Have you ever noticed that some people seem to fit more into their day than you? They seem to always get more done, around the clock… like an efficiency machine that must never sleep. You know the type – they exercise, feed their families, do errands, respond to emails, drive their kids to school – all before 8am. But when you try half of it, it doesn’t go so well and you inevitably give up.
Now what if you could accomplish all that — and more — by carefully developing a single skill? Imagine that everything you put your mind to, you accomplish. You never let things go undone or incomplete. You have more free time on your hands. You are mentally fresher than ever before. Wondering about that one skill? It’s designing and developing habits around the life you want to live.
Your life is the sum of your habits – we are what we repeatedly do, after all. Whether you want to lose weight or build a business, your habits will make or break you. With good habits, like following a diet, regularly exercising, and developing a bias toward learning, you can grow and become anyone you want to be. But with the wrong ones, like smoking, drinking too much, and watching television in your spare time, you can go far off track. In fact, some psychological studies show that 95% of everything we do, feel, and think is the result of your habits. So you really need to make them count!
Have you ever tried to lose more than a couple pounds? If you have, statistically speaking, you’ve probably tried it many times — to varying degrees of success. Why weren’t you able to follow through or maintain the results you desired? The problem isn’t with your innate ability; it’s with your framework for developing the habits you need. But there’s good news: with certain proven methods, you can develop specific habits that stick for as long as you want them to.
Merriam-Webster defines “habit” as “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.” Let’s break that down: a habit is (1) an acquired mode of behavior – thus, habits are developed (whether purposefully or not); and (2) is nearly or completely involuntary – thus, our reaction to a given stimulus (called, a cue) is done almost subconsciously.
To illustrate: have you ever sat down in front of the TV with a bag of chips and when you got up they were all gone… even though you swear you only ate a chip or two? I know I have, and it’s because I made snacking a habit inadvertently. I didn’t realize I was eating all the chips. In fact, I often didn’t remember eating any of them! This involuntary and subconscious nature of habits is what makes them so powerful, and so dangerous. Eat an entire bag of chips too many times and you’re going to suffer health problems. Or maybe it’s an afternoon cigarette or extra dessert. Bad habits come in all sizes and flavors. But what makes bad habits so dangerous is not only that you don’t know you are acting upon them, but also that you repeat them time and time again – perhaps for years, even decades. Each time you experience the cue, you’re going to engage in the habit until something (internal or external) breaks the cycle.
But of course, habits can be good too. Flossing after each meal can prevent cavities and tooth decay. Meditating each morning will leave you in a better headspace. Journaling does too. There are so many good habits which will help you improve; you get the point. What’s more, incorporating the right habits into your life compounds your personal growth, as you’ll see next.
As mentioned above, habits can have a compounding force in your life – good habits lead to marked self-improvement, while bad habits can literally kill you. Think about the life you want to live. What does that person do each day? What are his or her habits? Think of others who are in the position you want to be in. What are their lives like? What habits do you think they developed to get to where you want to be? Get clear on exactly what you want in life and design your habits around the life you want to live.
Developing good habits for your life not only sets you up for success by repeating actions you want in your life, but also because your brain drastically conserves its limited energy while doing so.
Research indicates that our brains are constantly looking for ways to save energy – and the formation of habits is one of those ways. Take the case from Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit  involving a study of mice in a maze. Mice were repeatedly sent through the same maze. Each time, at the end of the maze there was a piece of chocolate. The two diagrams below depict the mouse’s brain activity while in the maze; the higher the levels, the more brain activity:
As you can see on the left, the mouse has not figured out the path to the reward (a piece of chocolate). Compare that to the right-hand diagram, which illustrates the mouse’s brain activity after it had learned to solve the maze. After several rounds, the mouse’s routine became a habit so there was far less brain activity, until the very end – when it got its reward.
What’s more, recent research suggests that the brain’s neurochemistry is such that when engaged in a habit, your brains releases endocannibanoids – which effectively shuts down the decision-making center of the brain. Scary – you know you shouldn’t eat that piece of pie after dinner, but you literally can’t make the decision not to. However, if you actively manage your good habits, this can be used to your advantage to help eliminate decision-fatigue.
Some habits are so powerful they often to spill over involuntarily to other parts of your life. For instance, people who exercise regularly also tend to maintain a better diet. Thus, by developing one good habit, other good habits form around it – all further compounding the benefits of each other. These habits are called Keystone Habits, and will be discussed in greater detail in the coming days.
We’ve talked about what habits are and why habits are so important to your success and personal growth. Now going back to those super-efficient friends of yours. Know this: by designing a daily routine built on carefully-chosen habits can be the difference that separates the bottom 80% of performers from the top 20%. Over the next few days, you’ll learn how to create new habits to match the life you want and how to change bad habits which can derail you.
- Spend time thinking about what habits you have – both good habits and bad. Write them down. There no need to track your day – that will come later. Just write down the habits you think you have.
- Think about the life you desire and think about others who have already attained that life. What habits will you need to employ to get there? Write it down. If you need some inspiration, check out our post on 5 Daily Habits to Master Your Day.
Finally, remember Jim Rohn’s words:
“CHOICE + BEHAVIOR + HABIT + TIME = GOALS”
In Part 2 of our series On Habits, you’ll learn the science behind habits and the neurological process that governs all habits.
 See Darren Hardy, The Compound Effect 56 (2010). Certainly, almost 40% of our day is comprised of repeated activities performed in almost the same situations. See How We Form Habits, Change Existing Ones on Science News.
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