The power of habits

What do high-achieving people possess that low-achieving people lack? Clear goals? Time management? Ambition? Positive attitude?
I use the term habits and not traits, because I believe that the above examples, and ultimately where we go in life depends on the simple choices we make every day. Choices ranging from following a to-do list, to what we eat in the morning, to how much time we spend browsing the internet. 

Here’s a simple, two-part question: What is something you want and what is stopping you from having it?

It can be anything -- financial, relational, physical, mental -- whatever. Maybe you want more money. Or maybe you want to overcome social anxiety. Lose weight. Grow your network. Run a marathon. Learn a skill. Be more productive. Write a book. Teach something.

Whatever it is you want -- what is the thing holding you back? 

I would argue it’s habits -- the little details, daily routines that make or break our ability to achieve the things we want. 

I may not be an authority, but I think about this subject often and over time, like building a muscle, I have developed the ability to change my habits to accomplish goals. 

Example: I recently decided that I wanted to be able to pay my bills while being my own boss. I figured out how to do it by goal setting and changing my habits. Now I want to be able to pay my bills, save for retirement, take my girlfriend on a tropical vacation, and still be my own boss. That one's a ways off (sorry, Amy). But you get the picture. 

Here’s the thing -- getting what you want out of life is simple. Not easy. But simple. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, you just have to create habits that will propel you to where you want to go.

So, what habits are these? I don’t know which ones will work for you, but here are a few that work pretty well for me. These are specifically useful for time management, but I would argue that they can be applied to anything, since managing your time is a critical part of making something happen. I hope you find them useful.

  1. Set goals. I can’t over state the importance of this. Set them often and write them down. Tell your friends and post them on your bathroom mirror. The trick is to get them planted in your subconscious so you naturally gravitate toward accomplishing them. For more on goals, watch thisBrian Tracy video.
  2. Write a to-do list for each day before you go to bed. Write down all the things you want to accomplish, and then circle the three most important. Do those first. 
  3. Write a to-don't list. Seriously. Think of the things you do everyday that are time wasters. For me, it is mindlessly browsing the web. If you can eliminate, or at least reduce the amount of time you spend wasting your day, that’s a big step. 
  4. Do something productive as soon as you wake up. This could be running around the lake, or simply making your bed. Just do something that sets you on track to be productive, rather than waking up and checking your facebook page. Routines happen. Just make sure they are positive ones. 
  5. Exercise every day. This is a cliche but still a big one. Even if it’s just taking a 15 minute walk (although something more vigorous is preferred). Moving your body is good for your health, but just as important, it gives you a mental boost and gives you a chance to clean the slate. Not only that, working out makes you feel awesome. I get my best ideas when I'm running.  
  6. Eat well. At least during the day when you need to be productive. I recommend fruit smoothies or toast and peanut butter for breakfast. Lots of greens. You get the picture. And don’t eat so much at lunch that you’ll be worthless all afternoon. 
  7. Work in 90 minute increments. Research shows that humans can focus without distraction for about 90 minutes. Choose one specific task, set a timer, take five deep breaths and try to work until it goes off. It helps to silence your phone and avoid checking email or facebook, or anything that will sidetrack you. Once the 90 minutes is up, take a break. Go outside, read the news, whatever you need to do to clear your mind. 
  8. Focus on one thing at a time. All the experts say it: "In today’s digital culture, there are countless distractions." I say figure out how to avoid the trap. This one is the most challenging for me, but if you can master the art of being present on a singular task, you will be way ahead of the game. Similar to tip 7, it helps to stay present by minimizing distractions, i.e. bury your phone, disconnect from wifi if possible. If you struggle with this one, try taking a yoga class. 

That’s it. I am sure there are more great ideas. In fact, if you have some, please share. But these are ones that work for me. They’re not perfect, and it is not easy to change your habits. But it is possible and anyone can do. So go for it. What have you got to lose?