BECOMING A HERO OF HABIT
By James McPartland
“We become what we repeatedly do.”
- Sean Covey
We, as a culture, are obsessed with becoming the best versions of ourselves. The idea of a wealthier, healthier, more successful future self seems so possible, yet always just out of reach. Our advertising bombards us with the promise of our potential transformation, and our popular stories entice us with a “happy ever after” destiny. On some level, we believe it will happen for us… someday.
Yet, so many of us don’t achieve these goals. Oftentimes, we cannot find a way to bridge the future version of ourselves with our current reality. And then all we are left with is dreams that didn’t happen.
“But wait a minute, Mac,” I can hear my team saying. “Don’t you believe in these ambitious dreams too?”
Yes! Make no mistake, I absolutely believe in the truth of our unlimited potential. The promise of a greater life made possible by utilizing and sharing our greatest gifts is attainable. I’ve seen it in my own life and with my clients, and I experience people doing it every day.
The “mysterious secret” to unlocking everything we ever dreamed is neither mysterious nor is it a secret. In fact, it’s downright mundane when you think about it.
It’s the power of our habits and our daily grind over time that gets us to that “best” version of ourselves.
HABITS HAVE A GREATER IMPACT THAN GOALS
Yes, of course, we know habits can have a significant impact. But are we actually committing to consistent daily habits? Do we utilize the potential of everyday actions? Or do they remain untethered to future goals that seem just beyond the horizon?
When we start making goals, we tend to fixate on the end result. We want that million-dollar fiscal quarter or that twenty pounds lost or that mansion on the beach. And we may even spend time thinking about doing the activities that we believe will get us there. But visualizing alone, while important, does not bring us across the finish line.
The uncomfortable truth is that a focus on results does not usually lead to results. It is actually our day to day habits that make the most impact on our future reality. These small daily actions are so easy to overlook because they seem insignificant in the moment.
Yet, everything we do every day stacks up cumulatively to create the life we live. The outcomes we eventually experience are a delayed effect of our habits performed over time.
This is a hard pill to swallow as we are conditioned to expect quick and dramatic changes. We often refer to sudden significant improvement as a “quantum leap.”
Yes, quantum leaps are possible, but they are rare. The results from our habits, on the other hand, are inevitable.
Our goals are out there in the future somewhere, held up by a belief. But the habits we practice to support the attainment of that goal are today, in this very moment, one action at a time. So, in a practical sense, we do not rise or fall to the level of our goals, but rather to the level of our habits.
The good news is that we have the power to choose and control our habits in life and business, today, right now. The bad news is that distractions are perpetual obstacles that we must overcome, and they will relentlessly come at us from all sides.
We live in a world designed to distract us. Distraction is the ever-present enemy, a villain custom-built to lead our brains away from the task at hand. Our computers and mobile devices have made our exposure to distraction nearly constant.
According to a Harvard University study published in the Science Journal, the mind wanders approximately 47% of the day (8 out of 18 waking hours). In the Fast Company article, Worker Interrupted: The Cost of Task Switching, author Kermit Pattison interviews Gloria Mark, professor of informatics at University of California, on one of her studies on the subject. Mark says, “We found about 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here’s the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”
When the frequency of distractions is this high, it is difficult to build productive habits. And this isn’t the only problem. Often, we face simple everyday resistance from ourselves. After all, if there is no immediate benefit to an action, such as working out for an hour, then it is easy to put off. It’s hard to compete with instant gratification.
INSTANT GRATIFICATION VS. EXPONENTIAL REWARD
This “instant gratification” factor figures into everything we do, every day. It is also closely related to distraction.
It is so seductive to put things off because we often don’t have to pay any immediate penalty for not doing something now. But there is definitely a cost down the road. As I like to say – the cost of good habits is in the present; the cost of bad habits is in the future.
In the book The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness, author Jeff Olson deeply explores the concept of how productive habits and actions made consistently over a long period create the difference between success and failure.
When it comes to habits, Olson explains, “People don’t consistently do those simple things for three reasons: 1) while they’re easy to do, they are also easy not to do; 2) you don’t see any results at first; 3) they seem insignificant, like they don’t matter. But they do.”
You don’t look in the mirror after one workout and see a complete transformation. It takes months of focused work that is so gradual, you may not see the day to day differences. But over time, the consistent work yields dramatic results.
Here’s another example of the power of consistency: If you get 1% better each day for an entire year, you will be 37 times more advanced than you are now by the end of the year. It doesn’t matter the skill or habit – whether it is learning a foreign language, working out, or even saving money.
Jeff Olson describes this compound effect in his winning formula: “Consistently repeated daily actions + time = unconquerable results… The truth is, what you do matters. What you do today matters. What you do every day matters. Successful people just do the things that seem to make no difference in the act of doing them and they do them over and over and over until the compound effect kicks in.”
HOW TO CHANGE YOUR HABITS
So how do you get started?
As I’ve said before, setting a goal is not nearly as important as mastering the habits that will bring it to life. And mastering a new habit requires a commitment to a process. It means looking at your day to day life and figuring out where you can fit new habits into your schedule.
Consistency is everything. If you are willing to wait for rewards - there is less competition and ultimately a bigger payoff. If you want this new goal, then you must be disciplined in your new approach. As I like to say, if nothing changes, nothing changes.
I assure you this is doable! It doesn’t have to be perfect – just get your practice going. Habits must be established before they can be improved.
Here are a few things to make it easier.
First, you must define your goal and why it is important.
Get clear about where you are going, what you want to do and who you want to be. Why is this goal important to you? Have your goal be measurable and set a timeline. Saying, “I want to lose weight” is not as powerful as “I want to lose 10 lbs in 3 months.”
Who can support you? Make sure you share your goal with people that can help keep you accountable.
Next, break down the consistent action steps you need to take to achieve this goal through daily habits.
Habits need a home – a time and space to exist in your world. What habit will make the most difference? Chances are, your day is already full of existing habits, both positive and negative. In the Psychology Today article The Science of Habits, author Susan Weinschenk Ph.D., says, "The best way to change an existing habit is to create a new one to replace it." What habit might you need to remove to make room for the new one?
Stacking or linking habits to ones you already have can help reinforce a new one. For example, you already get up every morning as part of a habit. What can you link to your morning routine? If there is something in your existing routine that interferes with the habit you want to cultivate, revisit your priorities.
What’s more important to you: changing, or staying the same?
Remember to build in rewards and milestones to celebrate victories.
In the beginning, rewards of the habit itself are not always obvious, so it’s important to give yourself a little boost by building in rewards for accomplishing your routine. As more and more time goes on, the rewards become intrinsic from the habit itself. Using working out as an example, when you feel fantastic from daily exercise over six months, you won't want to stop!
On the flip side, you'll have to hold yourself accountable for not sticking to your habit. If you fall off the horse, don’t worry, just get back on. Having a support system or a buddy can be essential to staying on track.
Talk about your wins. Stay positive. You can do this.
Set yourself up for success.
Earlier, I wrote about the seductiveness of distractions. Remove as many distractions as you can. This may mean having a different “relationship” with your computer, your phone, or any other devices you carry with you. Stick to your daily plan and avoid people that will knock you off course.
Use daily writing as a tool to remind you of what you are doing, why your goal is important to you, how it helps you and others, and most importantly, your accomplishments! Create the best support system you can think of: the people that can help, the music that will inspire you, the books that uplift you, the proper tools to support you (clothes, gear, classes, etc.)
You are playing the game of life to win – so rig it in your favor!
Most important, you must master your identity.
Who will you have to be and what will you have to change to reach your goal? How is this different from who you are and what you are doing now? What parts of you do you have to let go?
Though incentives and rewards are a great way to jump-start your new habits, it is your identity that sustains them in the long term. Have faith in this new version of yourself. You may have to "train" other people to see who the new you is. You may have to let some people go altogether.
For a more detailed and bulleted breakdown of the process on how to change your habits, you can go here.
KEEPING TRACK OF THE BIG PICTURE
The good news is that you already have all the raw material and resources to make your habit a reality. You just have to think big enough.
The Slight Edge author Jeff Olson has a great piece of inspiration on this front. He says, “And some more shocking news: your ship’s not coming – it’s already here. Docked and waiting. You already have the money. You already have the time. You already have the skill, the confidence. You already have everything you need to achieve everything you want.”
Since you have all the pieces, now you just have to put them together. To cultivate the process of habits that will lead you to the life you want, take time to ask yourself a few questions that will help you define the big picture:
1) What is it that I want for my life?
2) What is my greatest gift?
3) What will have mattered most when I look back on my life?
4) What one thing can have the single biggest impact on my life?
5) What small set of daily habits will lead me to the life I desire?
Get clear on the habits that will get you to where you want to go, then keep hammering away at it, friend. Accept the truth of your unlimited potential and build your habits accordingly! You already have everything you need to be the hero of your own story.