The Number One Secret to Achieving Your Goals

Why is it that some people seem to so effortlessly achieve all of their goals, while others have the tendency to give up somewhere along the way?

The answer is simple: The achievers set positive and intentional daily habits for themselves and their team. The non-achievers, on the other hand, remain passive about their goals and often don’t have positive routines set in place.

Let me explain…

How Habits Work

Let’s start with defining what habits are exactly. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about how all habits form a three-step process, called a “habit loop.” It all starts with a cue, or a trigger, which starts the routine, or the habit itself. The cue can be anything, such as a location, a time of day, an emotion, one’s surroundings, or a preceding action. Finally, there is a reward for completing the habit (which is what turns it into a habit, as opposed to just a one-time action).

For instance, let’s say you wake up every morning and crave a cup of coffee. Do you crave it right away or as soon as you step in the office? For some, the cue for coffee might be location and for others it could be time of day. The reward that follows the routine of drinking coffee will depend on each person. Some people might love the feeling that they derive from it, while others might get enjoyment from the way that it tastes.

Habits are so ingrained in our everyday life that for the most part, we don’t even think about them. They are automatic. But recognizing your habits — and learning how you can change the bad ones and create new, positive ones — is the first step towards achieving your goals.

How to Create New Habits

Developing new habits doesn’t always happen seamlessly. It often takes discipline and effort in order to become a habit. And for whatever reason, it always seems easier to fall into bad habits than to develop positive ones.

Let’s say you want to create a new work habit of having a meeting with your colleagues each morning to discuss the day’s agenda and collaborate more effectively. You’ll need to create a cue, or something that will remind everyone of the habit (at least initially, until it becomes automatic), such as an automatic email that is sent out to everyone each morning. The reward might be a feeling of togetherness. Or maybe the meeting helps to provide everyone with motivation for starting the day. Once you identify the cue and reward, it will be easier for the action to become habitual.

Group habits are easier to evolve than individual ones, since, as Duhigg points out, people face peer pressure to continue the action. If you are trying to set personal habits for yourself, it’s important to keep in mind that habits are much more likely to take form if there is some sort of craving involved in the reward.

For instance, if you are trying to get to work early each day, you may have found that your cue is setting an alarm for when you have to leave the house. You could then reward yourself with a smoothie for each time that you show up to work early (notice that this is a healthy reward — not an unhealthy one!). You will start to crave that smoothie and soon, showing up early will be easy.

How to Change Your Bad Habits

Here’s the thing: As Duhigg talks about in The Power of Habit, habits cannot be eliminated. Instead, they must be replaced. In order to replace a bad habit, you have to first think about the cues and rewards. Why are you getting the urge to complete a certain action? And what reward are you seeking from it?

For instance, let’s say you have the bad habit of always procrastinating. No matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to break out of the vicious cycle of leaving your work until the very last minute. Ask yourself: what is the cue that is driving my behavior?

Do you procrastinate whenever your phone is around? Maybe you need to turn your phone on airplane mode for one hour at a time. Then reward your productivity by checking it for five or ten minutes each hour.

Do you procrastinate because you aren’t interested in the work you’re doing? Maybe that’s a sign that you should reassign yourself new projects — or transition into a role that makes you happier.

Is it because you simply feel too overwhelmed with everything you have to do? Consider having a talk with your manager and seeing if some of the work can be distributed more equally. If that isn’t an option, then maybe you can break up your tasks into manageable bits or write out a schedule for yourself each day.

The trick is to think about what is triggering the behavior (or in this case, lack of behavior) so that you can then replace that routine with something else (like tackling your work early in the day). That way, when that urge to procrastinate comes, you will have a substitute action ready.

Also think about the rewards that you are seeking from the routine. Does procrastinating make you feel less stressed temporarily? If that’s the case, then for each time that you get your work done early, you can reward yourself with some meditation or a relaxing movie — whatever might help you feel relaxed.

Maybe you procrastinate because you think you have all the time in the world and simply prefer to put it off until later. In that case, set a time limit for yourself. Make plans for later (even if it’s just a movie date with yourself), so that you have to finish your work by a certain time. Set an alarm if you have to. And for each time that you are productive and get your work done by the time you have planned, reward yourself.

That way, you will come to seek the reward that accompanies being productive, and will be punished (with no reward) when you are not. Take note of how many hours you are wasting procrastinating. Writing it down will make it more real and will make you more aware of how much time you are throwing out the window.

If you do that, eventually the habit of productivity will replace procrastination.

The Importance of Keystone Habits

Have you ever found that as soon as you change one small thing in your life, many other habits seem to change, as well?

Many people find that when they start exercising, they suddenly find themselves eating better, watching less TV, being more productive at work and feeling less stressed. That’s because exercise is a keystone habit, or a powerful habit that builds other good habits and ends up having a powerful impact on one’s entire life.

Let me give another example, provided by Duhigg in The Power of Habit. When he was elected as CEO of Alcoa, Paul O’Neill decided to focus all of his energies on one thing and one thing only: worker safety. He wanted to make sure that Alcoa became the safest place to work in the country.

In order to protect employees, the manufacturing processes had to be investigated to find out when and how things went wrong. As a result, more efficient procedures were implemented, which led to higher quality products, lower cost of production and higher productivity. Since employees felt taken care of, they were also happier. And happier employees always leads to better results. A win-win all around.

In an effort to ensure worker safety, O’Neill implemented a habit loop: each time something went wrong (cue), the unit president had to report it to O’Neill within 24 hours and present a plan for ensuring that it would never happen again (routine). The reward? Only those who followed this routine were promoted.

As a result of this habit loop, communications systems completely changed for the better. While the initial idea was to create a more efficient communication system to improve worker safety, the new system did far more than that. Employees had the newfound liberty to speak up not only about safety issues, but also about ideas that they had on how things could be improved.

Alcoa also created the first international electronic network for safety reasons (keep in mind that this was before the era of email), but this network ended up becoming a platform for sharing information and exchanging ideas, which gave the company an edge over their competition.

And all of these changes happened because of one single habit…have I made my point?

The Importance of Willpower

We all wish that we had more willpower. After all, willpower is what makes us get off of the couch and exercise. It’s what makes us be productive and finish our work on time. It’s what helps us resist that box of Oreos tempting us on the kitchen counter.

For those who seem to lack willpower, don’t despair just yet. As Duhigg claims, willpower is like a muscle. It can be strengthened with practice. And the best part? If you strengthen willpower in one part of your life, you will automatically strengthen it in other areas, as well.

So why all this talk about willpower? Because the more willpower that you have, the more ability you have to change your other habits for the better. And the more ability you will have to create new, positive-impacting ones moving forward. For that reason, Duhigg notes that willpower is probably the most powerful keystone habit of all.

So how can you turn willpower into a habit? Duhigg claims that when trying to change a habit or create a new one, we need to think about the challenges we are going to face and how we are going to deal with those challenges ahead of time. Then, when we are confronted with that challenge, it will be easier for us to follow our pre-determined routine.

For example, if you find that you are always checking your phone at work, so much that it is interfering with your productivity, before you can change that habit, you need to come up with an actionable plan. Maybe it involves turning your phone on silent, so you don’t hear it. Maybe you should delete the apps that are most distracting. Maybe you need to reach out to your friends and tell them not to contact you during the workday.

Think about how you are going to overcome the challenges and temptations that you’re faced with (in this case, checking your phone). Then each day, practice spending more and more time away from your phone. For the first few days, you might check your phone every half an hour. Then every hour. Before you know it, you will have built the resolve to check it only a few times a day.

Of course it’s always easier said than done and it’s not going to be easy. But if you can strengthen your willpower even just a little bit, those other positive and intentional habits will start to fall into place simultaneously.

How Habits Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

At the end of the day, how successful you are and how much you achieve really comes down to one thing: the habits that are ingrained in your everyday life.

Start by setting small, manageable habits for yourself. For instance, let’s say you have set a goal for yourself to read 10 books a year, but you find that you spend all of your free time watching Netflix or scrolling through Facebook and are having trouble motivating yourself to pick up a book and read. Aim to read just two pages a day during your lunch hour (or whenever you have free time alone). Those two pages will likely turn into many more — and even if they don’t, you will have at least set a small habit for yourself.

In order to actually create that habit, think about Duhigg’s habit formula: cue, routine and reward. Set a cue for yourself and find a reward that you will crave. So if you are trying to read more per day, set your book by your desk each day and bring it with you to lunch (or wherever and whenever you decide to read it). This cue that will be pretty hard to ignore. Then think about a reward that will make you want to keep reading. Maybe that reward is as simple as the satisfaction that comes from increasing your knowledge or gaining a new perspective.

Or maybe your goal is to increase revenue by 100% by the end of the quarter. You will probably need to implement many different habits in order to achieve this goal, one of which could be making three sales calls per day. Each morning when you arrive at work (cue), make the calls (routine) and then reward yourself for your effort by maybe stepping away from your desk and going to chat with a colleague who brightens your day.

The important thing to is to start doing something, no matter how small it is. Whether it’s a personal goal or a work-related goal, oftentimes, motivating yourself to start something is the hardest part — and once you start doing it, you’ll find that it’s not such a struggle after all.

You could also set organizational habits within your company. Focus on one keystone habit that has the potential to change everything. For instance, it’s been proven that exercise increase productivity and happiness. So each morning, your team could spend half an hour going for a brisk walk around the neighborhood.

As a result, your employees will likely feel happier and ready to conquer the day. The cue here would be arriving at work and the reward could be that only those employees who arrive by a certain time will be able to go on the walk. This reward alone will encourage everyone to show up on time (if not early) — guaranteed.

Maybe you want to change some of your current habits, especially if those habits are resulting in inefficiency or unhappiness. Each time something goes wrong, get to the root cause and determine what you and your team can do to prevent that mistake from happening again. That might mean creating and implementing new habits into your everyday routine, especially if that same mistake happens more than once.

For instance, if you sent out an email to 100,000 people and after, realized that there was a huge typo in the subject line, you’ll want to determine how and why that happened. Was it because you were rushing? Did you proofread it or get another team member to review the email before sending it out?

Maybe you need as many as three other team members to review an email before sending it out. Make that a habit within your company. As for the reward, anyone who catches an error, however minor, could be given a small bonus or recognized in a company-wide email.

This habit will not only remind everyone of the importance of quality assurance, but encourage everyone doing that QA check to act as a “self-filter.”

At SUCCESS agency, each and every team member is expected to act as their own “self-filter,” or the last line of defense for reviewing content, no matter who or how many people will be reviewing that content after them. In other words, each person on the team must act as if they are the last person to review that content before it’s published.

Perhaps you have found that mistakes are happening because some team members are not paying close enough attention during meetings. What is the problem here? Is it because your meetings drag on too long and you aren’t cutting to the chase? Or do your employees simply have short attention spans?

One solution (and small habit) that you could implement would be getting each employee to take notes during the meeting and then at the end, do a recap, that is also sent via email, with actionable steps written out for each team member.

Bottom line: By changing bad habits and creating new, positive ones, you and your team will be much more likely to achieve all those goals that you set.

Wrap-Up

Our entire life is made up of a collection of habits. How successful, healthy and happy we are in life is largely dependent on the habits that run our everyday lives. And the best part? You have the power to change or create those habits.

Achieving goals is all about ingraining small, positive-impacting habits into your everyday routine.

Start by writing down your SMART goals. Ask yourself: What habits can I change or implement in order to achieve each goal? And what cues and rewards can I put in place to ensure that I follow through with these habits?

Think about and try to identify some keystone habits, like willpower, that have the potential to positively change everything. And remember: when it comes to habits (especially personal ones, which tend to be harder to implement, since you aren’t motivated by peer pressure), start small and then expand.

For some goals, setting habits will be a continual process and a bit of trial and error in finding the ones that work best.

Lastly, be sure that you and your team are vigilantly monitoring the mistakes that are made — and then find out what habits can be changed or implemented in order to prevent those mistakes from happening again. Make your organization as error-free as possible.

How We Do It At SUCCESS agency

In case you’re curious, at SUCCESS agency, we have many different small habits set in place in order to achieve our goals.

For starters, our team kicks off the day with our “Daily Kick-Off” and “Morning Rundown” sessions. In the “Daily Kick-Off,” we all spend 15 minutes talking about our lives. Sometimes, one of us will take the stage and, through a pre-prepared presentation, share something that we recently learned (through what we call “Value-Adds”).

In our departmental “Morning Rundown” meetings, we all go over what we plan to tackle for the day and any collaboration needs that we have. These daily morning meetings help to bring our team together and facilitate collaboration for the rest of the day. In other words, they are tiny habits that help us to achieve our goals.

Here’s another example: To maximize team productivity, each team member must submit a “Daily Plan,” outlining what they plan to accomplish that day, along with the estimated time that each task will take to complete. It’s a small daily habit, but one that helps each person on the team to remain aware of what they need to focus their energies on and how they are spending their time. Then at the end of the day, we each post a “Daily Recap,” which, just as it sounds, recaps what we worked on throughout the day and how long was spent on each task.

Finally, each team member is expected to complete ten hours a month (or at least one hour a week) of what we call “Intentional Learning,” or time that is devoted to learning something new that will help us grow in our careers. The idea is that without being intentional about learning, and making it into a habit, it can be easy for all of us on the team to let another day, week, month, or even year go by without growing much. You see, growth is an essential ingredient to achieving our goals, so we have made it into a habit.

Now, what are your ingredients to success? And (now that you’re an expert on the topic), what habits can you put in place to ensure that all those ingredients cook success?


Originally published by Mary Blackiston at www.successagency.com/growth on May 17, 2017.

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