We are nothing more than a collection of our habits
Did you know that we truly are nothing more than a collection of ALL of habits - good and bad, and I believe your level of discipline is directly correlated to the number of self-serving habits you have compared to how many self-destructive ones you have. Being a “disciplined person” is just what it looks like when you have a bunch of self-serving ones.
So, let’s talk about why we are essentially a collection of our daily habits.
The human brain and body are built for efficiency and automation. Because our conscious mind can only process a relatively small amount of information at any one time, our subconscious forms habits whereby we don’t have to think about most things we do. Most people form habits by accident. Sometimes they form habits that support them in reaching their goals, but oftentimes they form habits that are in complete opposition to these goals. If you can learn to design and stick to high performing habits, I believe you can accomplish anything you want in life.
Sometimes we have good habits like waking up early enough to do a morning routine, eating a healthy breakfast, or writing down what we want to accomplish each day at the beginning of the day. Sometimes we have bad habits like picking up junk food when we are stressed or in a rush, reacting to what people say to us too quickly, or drinking too much after work.
If we master our habits, we master our lives. So, here’s how to master your habits.
When you’re trying to instill a new habit it helps to know how they work.
Habits work a lot like a space shuttle. 80% of a space shuttle’s weight is in the rocket that launches it. The rest is much lighter.
The purpose of the rocket is to get the spaceship going fast enough so that it can escape the pull of earth’s gravity. The vast majority of the energy is used in the first 2 min which takes it roughly 26 miles up out of earth’s atmosphere.
Habits work the same way.
The first few days when we start any new habit we are full of motivation and it’s actually easy. You’re optimistic. It’s fun.
Then habit gravity starts to set in, it starts to take more effort to maintain and we may even have some defiance against the new habit because it’s taking us out of autopilot (i.e. comfort zone).
Then we experience active resistance. This is where it is really hard. Doubt may creep in about why we’re even doing this in the first place, and we may not feel that same motivation that we felt in the beginning. This is when it truly feels like a grind.
Then at the top we start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and if we just keep going it will become automatic and we reach escape velocity. That point in which it becomes automatic and takes little to no effort to maintain.
So the goal is to reach escape velocity.
How to reach escape velocity
The most comprehensive and scientific book written on habits is Atomic Habits by James Clear. Below are the 4 laws of habit building from the book that lays out how to install a new habit.
1st Law (Cue) - Make it obvious Put some sort of cue in your direct line of sight so that it’s obvious what habit you’re working to build. For example your daily vitamins in your bathroom so when you brush your teeth you remember to take your vitamins. Have your workout clothes set out in your bathroom so when you wake up they are right there waiting for you to put them on.
2nd Law (Craving) - Make it attractive When tracking my food I am always more successful if I have meal prepped some TASTY food. It takes a bit of upfront work each week, but it’s so much easier to choose the healthy option when the healthy option is also the most attractive in my fridge. For example have your favourite meat in your favourite marinade all cooked and ready to eat. Have your favourite veggies all cut up and ready to grill on the BBQ.
Work on finding ways of making the habit you’re trying to build the most attractive thing you could do.
3rd Law (Response) - Make it easy When it comes to working out on a regular bases, commit to working out for 10 minutes every day. Keep it so easy that you don't have an excuse to skip it. You may find you end up working out much longer, but setting the bar super low helped can help you build the habit.
One of the biggest mistakes humans make is that we don’t aim low enough. With our habits, our goals, etc. Give yourself something you know with certainty you can manage, and that consistency will build confidence and integrity within yourself. Then you just add from there.
4th law (Reward) - Make it satisfying
“With a fuller understanding of what causes our brain to repeat some behaviors and avoid others, let’s update the Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is *immediately* rewarded is repeated. What is *immediately* punished is avoided.” -James Clear
I gave examples of different habits for each law so you could see how each law applied to different types of activities, but you should consider each of these when building a new habit.
Lets take an example of instilling a new habit of meditating daily:
1st Law (Cue) - Make it obvious Put your meditation cushion on the coffee table in your living room so you will walk by it first thing in the morning.
2nd Law (Craving) - Make it attractive Burning some incense that you LOVE while meditating, which make it more enjoyable.
3rd Law (Response) - Make it easy Rather than trying to do 20 minutes twice per day, committed to doing 10 minutes per day.
4th law (Reward) - Make it satisfying Rewarded yourself with something at the end - the perfect cup of coffee or tea.
Other important things to consider when building a new habit
Design your environment to succeed
One of the most cliché phrases in the world is “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”
Well, it’s true. Humans are social beings, and we evolved to be accepted by our tribe. In order to be accepted, we almost ALWAYS adopt the same behaviors, beliefs, mannerisms, speech, etc. of the people closest to us. If you hang out with people that have the habit or lifestyle you’re trying to instill in yourself, it’s almost inevitable that you will succeed. On the flip side, if you want to do something counter to everyone in your life, your chances of success go way down. It’s still possible, but much harder.
Want to be fit? Hang out with people that exercise frequently and are conscious about what they eat.
Want to make more money? Hang out with people that have worked hard for their wealth.
Want to have a better intimate relationship? Hang out with couples in solid, committed relationships that really support and encourage each other.
This doesn’t mean that if your family or friends don’t behave the way you want them to that you have to drop them. It’s just a suggestion to spend some more time with people that have what you want. This could be THE most important way to ensure your success.
“One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior. ... Your culture sets your expectation for what is ‘normal.’ Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself. You’ll rise together.” - James Clear
Give yourself something to run towards
Look for some kind of event, occasion or that can motivate you to stay consistent in your new habit. For example training for an event, having a favourite outfit you want to fit into again, a new workout top for not eating junk food/sweets/processed food for 30,45 or 60 days.
Use Inevitability thinking You want to set up your life, and especially your habits, in a way that it becomes inevitable that you WILL follow through.
Put in a consequence for yourself that provides some external motivation to stick to your habit. For example if you miss a regularly scheduled workout or meditation session you have to donate $100 to charity or pay an accountability partner $100.
Be precise Decide specifically when and where you will do this habit. The more clear you are in your mind about this, the more likely it will be to happen.
“I’m going to meditate in the living room immediately after brushing my teeth each morning” for instance.
Your turn: Design your next habit
Take a piece of paper and pen, and answer the following questions. You don’t have to have an answer for every single one of these, but the more you do the higher likelihood of success.
1. What habit will you choose to start out of all of the possible new habits?
One phrase that author and podcaster Tim Ferriss often repeats is to “Pick the lead domino.”
Instilling the RIGHT habit is a lot like dominos. We could create a habit that serves a single function. Or we could implement the habit, that if stuck to makes all others easier or irrelevant.
For instance, I could make a habit of meditating for 20 min., I could make one of journaling for 20 min., or I could make one of going to sleep at 9 pm every night knowing that if I do that I will naturally wake up at 5:30 am giving me enough time to do 3-4 other things each morning. So you want to ask yourself what habit if instilled in your life would make all others easier or irrelevant?
2. When and where will you do it? 3. How will you make it obvious? 4. How will you make it attractive? 5. How will you make it easy? (aim LOW) 6. How will you make it satisfying? What will your reward be? 7. Is there a big event or another goal you could tie this to? 8. What will be your consequence if you don’t stick to this habit?
I challenge you to stick to this habit every day for 30 days, and if you miss a day just start over. If you can stick to this every day for 30 days it will be ingrained into your life, and you can focus on the next habit.
Now just for a second imagine yourself 30 days from now what your life will be like once you’ve instilled this habit. It’s a habit, and by nature, it will feel effortless and just be a part of who you are now. How do you feel about yourself? What are you now able to do that you weren’t before.
Tony Robbins often says that most people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in two or three decades.
By focusing on one small habit at a time until it becomes automatic and then repeating that for decades, you will experience a tidal wave of exponential growth.
Remember that disciplined people are just people that have more self-serving habits than self-destructive. They don’t have more willpower than everyone else. They just have habits that make it really easy, effortless even, to do things that are healthy and good for them.
Intentionally creating habits that make it easier for you to be more present, energized, happy or whatever else you want to be is how you become more disciplined. It’s also how you create a great relationship with the time that you have left on earth.
Master your habits, master your life.