Foreword by Jason: This is a guest post by Ben Austin of Stop Start Do on the power of habits, and how influential they are in determining the direction of your life. I've only touched on the concept of habits, and I believe the insight Ben provides is the 'kickstart' we all need to give this important concept the attention it deserves.
With that said, here's Ben!
We live in a magic pill society, bombarded by 'quick fix' promises such as:
Ramit Sethi calls this “Special Snowflake Syndrome”, Andre 3000 of OutKast calls it “thinking your shit don’t stink” and Charlie Munger calls it “delusional confidence”.
These metaphors make reference to fundamental flaws of human psychology such as:
If marketers told the truth, it would look like this:
If we want to make lasting change in our lives, it’s going to require a rewiring of our expectations. It mandates a change in our perception and a dedication to our craft. If we're going to live up to our true potential, and live the life we are born to live, than it’s going to demand a fundamental shift in our behaviour. That behavioural shift is driven by your habits.
But what are habits?
Habits are routine behaviors that you repeat regularly, and which tend to occur unconsciously without your knowing. Things like brushing your teeth before bed, getting dressed for work in the morning, checking for traffic before crossing the road. These are all behavioural patterns you may have adopted as habits, since they act to automatically enforce a certain way of feeling (safe, healthy, attractive etc.) that you know to expect based on your experience.
For us to live up to our true potential, we must execute thousands of habits each day that align with our vision, values, and our biggest goals for our future. The outcome of these habits as they compound over time, will result in the successful attainment of these goals. Just like your finances, if you invest in your empowering habits daily, then they'll intensify over time and lead to increasing positive results.
We’ll call it the compounding effect.
Invest in successful habits and let them compound
To explain how habits compound over time, let's refer to the commonly used example of money.
If you put you put $1,000 in a checking account which earns 0% interest, you’ll still only have $1,000 in 1, 5 and 10 years, no matter what.
If on the other hand, you put that $1,000 in an investment account and assume an 8% return per year, then you’ll have $1,080 in 1 year. If you were to leave that untouched, it would increase to $1,469.33 in 5 years, and $2,158.92 in 10 years. That’s an earnings of $1,158.92 resulting from the compounding effect of your initial $1,000 investment.
Our daily habits work the same way.
Imagine your habits driving your success as an investment account. Each positive habit you execute puts a small deposit (+1) in your success account. Each deposit moves you towards your goals and builds on top of the previous day’s work.
Each negative habit takes a withdrawal (-1) and the value of your success account goes down.
Maybe your day looks similar to this?
Watch out: Bad habits compound too
One of my best friends understands the power of tiny habits and their effect over time can compound, both positively AND negatively.
After college he worked an extra job to pay the bills. Nothing crazy, just a few hours during the week and Saturday nights. The extra time spent working caused his stress levels to elevate. Like many people, he handled the extra stress with Coke (the soda not the drug), Netflix, and pasta.
Because he was more tired and stressed, each day he made the decision to go home and relax. The days flew by, watching the same TV shows and eating the same bad food. He gave up exercising, gave up challenging himself, and got comfortable and lazy instead.
A few years went by until one day, he found himself at nearly 300 lbs.
How could this happen? It was his preference to enforce his bad habits (excessive TV, bad food etc.) which resulted in incremental withdrawals from his success 'investment account', and ultimately a massive weight gain. It didn’t happen overnight. It happened slowly, incrementally, and without him even realising it.
That’s how habits work.
But as easily as bad habits can take hold, they can be replaced with empowering habits with equally powerful effect. My friend knew he had to make changes to his habits, and so did two very smart things:
Each day, regardless of the weather, he would listen to his new book and go for a walk. First it was just a 5 minute walk, which quickly turned into 20 minutes. Soon he was walking more than an hour each day and his eating habits improved (no more soda, garlic bread and pasta). The weight started falling off, and he was changing his psychology through the inspiring books he was absorbing.
With this simple strategy, he’s lost almost 100 lbs, and listening to inspiring audiobooks made him a better man. After spending time with him recently, I can see that he’s more confident, more articulate, more focused, and has the momentum to achieve other goals.
That’s the power of habits.
In a little over a year, he turned his life around. His eyes became brighter, he began walking with energy, and he began feeling good in his own skin. It didn't come from making unrealistic promises to himself, or turning to external sources to make him feel better or use as a scapegoat (like going to the gym each and every day. Seriously, how many people actually do that!?).
No. Instead of blaming something or someone else for his weight gain, he decided to focus on self, and make small changes to his lifestyle. With time and practice, these changes turned into subtle but profound empowering habits, and resulted in the huge achievement of a 100lb weight loss.
The world’s best use habits, do you?
One example of the extraordinary results achieved through the compounding effect of habits is in the story of the great Bill Gates.
His entire life is an example of how focus, hard work and consistent habits can lead to extraordinary results. Through consistent deposits into his success investment account, he created empowering habits and achieved truly remarkable feats. Some notable habits he developed were as follows:
Over time, his success account compounded, and the result of his empowering habits was the creation of Microsoft. Each investment Gates made in himself compounded over time to make him the success he is today.
How to build habits in 3 simple steps
It’s time to start making deposits into your success account. Each of the following three steps involve exercises which are fundamental in building successful habits. It’s your life. You get out what you put in.
Let's do this!
Step 1: What habits are helping you and which ones are hurting you?
The first step is to take an inventory of all of the behaviors, actions and habits that you do each day. Keep a notepad or use your phone to record how you spend each hour for an entire week. Set a reminder on your phone to write down what you do each hour. After you've done this, rank the results, comparing those that lead to your growth, and those which compromise it.
The results will shock you.
The first time I did it, I realized I was spending 3+ hours each day on sports. SPORTS! That’s over 21 hours a week, 90+ hours a month and over 1,000 hours each year.
Don’t be one of those people who says: “Yeah I’ll do it later”. If you care about your future and want to kickstart your own cause, then do this exercise. It won’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which actions are hurting and which ones are helping.
Insider Tip: Install Rescuetime on your computer to see which websites you are frequenting. Or for the diehard super habit hacker, check out this post on the matrix method where you can set goals and track your daily habits.
Step 2: Replace your disempowering habits with empowering ones
In step 1, you found areas for improvement. Now, we are going to find a superior way to spend your most valuable resource.
Begin by asking yourself the following two questions:
After doing this exercise, I realized that I was spending a few hours each day on sports. I value a athletics and being fit, however sports (to me) are just entertainment, and aren't part of the big picture I have for life.
From there, I decided to quit my social sport addiction. Instead, I used the time to read books, take online courses, or listening to inspiring audio programs. Those resources gave me the inspiration to start my first online business, upgrade jobs, get a pay raise, and be happier throughout the day. Literally every aspect of my life has improved since making that decision.
Which bad habits are you going to replace? Write down at least 3-5 things that come to mind and start there.
Step 3: Use a time block
Now that you have a list of empowering habits that are in alignment with your vision, values, and biggest goals for your life, you must time block.
Time blocking is simply the process of setting aside a block of time each day to practice your empowering habits.
Here’s a few examples of time blocking in action:
If you've taken the time to define your success and choose big goals that motivate you and align with your vision and values, then you'll find it easy to substitute the low-value tasks (TV, mindless internet shopping, Facebook etc.) with your empowering habits from Step 2. Treat your time blocked periods as must do objectives that can't be compromised. They're there for your growth, so treat them with the respect they deserve and get to work.
Habits are a choice: Make them count
It’s the small habits we make each day that ultimately decide if we are going to be successful or not. It never happens overnight.
The world's most successful people have built habits around their success. Whether it's Bill Gates reading inspirational books or Arnold Schwarzenegger lifting weights for hours every day, they made the conscious decision to create empowering habits and do the work that everyone else was unwilling to do. They focused on getting better each day through the power of habits.
If you want to mimic their successes, do the same. Start making deposits in your success account and have your daily habits unlock your potential, and take you to incredible heights.
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About the Author
Hi, I'm Jason, founder of Kickstart a Cause, teaching you to unlock your true potential and create a life you were born to live. When I'm not inspiring greatness in others, I can be found travelling the world exploring the beauty of nature.
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