Do you feel let down by all the advice—books, articles, interviews, podcasts—from and about successful people? Of course you do. These people have an additional 10, 20, 30 years’ experience—even if you’re the same age. You can’t make up the difference by reading a few articles. You have to invest years of time and cultivate the right habits. But here’s the thing about habits: They are both causes and effects.
Take Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, who is known to start his day at 3:45 a.m. Maybe he has always woken up at this hour, and eventually that habit played a role in his achieving his current position. Or perhaps it’s a habit after the fact; simply a coping mechanism to stay on top of his 800 emails per day. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. Cook rose through the ranks and changed his alarm so he would rise earlier. Little by little, one day at a time. Sometimes it may have been a preemptive move and other times a more reactive one.
Our advice culture has imposed a singular, narrow view on a question that has as many answers as there are people on this planet: How should you live?
Life isn’t a straight line. Most relationships are bilateral. Two things that are connected tend to influence one another. It’s rarely as simple as X leads to Y. We see Banksy shredding their own painting and wish we had the courage to pull a creative stunt like that. But maybe bold Banksy is the result of hundreds of much smaller, less significant creative acts. Maybe Y led to X.
Our advice culture has imposed a singular, narrow view on a question that has as many answers as there are people on this planet: How should you live? This view is like looking at an iceberg through a telescope. You see only what’s on the surface, but it’s a focused picture, so you think you are seeing everything. The view confuses specificity for entirety. With habits, there is no entirety. You have to keep adapting, honing, changing.
There is no one uniform set of habits that leads to success. It has never existed and it never will. We can find many unique habit sets that correlate to success, but that doesn’t mean any one has a higher cause-to-effect ratio than another. Plus, whatever set you choose will continue to change and evolve. Instead of listening to the people who hand us a telescope, we must think independently. We must look at ourselves.