Exactly 5 years ago, I had a rough time during this time of the year. My career and life felt stuck. I had no idea what to do about it.
From the outside, it looked like I was doing well. I had my own business, a decent apartment, and a nice car. But I didn’t have any perspective. I still lived in my hometown and frankly, I was bored with my life.
Does that sound familiar? You have an okay life, and yet, it doesn’t feel right. It’s the ultimate challenge of the 21st century. Our lives are safer than ever, and yet, we feel empty.
By the end of 2013, my frustration was building up. I started blaming everything and everyone for my lack of growth.
Our time on this planet is limited. Most of us realize that sooner or later. And yet, we keep on squandering our time and running around in circles.
Why is it that we waste so much of our time? Most people think that we, humans, don’t understand the value of time.
I don’t think that’s the problem. You and I both know the value of time. It’s a depletable resource. By that definition, the value of time is high.
So if the problem is not our appreciation of time, what’s the cause of a waste of time and potential?
The answer is obvious: We simply don’t know what to do with our time. The stoic philosopher Seneca famously said in On The Shortness Of Life:
How often have you started a new habit that you already quit after several days? If you’re like me in the past, the answer is something like, “all the time.”
Forming a new habit is hard. I don’t have to tell you that. We all know how difficult it is to live a prosperous and healthy life. If it were easy, everybody would do it.
We also know that our chance of succeeding is much higher if we start small, right? It’s common sense. “Don’t take on too much in the beginning — you’ll have more reasons to give up.” So goes the advice, which is solid. I’m not going to argue with that.
But far too few people actually start small. In fact, I see more people starting big than starting small.
Why is that? I think we can get too excited about making a change or doing new things. When we dream about making a change in our lives and start believing in it, the excitement usually takes over.
That’s why we end up doing too much too soon.
Over the years, I’ve adopted many different “positive” habits.
To me, a habit is positive when it improves the quality of my life. A lot has been written about forming habits.
How hard is? How long does it take? What’s the best way to break habits? How do we adopt new habits?
My experience is that everyone can adopt any habit they want. There’s only one condition though: You need a good reason to make a change (I talk about that in-depth on this podcast episode).
And in 99% of cases, the reason to change comes from personal suffering, sadness, and hurt. At some point, you can’t stand your current behavior anymore.
Have you seen those articles with headlines that promise the impossible?
- “1000X your personal growth!”
- “Change your life in 10 seconds!”
- “Learn EVERYTHING in 1 hour!”
You and I both know that these types of claims are BS—it’s nothing more than cheap clickbait. But why are we still baited by these headlines?
We’re optimists! And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Look, we all know that there’s no such thing as 1,000% growth in a short period of time. We also know that we can’t finish a 300-page book in 30 minutes. Mastery doesn’t work that way. There are no shortcuts.
However, getting good at something is also not totally unattainable. Because like these above extreme claims, there is a counterculture that says it takes 10,000 hours (or more) to master a skill. As you might expect, I’m more on the side of that it takes longer to get good at something.
People who claim that setting goals are a bad thing are out of their minds. They probably set some goals in the past, failed, and never set a goal again.
I know there’s a lot of confusion about goals and systems these days. I’ve contributed to the confusion as well.
A lot of us share the idea that you either have a system or set goals.
But thinking “this or that” is not helpful because it limits our beliefs. I know this because I used to think that way too. But then, I learned that many things in life could be this and that.
So in this article, I’ll explain why goals and systems complement each other, and why I have both.
Where you are in your life is a result of your habits. Will Durant (not Aristotle) said it best:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
I think that’s also true for the opposite of excellence. Mediocrity is a result of mediocre habits.
That means we can go from mediocrity to excellence by changing our habits.
But how do you do that? Before we get into that, I want to clarify my statement: Habits change your life, but they do not guarantee success.
Because that’s what “the habits of millionaires” type of articles and books tell us. We get it, Elon Musk sleeps 2 hours a day and eats Cheerios for dinner—or something like that.