Although I still can’t understand why, this is the third time I’ve tried to write this article. There’s something about it that’s inherently easy to understand but hard to communicate. Let me try one more time.
It’s been said that we humans are creatures of habits, and no statement could be more true. Aristotle has even been quoted as saying just that:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” But how often do we take the time to understand this powerful notion? And if we really did – and we learned to manage this power – what could it do for us?
This post is all about leveraging the power of habit to create an effective framework for growing ourselves and creating interesting and varied lives. The first principle is as follows:
Good habits compound over time
The key to being the best that you can be is as simple as developing good habits. For example, a person who shall remain nameless (me) used to eat a LOT of fast food. In fact, that person sometimes still does (oops). But recently, this person has decided to get a gym membership in order to set himself on a path to better health. The transition period for this type of change may sting a little, but it’s definitely managable. And the best part is that once I’ve made the change a habit, it’s easy to stick to it. Why? Because humans are creatures of habit.
But that’s just one change. Let’s imagine another area that I’m really working on right now. I’ve never been horrible at managing my money, but I’ve been learning a lot of new tricks lately in an effort to be better prepared for big kid world. So, let’s suppose that I took the money that I used to spend on fast food and, after using some of it to pay for the gym membership, I took the rest and invested it. After doing that, even for just a few years or so, imagine how much better my financial situation would be as well as life in general. And that’s just a side-bonus from implementing one habit. Can you see how the effects of creating and maintaining positive habits can multiply over time?
Let’s go even farther and fast forward 10 years. Suppose that I decided to invest all the money I used to spend on fast food into some nice high percentage paying investments. At this point, I probably have a pretty nice nest egg set up, and am on the path to some serious wealth building. Let’s also assume that the gym thing worked out and I’m in excellent physical condition. So, from a minor habit change or two I now have a rockin’ bod and loads (relatively speaking) of cash. How many more opportunities are available to me now that wouldn’t have been otherwise?
Now I have access even more great experiences and habits that I wouldn’t have dreamed of a decade ago. And the best part is that it’s all autopilot. That’s why habits are so cool. Introducing the “set it and forget it” of the personal development world.
Set and forget it
Creating your habits is actually a really easy thing to do. One of my favorite ways of looking at habits involves the “set it and forget it” method. This is what I’m doing right now and it’s working out really well. All you have to do is create the basic schedule for what you want your life to look like. You could do it on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis.
For example, I have certain tasks that I’m working on right now that will lead to great improvements in my life. One of these is my upcoming e-book about meditation. In order to ensure its completion I have set aside specific days to work on it, where I achieve specific amounts of work done. I don’t go all out or anything – after all, hard work is bogus – but I ensure a nice consistent buzz of work going on at any given time. If I didn’t have the e-book to work on, I’d replace it with a different activity.
I do that for pretty much anything that I know will drastically improve my life. I do it for the site as well. I set aside specific times to work on writing articles and interacting as much as possible with my readers. I also set aside time for the gym, where, providing I don’t have a heart attack or something similarly horrific, I will absolutely, definitely go to the gym on that day.
These kinds of changes become habits very quickly, and before long you do them without even thinking about it. I’ll think, “oh, look, it’s Wednesday – time to write an article and work on my upper body.” Let me reiterate that I definitely don’t overload myself with daily to-do tasks. I’m far too concerned with peace of mind to do that. But I make sure that I achieve very precise, measurable, Pareto principle approved items each day that I know will put me on the right path. Without these, I often spiral into wasting huge amounts of time and receiving little to nothing in return.
Injecting intelligence into your schedule
Of course, your schedule is only as intelligent as you are. Even if you decide on a routine and stick to it, you need to set aside time to reevaluate your routine and make sure it is still working for you.
To that end, pretend that you are a computer programmer, and you’re tasked with writing an algorithm for success in your life. What if you were to put something like “work on cardio at gym every Wednesday” into your program, only to encounter a life situation where you find a group of buddies to go hiking with every Wednesday. If you keep blindly following your schedule of “cardio every Wednesday no matter what” then you’re going to overdo it and exhaust yourself. You have to code some amount of artificial intelligence and good decision-making into your life program or just isn’t going to work.
Now, that’s a pretty simple example. You could simply substitute cardio with weight training, or perhaps avoid the gym entirely that day, but it’s easy for things to sneak up on you if you don’t regularly reevaluate what you’re doing, especially for things that aren’t as obvious as exercise.
For example, suppose that you spend time twice a month with a friend in a mastermind kind of group where you brainstorm good business ideas. At first, this is a great idea, and you make a lot of progress with your friend. But eventually the meetings turn into little more than idle banter and gossip. It’s fun, sure, but you aren’t getting results anymore. Creating a specific time, say once a month, to reevaluate how you you are regularly spending your time – in other words, your habits – allows you to decide if you still want to meet with that friend for that purpose. That doesn’t mean that you have to stop seeing the friend, but then you’ll know if you want the benefits of a good mastermind session then you’re going to have to make changes.
I’m not sure why this was so difficult to write at first, but perhaps that’s because it’s so simple. In summary: understand the power of habits and how they compound upon one another, then create a system that passively works for you, and don’t forget to regularly visit that system and optimize it.
This is something that has done a lot for me, and is sure to help anyone, especially those in the personal development world who find themselves bombarded with great information on a regular basis, yet don’t know what to do with it. Just integrate those new tips until they become habits, and don’t forget to revisit them from time to time.
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