Where you are in your life is a result of your habits. Will Durant 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. It goes like this: Bad habits? Bad life. Good habits? Good life.
I used to be a complainer. I said stuff like:
- I don’t like my city.
- It’s too cold in the winter.
- People are stupid.
- I always have bad luck.
- I can never catch a break.
I didn’t see it at the time, but the outcome of your life is a result of your habits.
That means this: You can change the outcome of your life by changing your habits.
But how do you do that? How do you form good habits?
I’m not talking about popular “life-hacking” habits like taking cold showers or weird diets. Those things are fads. It’s not for everybody and they don’t have long-lasting effects.
No, I’m talking about life-changing stuff that‘s sustainable. Things like exercising daily, not complaining, being a problem-solver, etc.
Decide what habits are worth it.
Look, I can talk to you about ‘good’ habits all day long, but that’s not helpful. The reason is that only YOU can decide what a good habit is.
Deciding if a habit is worth it to you is critical in forming new habits.
Too often we hear about something and we think: “I should do that!”
Really? Should I wake up an hour earlier? Should I take cold showers? Should I stop complaining? Should I eat like a cave person? Should I eat normal?
Maybe waking up early is actually helpful to you. I don’t know. When I wake up early, I behave like a grumpy old man who hates people.
Just ask yourself this:
“Will this behavior improve the quality of my life?”
The reason you want to ask yourself that question is that you need a reason to change. You need a why. That requires introspection.
If you do that right, you come to the conclusion that you can’t change external factors, but you CAN change yourself.
You can’t change the economy, weather, traffic, people, or anything that you complain about.
Viktor E. Frankl, author of Man’s Search For Meaning, said it well:
“When we are no longer able to change a situation — we are challenged to change ourselves.”
You can only improve what you control: Yourself.
Now that you’ve settled on what habit you want to form, and why you want to develop it, let’s start shaping.
The most important thing: Focus on one thing at a time.
I recently wrote about how I successfully formed a daily exercise habit. It was something I tried to do for years.
There were many reasons I failed, one of them is that I always tried to form a million habits at the same time.
I don’t know why, but sometimes I get on this whole self-improvement spree. I feel like reading more, writing more, working more, living better, eating healthier, you name it.
It’s best to hold back the enthusiasm if you’re the same. In general, when you do too many things at the same time, you end up with chaos.
You either end where you started, or you might even take two steps back. You try to form a habit, that doesn’t work out, you get frustrated, and say:
“Screw Tony Robbins and self-help in general! I’m going to lie in bed all day, eat Oreos and watch Netflix.”
Yup. Not helpful.
Prepare yourself. Change is hard.
Common sense, right? So why do you expect everything to go smoothly?
In our head things always play out easily. We think that we can wake up at 5 am, hit the gym, and eat a kale shake. No way!
If things are hard, that doesn’t mean you should stop. It’s the opposite, when it’s hard, take it as a sign to push on.
I forget everything. A few years ago, I started a daily reading habit. I messed up very often in the beginning.
I would read for five or six days straight, and then all of a sudden, I would completely forget about it.
It’s like the desire for reading more just vanished from my head.
That shit happens. You want to do something. You do it. And then you forget about it.
That’s why I set reminders for important things in my calendar. I NEED them. Otherwise, I forget. I’ve never met people who don’t need reminders. Or maybe I did. They probably were androids and I failed the Turing test.
Anyway, here’s what my daily writing reminder looks like now (I change it often):
It says: “Stop fucking around. It’s time to write. You idiot.”
Sometimes I ignore the message. Sometimes I listen to it. It doesn’t matter. It’s always there. So I don’t forget.
Also, I like to set reminders at random times. If everything happens on the hour, I feel like a robot.
And remember to do things daily.
- Do you want to get fit? Exercise daily. Not 3 times a week.
- Do you want to eat healthily? Do it every day. Not 4 times a week.
- Do you want to change your attitude? Keep a positive mindset every day (you can also keep a positive mindset during tough/sad times).
Finally: Set the bar low.
I often meet people who want to change the world. And I appreciate that. But that’s a very high bar you set. You can only go wrong with that.
There’s something that requires change first: You. Leo Tolstoy (who lived in the 19th century), author of War and Peace, put it best:
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
That’s still very true today. And you hear a lot of people and companies saying it. But it’s much better to set the bar low. Focus on small things. Big things follow by themselves.
Anyway, enough said about change. Let’s change.