Take a second to answer these questions:
- If you always exercise first thing in the morning, what will your body look like?
- If you read every afternoon, how much more knowledgeable will you become?
- If you write every evening, how much more influence will you have?
- If you regularly talk to strangers, what opportunities will you encounter?
- If you meditate daily, how much calmer will you feel?
The answers are obvious, right?
Well, that’s because…
Habits have impact
A habit is something which starts as a choice. After repetition, it requires less and less consideration. After a period of time, it can even be very difficult to stop doing.
Many habits are mundane. Tying shoelaces, brushing teeth, starting a car, and typing a password are all done without conscious thought. The automatic nature of habits frees up mental energy so that we can focus on more important things.
While some habits are helpful, many are not. Stopping for fast food on the way home; checking social media for the nth time; reading the news when you know it will piss you off; having that drink immediately after entering the club, ‘just to loosen up.’ Not all habits are equal.
Control your habits instead of being controlled by them
A habit has three components: a cue, a routine, and a reward. For many habits, the cue creates a craving for the reward. For example, the notification sound on your phone becomes neurologically connected to the satisfaction you feel when someone likes or comments on your social media post. Similarly, checking yourself out in the mirror after a workout creates an emotional connection between an exercise routine and the feeling of pride.
Unfortunately, stress and discomfort are common cues. Following the onset of stress, someone may decide to drink alcohol (a routine) in order to feel relief and a sense of ease (the reward). After repeating the ‘habit loop’ several times, this ritual of drinking to solve stress becomes ingrained as a habit. This example is an especially slippery slope since drinking typically creates more stress than it solves.
To change a habit, understand its cue and reward
A cue can be an internal feeling, something external such as the time or visual setting, or a preceding action. The reward could be pride, amusement, ease, satiation, validation, excitement, or anything else. If the cue is unavoidable, don’t try to resist. It will inevitably set off a craving for the reward. Instead, replace the negative routine with something more beneficial. For example, when the cue of stress occurs, instead of drinking, talk to a close friend, exercise, listen to music, or do anything else that provides the reward you’re accustomed to.
As the adage goes, people never ‘end an addiction.’ They simply find a newer, better one.
Nurture new habits with familiarity and support
When creating a new habit, a degree of familiarity is important. This is why products like ‘The Impossible Burger’ are a game changer. The similar taste, texture, and appearance to real meat makes switching to a plant-based diet – in essence creating new eating habits – much easier for many people.
In order to create a new habit, social support is incredibly helpful. It’s best to surround yourself with people who encourage your new habits. If people around you discourage a new habit, you’ll probably slip back into old ways.
Other major concepts
Keystone habits. Some habits are more important than others. These keystone habits create shifts in other areas of your life. Imagine how smoking pot everyday or tracking all your expenses might have indirect yet profound impacts on everything else you do.
Crises can be tactically used to shift habits. People rarely try to change their habits until something dramatic happens. We’ve all heard stories of overweight alcoholics who, following a health crisis, turn their life around and become vegan ultra-marathon athletes. Something similar can happen in organizations, and smart leaders often extend and exacerbate disasters in order to change the organizational habits which caused them. Tangentially, this is why the ‘freedom to fail’ is so important for personal growth and societal well-being.
Having a big vision can lead to a change in habit. This was how I finally quit smoking cigarettes. I organized a 1,200-mile bicycle trip which would last 45 days. I didn’t want anything to cause me to trail behind my co-travellers. After 18 years of smoking and dozens of attempts to quit, this prompted me to finally stop for good.
Periods of extreme stress and catastrophe require faith. A death in the family, a break-up or divorce, or a financial upheaval: these personal tragedies are often unavoidable. Unfortunate events like these frequently cause people to return to old negative habits like drinking, compulsive eating, or drug use. However, if new healthier habits can be maintained through such difficult periods, they will become more durable. Belief in the possibility of sticking to the new habit is a determining factor. If you think you can bear extreme difficulty without seeking old comforts, you can and will.
Great habits create great outcomes
In order to live up to your full potential, great habits are key. In this regard, Charles Duhigg’s ‘The Power of Habit’ is a valuable read.
It’s easy to look at the knock-out punch, the game winning touchdown, the final performance which leads to victory, or the highlight reel. But what really matters, what creates these glorious moments, are the often unseen daily rituals.
Excellence, as Aristotle noted, is born from habit: it’s the result of consistent action. If you want to improve your life, don’t preoccupy your mind with grandiose daydreams. Instead, have big goals but tend to the small details of everyday life – the mundane routines which will ultimately lead to constant improvement.
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It’s all about the fundamental habits which cause men to thrive as men. It’s nothing complicated or unheard of. These are practical principles which are rarely taught to boys and are often obscured in the endless debates over inner game versus outer game. These are time-tested basics which will create true self-confidence while inspiring admiration and respect from your peers.
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