or it could be the result of a decision to adapt one’s behaviour in certain ways to get the desired new outcomes you may be striving for, and starting to work with some from the above list.
I have learned the view that to form a new habit supposedly takes 3 to 4 weeks. I have heard the number of 21 days mentioned quite often in this context. When I coach a client towards a new habit, we agree to undertake a certain task or series of tasks or awareness of certain behaviours consistently EVERY day and somehow to keep record of that. If a day is missed, we go back to start at zero until we have achieved 21+ days of consistent achievement. This usually results in numerous iterations and by the time the goal is reached, many weeks (often many more the 3-4) have passed and the habit is well and truly entrenched.
I really enjoyed reading the list of 18 tricks to make new habits stick at: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/18-tricks-to-make-new-habits-stick.html. Why don’t you have a read of it yourself?
So far we have spoken about new habits. What about the “bad” ones many of us are still struggling with? Let’s speak about that for a bit too, OK? One of the fundamentals of the above steps in any technique is that you find and recognize behavioral triggers that lead you into repeating bad habits; that you observe your behavior, that you notice certain patterns and that in doing so you realize which catalysts or triggers come into play that invoke the enactment of habitual behavior.
For example if we are sitting and watching TV and not really stimulated or engaged (bored actually), have you noticed that this often gives rise to wanting to get up and search for “something small” to snack on? (Small so that we kid ourselves that it won’t be harmful or interfere with any goals, right?) This is a pattern. Becoming aware of that is to my way of thinking that starts the ability to arrest that sort of action. Perhaps we realize that the boring TV was actually the catalyst or trigger and therewith the actual cause of invoking the pattern. And so we might choose to do something more meaningful or satisfying and turn the TV off or leave the room to do something else.
In my blog Self Talk I speak about affirmations as a tool to “speak over” the negative or destructive “left brain mind chatter” and instead of listening to it, replace it with a positive behavior reminder in the form of an affirmation. This is all about the awareness of our internal language we use; our internal dialogue and so we have a choice when we become aware of a trigger that is about to derail endeavours of changing a habit:
- We can berate ourselves and call ourselves weak that we have once again failed to overcome by sheer willpower, and then say: “what the heck, I’ve failed now, so let’s give up”.
- Or we can notice what’s happening here and use the trigger or catalyst to remind ourselves to speak over the trap and take a positive action instead.
This is where having a buddy (wife or partner or colleague) that can help you to be strong can be so useful and so powerful.
Every person reading this will definitely have a different list of good habits. Some you will already be good at. Others you may not have ever thought of and everything in between.
Again, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t try to do it all by next weekend. Why not pick a few that resonate with you most and start working them into habits for you? Perhaps you can prioritize them and start with some that you absolutely know will make a difference to you (that is you may have done them well in the past or you might have seen them effectively applied by others you admire etc). May be you decide on say 10 or so for 2012 and add a new one every month, once you have “one in the bag”?
The key to me? Apart from the necessary discipline, I believe creating a good or new habit (like a goal) will be so much easier when you can emotionally feel the value and the benefit of the result it will help generate, as I wrote in Price and the Prize.
What if you could? What if you did?