“The fastest way to success is to replace bad habits with good habits.” — Tom Ziglar
Three years ago, I found myself six months off a fresh divorce and a third bankruptcy. I was overweight, broke, and sick of looking in the rearview mirror.
I knew I was doing it to myself. I overcame so much, but I still let arrogance and fear steer my life off course.
But it wasn’t my own pain that threw cold water in my face. It was the fact I’d disappointed those closest to me.
Imagine a time when your actions hurt someone you loved. How did that make you feel? Did you get sick to your stomach? Did you feel like less of a person?
When I first faced my demons and looked in the mirror at the person I’d become, I wanted to throw up.
Effective is the keyword. My first step was making an action plan. In the process, I managed to stumble on a few behaviors that guaranteed success.
Those behaviors insured I’d keep doing them until they became habits. They not only propelled me to reach my goals but shattered them to smithereens.
Want to learn what I did so you can do it for yourself?
I used to jump head first into my goals. I’m sure you’ve been there, excited and motivated about diving into the deep end of the pool.
Temper your excitement. Channel that desire into careful planning and consistency. Giant action isn’t sustainable, at least not in the beginning.
It’s much worse to do massive work in fits and starts than smaller but more consistent chunks over the long haul. In the case of habits, smaller is better.
This isn’t just theory. I managed to lose 44 pounds in 44 weeks and used a one-minute trick to create my own miracle morning. I’ve used the idea to set aside money for investments after emerging from bankruptcy. Other people have used it to build empires.
Habits usually take between two to four months to form. Small actions are easier to maintain. It’s easy to do one push up a day for four months. It’s much harder to work out at the gym for two hours a day five days a week over the same time beginning from ground zero.
Most people fail because they start off too big. They join a gym and work out for two hours a day five days a week, which quickly drops to four then three then none.
While I have no problem working long hours when I get in the zone, it’s best to start small in the beginning.
Once you’ve built the habits, you can increase the workload. But if you push too soon, you risk unnecessary failure.
Form a chain
“On your last day on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.” — Anonymous
There’s another trick you should use when forming habits. If you run out of time, don’t let yourself off the hook. Act in the tiniest way to keep your chain going. Your chain is critical to your subconscious.
If your tiny action to form a habit is writing a page daily and you’re at the end of a long hard day, write a single sentence. Heck, even a few words will do if your eyelids feel like lead balloons.
The point is that if you can keep the chain going long enough, no matter how trivial or small, you form habits. Once you form a habit, willpower becomes obsolete.
Your brain wants efficiency. It’s a massive energy suck on your body’s resources. Your lizard brain powers instinctive actions, the same part of the brain that drives people home drunk.
Once you’ve formed the habits, they get pushed into your lizard brain. It’s harder not to do those actions than to do them, and your mind is free to focus on more immediate concerns.
The secret is to keep the chain of tiny actions going and then…
Count by three
“We become what you think about most of the time, and that’s the strangest secret.” — Earl Nightingale
Work on three solid pillars for the foundation of your routine. Select no more than three actions at a time. A divided house will fall.
Work on that routine for two to four months. No matter how tempted you are, resist the urge to add more than three new habits. That desire will build. It will create a positive image in your mind.
By doing less than you can do but doing it consistently, you keep your interest high. You focus on doing more. You visualize both the required action and the end result. You become that end result.
Don’t stop. Be selective. Be deliberate. And then habit stack. The habits should be foundational to becoming your ideal self. If you’re not sure what your ideal self looks like, do some basic planning.
Only when you’re convinced you’ve formed a habit, and no sooner than two months, should you stack on a new habit on top of the old one.
Old habits are the glue for new habits. Routines are like superglue. When you first start, add your new actions to an existing routine. The older the better.
This is why…
The early birds win
Usually, you get the most effective outcomes when you act in the morning. And don’t let the word morning fool you. Your morning is whenever you wake up, whether that’s 6 AM or 6 PM.
Adding new habits to your “morning” routine is like supergluing your actions to lifelong behaviors. This creates powerful mental associations.
You also get the added benefit of being intentional at the start of your day. Productive “mornings” impact your mood. They set the tone for your remaining waking hours.
How do you know the length of your chain? What about the number of habits you’ve stacked? You won’t know unless you keep track.
Use whatever method you prefer. It could be a physical notebook, Google Docs, Fitbit, or your personal journal. But if you don’t track your progress in some way, it’s like sucker-punching yourself every time you want to form a new habit.
Who likes sucker-punches?
Habits are unlike most skills, which need deliberate practice. Habits form automatically. But those are usually the habits you want to avoid.
Positive, effective habits do need intentional reflection. Otherwise, you’ll get in the habit of doing them inneffectively.
The good news is that once they’re formed, they need less attention. But still, observe them so you can course correct when you hit a speed bump.
The way to reflect on your habits is by thinking daily, weekly, and monthly about your progress. Did you do them? Were you intentional? Did you give the required effort and focus? Did you locate weaknesses or failures and different approaches to correct them?
It doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes nightly, but you must reflect. Otherwise, you’ll risk creating a lifelong ineffective habit.
Scientific evidence shows you’re more likely to achieve your goals with accountability.
Journals are a busy man’s accountability partner. They’ll do in a pinch. They’ll be better if you make them public. But the best accountability partners are with people you know and trust.
Mentors, coaches, and even Facebook support groups can be effective at keeping you on track.
Don’t turn your accountability sessions into story time. Instead, use them as honest reflections of the process. Use them as opportunities to find solutions to obstacles and maps to avoid pitfalls.
I’ve just handed you a roadmap to create permanent, effective habits. Will you stick it in a drawer and forget about it? Or will you use it to guide you and supercharge the life you want to live?
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