“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle
It is truly astonishing that Aristotle discovered this powerful principle over 2000 years ago, and yet, we still don´t use it correctly. Habits are the driving force behind nearly everything we do. What you eat, how much you work out, and whether you spend your time at the office working or gossiping with your colleagues are all habits. Essentially, habits are more or less fixed ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that have been acquired through previous repetition.
Have you ever noticed that throughout a week, your days are all surprisingly similar? You wake up at the same time, eat the same thing, go to work the same way, spend as much time on social media or other unproductive tasks as always, go home the same way, and spend your evening the same way as every other day of the week. That is because you are so accustomed to doing things the way you are used to, you don´t even have to think about it anymore.
Our brains are wonderful tools, but there is one problem: They are not designed to make you happy or successful. Your brain doesn´t care about that. It wants to conserve energy to help you survive in a dangerous world that hasn´t existed for thousands of years anymore, and that´s where habits come into play. Because they are automatic actions that you don´t have to think about anymore, your brain saves energy. It doesn´t have to contemplate whether or not to do a certain thing, it just wants to do what it always does. That´s why, if you are in the habit of not working out, it is hard to get started. It costs an enormous amount of mental energy because your brain fights to stay in the comfortable place it is used to.
Creating habits is like the start of a space shuttle. It costs an enormous amount of fuel and energy to get off the ground. In the beginning, nothing moves even though you are working as hard as possible. You stand still, wondering if you will ever start moving. Then, after a few seconds of waiting, you take off! It is a slow ascent, and you are burning all this fuel just to get off the ground. You rise higher and higher, going increasingly faster. You are still using the same amount of fuel, but your speed increases exponentially until finally, you break through the atmosphere of the earth and gravity loses its power over you. That´s when you can slow down the engines, spend less fuel, and still go at a faster speed than before.
When you are creating a habit, the process is similar. The beginning is hard, and you have to spend lots of energy just to “get off the ground”. Then you gain momentum, getting faster and faster, but you still have to spend so much mental energy that it is not sustainable in the long run. The breakthrough comes when your brain finally makes whatever you are doing a habit. When it accepts it as part of your normal routine, and your unconscious mind stops fighting it. Once that happens, you can spend less and less mental energy on sustaining the habit, while keeping the same momentum as before.
When you think of your goals in life right now, which habits do you need to develop? Do you have to work out 30 minutes every morning to get in shape? Read an hour of motivational and informational books every day to gain an advantage on your competition? Do you have to make a certain number of sales calls? Or maybe spend more quality time with your family? Whatever it is for you, come up with at least one habit that, if implemented consistently from now on, would change your life for the better.
When you start to implement the habit, think long-term, not short-term! If your goal is to consistently run every day from now on, don´t start with an hour. Don´t kill yourself the first time and make it so painful that you loose all motivation to come back and do the same thing again the next day. Excellence is not an act, but a habit. Start with just five or ten minutes and do that for a month, only increasing the length if you feel good. That allows you to build the habit of working out every day without having to struggle. After all, running (or walking, swimming, or biking) for 10 minutes is pretty easy, isn´t it?
Start small, and then add onto it once you have established the habit. The goal is to develop a life-long habit of exercising, not just to go all-out once a week, only to loose motivation afterwards.
Which habits are you going to develop?