You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine. —John C. Maxwell
Habits have the power to define our lives. A vast number of leadership resources are dedicated to exploring habits consistently practiced by successful people. Stephen R Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, and more recently, Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way are two of many books dedicated to such explorations over the last few decades. The underlying principle in these works is that habits form a key differentiator for success.
In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg describes habit as a formula your brain automatically follows. According to a 2006 Duke University study cited in Duhigg’s book, more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t due to decision making, but were habits. As our brains get accustomed to performing a particular activity, less conscious decision making is involved. The activity becomes automatic and virtually unconscious.
We gain greater mastery of our lives when we examine those unconscious activities and ensure that they support our goals and who we want to be in the world.
Five Steps to Mastering Your Habits
Below are five steps to mastering your habits.
1) Review Your Habits. According to Plato’s timeless wisdom, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Every month, consider existing habits and practices to determine what new, empowering habits you would like acquire and which disempowering ones to let go of. What habits can support you in reaching your goals, and what habits are getting in the way of your goals?
A few months ago, I learned the power of habits through a 21-day sugar-free challenge. I wanted to experiment with the various short-term benefits of eliminating sugar from my diet. These include having more energy throughout the day and reducing mood swings. The more you connect with your reasons for taking on a new habit, the more effective you will be in navigating difficult patches along the way.
2) Choose Empowering Definitions. We often give ourselves disempowering labels. These labels subsequently guide our choices. For example, prior to taking on the sugar-free challenge, I’d said I had “a sweet tooth.” That definition then supported certain practices and choices. It virtually guaranteed sugar a valuable and unquestioned spot on my diet.
Replace disempowering definitions with new, empowering ones. In relation to the sugar-free challenge, I embraced the definition that “I am healthy and I choose what I eat.” This enabled me to complete the 21-day challenge, and subsequently replace cravings with choices. Sugar no longer has an unchallenged spot in my diet.
3) Get an Accountability Partner. Take the journey with an accountability partner. A friend, spouse, or mentor can make the process more enjoyable and keep you on track. I took the 21-day sugar-free challenge with my mentor. We shared challenges, wins, and best tips for the process.
4) Plan Ahead. Planning is power. If your new habit involves eating healthy, for example, plan your meals. Identify preferred food options. Create a plan of action to address cravings when they arise. Keep your healthier food choices handy. Use technology to keep you on track — schedule phone alarms and reminders.
5) Reward, Reinforce, Entrench. Reward and celebrate the little wins. The reward and celebration will encourage you and give you something to look forward to. As an example, you can schedule a celebratory dinner with your accountability partner or plan a much-desired treat. Choose something you will really look forward to.
Reinforce and entrench the new practices through repetition until they become part of your daily routines and rituals.
A Beautiful Tapestry
Gaining control of your habits will teach you your ability to do anything. Rather than remaining wedded to disempowering definitions and habits, you will continually teach yourself that you can take on and master anything. You will also create a beautiful tapestry that supports you in being increasingly effective in reaching your goals and being the person you desire to be in the world.