The Central Habit of Highly Successful People
Originally posted on Quora by Nicolas Cole.
I am obsessive.
When I wake, I…
pull the covers off my leg the same way I do every morning, with one familiar swoop that drags over my bare legs. I stand and move right foot and then left foot — never left foot and then right — toward the bathroom. When I brush my teeth, I begin at the top right molar and move up and down each tooth until arriving at my left molar. I then repeat the sequence on the bottom, this time from the left side to the right. In the shower, I grab for the bar of soap and follow a simple pattern: three long scrubs up and down my left arm, three long scrubs up and down my right, three circles on my chest, three more circles farther down, and so on. When I leave the shower, it’s a dry towel to the head, right ear, left ear, left armpit, right armpit, grab both corners, swoop to the spine, a back-and-forth motion with enough friction to start a fire, a quick shake down both legs, and then my clothing ritual begins.
When I was very young, I had a habit of touching the edge of every counter, wall, desk, table, chair, any flat surface with the tops of my knuckles.
The sensation reassured me.
“Ma’am, we believe your child may have ADD, along with aspects of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” — said a handful of worried doctors present in my adolescence.
I don’t fit in, because…
the world is not as organized as you think.
We set goals without first auditing our current commitments. We visualize ourselves in a new job without studying the paths that lead there. We talk about personal changes we want to make without addressing what obstacles may prevent those changes from happening. We make promises without having tested our own commitment. We call “nothin’ but net” on our future, our next goal, without first even bothering to ask, “Do I know how to shoot a basketball?”
The world is organized chaos, at best. I would argue chaos, proudly wearing a name tag that says:
Organization: [awr-guh-nuh-zey-shuh n]
- the act or process of organizing.
- the state or manner of being organized.
- something that is organized.
- organic structure; composition: The organization of this painting is quite remarkable.
- a group of persons organized for some end or work; association: a nonprofit organization.
- the administrative personnel or apparatus of a business.
- the functionaries of a political party along with the offices, committees, etc., that they fill.
People hate talking about their own habits, because…
it’s hard. That’s why.
It’s hard. It’s revealing. It’s obvious proof that you’re not as busy as you say you are. That you’re not as disciplined as you thought you were. That you waste time — a lot of time. You don’t know what you really want. You struggle with commitment. You lack perseverance and drive. You distract yourself out of fear of failure. You don’t actually want what you say you want.
You are living a lie.
But accomplishment? Oh, everyone can talk all day about accomplishment:
“You know what I want to do? What I’m going to do? I’m going to start a company. A big successful company — well, it might not even be big because who knows, maybe I want to just live on the beach and make enough to fend for myself, which wouldn’t be terrible, I’m still thinking through the specifics. But yeah, I’m going to build a company — maybe I should wait, actually, because I have a lot going on right now and I mean what if it grows too fast? I don’t want to have to deal with too much success too early. Success like that can change people, you know. I’m very aware of that. Yeah, I don’t want to dive in too deep just yet, because that would be a lot to handle, all that success. I’ll probably just set a smaller goal for now. I think I want to write a book.”
I don’t think “What Can I Accomplish?” I think, “What Habit Can I Replicate?”
Every single goal, achievement, award, finished product, deliverable, completed project, accolade, and cooked dinner requires one thing:
So, before I set a goal, any goal at all, I ask myself three things:
- How much time will this goal require in order for me to accomplish it effectively (to the best of my ability) each day?
- How much time do I currently have in my schedule for this goal, and is the amount of time I have available equal to the number of daily hours required for me to accomplish this goal to the best of my ability?
- If I don’t have the time required, am I willing to part with a current time investment and replace it with the aforementioned goal?
When I was a teenager, I wanted to become a professional World of Warcraft player.
- This goal required that I spend at least 3 hours (preferably 4+) playing World of Warcraft at a competitive level, per day.
- Being a high school student, I was in school from 8am to 3pm. From 3:30pm to 4:30pm I had piano lessons. From 5pm to 6:30pm we had family dinner. From 7pm to 9pm I had to sit in the family room with the rest of my siblings and work on my homework. Bedtime was 10pm.
- Since I didn’t have the time required in my daily schedule, I had to ask myself, “Am I willing to part with a current time investment in order to accomplish my goal?”
Yes. I was.
I parted with sleep. Every single night, I pretended to go to sleep at 10pm, only to sneak back to my computer at 10:30pm to play World of Warcraft until 3am.
When I was 17 years old, I became one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America.
This is the secret recipe to “achievement”
With this habit-focused process, I…
- Became one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in 2007 with one of the first e-famous gaming blogs on the Internet.
- Transformed myself from a skinny adolescent to a bodybuilder and fitness model.
- Became a 3x Top Writer on Quora with over 20M views, and work republished in TIME, Forbes, Fortune, HuffPost, Business Insider, Apple News, The Chicago Tribune, Slate Magazine, Observer, and more.
- Established myself as an author and six-figure ghostwriter, and founder of a ghostwriting + influence agency for CEOs, serial entrepreneurs, and executives called Digital Press.
All you have to ask yourself is…
what habit can I replicate day after day after day?
If you want to be a writer, what needs to happen for you to write for 2 hours every single day?
If you can’t answer that question, you will never become a writer.
If you want to build a successful company, what needs to happen for you to work on that startup idea for 3 hours every single day?
If you can’t answer that question, you will never become a company founder.
If you want to become a bodybuilder, what needs to happen for you to hit the gym for 2 hours every single day, and eat a full meal every 2.5 hours, every single day?
If you can’t answer that question, you will never become a bodybuilder.
People love to talk.
Stop talking about what you’re going to achieve.
What I want to know is how you’re going to make the time to practice the very thing you want to achieve.
Not just today.
How are you going to practice every single day?
And here’s what everyone’s response is:
“I just will, ok?”
Nah. You won’t.
Tell me what hours. Tell me exactly what time you’re going to sit down, and what time you’re going to get up again.
Then tell me how you’re going to guard that time on a daily basis.
Like I said, I’m obsessive.