The Currency Of New Habits & Skills

Intuitively we know that new habits, thought-patterns, experiences, and goals require effort. But when it comes to the day-to-day minutiae of expending this effort, sometimes we forget that new habits have a currency all their own.

The currency of new habits is traded in time, energy, fear, and money. At a certain critical point, you have to decide to invest one or more of these to make the changes you seek.

We all know that habits don’t form themselves, but sometimes we forget that the first step is making some very material, structural changes in our schedule and environment. We must direct our effort and our our attention to this new intention. Sometimes we need to invest money in education (or eating better, or whatever moves the needle).

We must also be willing to see our fear, feel it, swallow it, and move forward. We must reach the point of feeling terrified and keep going. This takes a tremendous amount of energy, and it asks us to bring our self-doubt demons to the surface so that we can burn through them.

“Always do what you are afraid to do.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

On Practice and New Challenges

In 2014 I recorded 30 video interviews with thought-leaders and authors on the topic of how to Speak Like a Pro. The two most common themes among every single author I’ve interviewed are: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE and EVERY single one of them still gets nervous before going on stage. Who woulda thunk it? Even the actors and performers who are now professional speakers still get nervous — and they all agree that’s a good thing! It keeps them engaged and on their toes.

Over the years, I’ve gotten more comfortable delivering keynote speeches in front of hundreds of people, but there’s one area of speaking that still strikes significant fear in my heart: improv.

I had taken a class at Google as part of an “improvisational leadership” program and recall having a blast, but the idea of doing this in New York City still made me so nervous, shy and vulnerable (particularly the greatest terror of all: performing in front of an audience).

I used to turn beet red with a pounding heart and surge of adrenaline just from the simple exercise of introducing myself in front of a group of people — during a meeting or UCLA class where everyone else was introducing themselves too!

So, knowing that I needed to take my own medicine and walk-my-fear-talk, I signed up and took an Intro to Improv class in NYC. I felt clammy, nervous, shy, and the impending doom of “what if I’m not funny?!” or “what if I freeze up?!” but by the end of the night, I had a great time. Best of all? I spent two hours laughing and fumbling through embarrassing moments with a group of strangers in the exact same boat.

I wasn’t perfect, and that was explicitly NOT the point.

I learned so much, and can already tell that continuing to build this habit will improve my public speaking and ability to think (and be funny) on my feet. It feels like unlocking a dark crevice of my brain that I was too afraid to enter — and I’m excited about building new muscles one awkward step at at time.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments:

What’s on your so-terrifying-you-can-hardly-say-it-out-loud list? What “currency” will you need to trade to take the necessary steps forward?