The Power of Habits

The power of forming productive habits is so important that it needs it’s own page to be discussed. It’s easy to overlook the impact habits have in our lives, but critical that we remember that good habits can benefit us for a lifetime.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

Like human automation. Habits are like automated processes in our lives that either make our lives better (regular exercise), or hold us back from realizing our potential (3 hrs of TV every night). The problem, of course, is in dropping unproductive habits and in forming new, productive ones.

The first rule of creating habits is start small. One habit at a time only, and keep it reasonable. If you’re a late riser, setting a goal to get up at 4am every morning to workout is not realistic. Go for improvement, but keep it reasonable and you’ll stand a much better chance at success.

Effort first, rewards later. Creating a new habit is similar to launching the space shuttle. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to get off the ground, to get started and break free of gravity. The payoff in speed and distance traveled doesn’t come until later. In the same way, creating a new habit takes focus and discipline at first, but once it has been created the benefits can last a lifetime.

Space Shuttle Launch

Space Shuttle Launch

Creating new habits is a little like an exercise in deferred gratification – it requires an investment of time, effort and sometimes sacrifice to discipline ourselves to adopt a new behavior, yet we may not get much satisfaction or benefit from it immediately.

I have three keys to creating new habits:

1. Tackle one, and only one, new habit at a time. It’s such a seductive thought to believe we can change two or three things at once, but that’s a sure recipe for failure. Changing one habit is huge. Don’t underestimate the enemy. It’s absolutely “doable”, but requires a degree of focus and discipline that should not be diluted or diffused. In the same way a laser focused in a single point can cut steel, that same energy spread over a football field wouldn’t cut warm butter.

2. Take a long term view. Short-term thinking leads to poor choices:

  • In the short term, I’d rather watch late night TV than go to bed early.
  • In the short term, I’d rather go home and rest than go to the gym and get some exercise.
  • In the short term, I’d rather do whatever seems like the most fun right now than follow a daily plan that puts the most important things first.

The smart decision, though, is view things in the long term. That perspective will lead you to make whatever sacrifices are necessary in the short term to create productive habits, because once formed they will provide benefits for the rest of our lives. Long term thinking improves short term decison making.

3. Use the power of accountability. Tell as many people as you can, provided they are your supporters and will offer encouragement, rather than criticism. The power, and benefits, of accountability as present in a wide range of successful weight loss programs, 12 step programs and other processes. It’s easy, it’s cheap and it works.

Creating new habits is almost like a way to leverage our time, it helps us automatically start doing things that will help us achieve your goals and potential. Spending whatever effort is necessary for the 2-4 weeks to create and engrain a new habit will be rewarded for a lifetime.

  • “Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” Warren Buffett