Advertising
Advertising

What to Do When You Want to Build Better Habits (But Can’t Get Started)

What to Do When You Want to Build Better Habits (But Can’t Get Started)

It was 1978.

In the years that would follow, Dean Hovey would meet with Steve Jobs and design the first mouse for Apple Computer. But today, he was a junior at Stanford University, majoring in Product Design, and he was sitting in drawing class.

His professor, Jan Molenkamp, asked if Dean could draw the roof of Stanford’s famous Hoover Tower from memory. “Without looking, can you draw Hoover Tower’s roof? Can you recall its shape, color, and texture?”

Hovey was surprised. He wasn’t sure what to draw. Years later, he would write…

For the past three years, I had been a student at the University and ridden my bicycle or walked by Hoover Tower hundreds of times. Yet I couldn’t confidently state the roof’s shape or its color, or composition. While I’d seen it a hundred times — I really hadn’t. (Source)

Even though Hoover Tower was part of Dean’s daily life, he wasn’t really aware of it.

Advertising

I find that our habits often work the same way. We fall into certain patterns and routines — sometimes good, sometimes bad — without really being aware of the factors that are driving our choices and actions.

More importantly, just as Dean Hovey couldn’t draw the tower without first being aware of it, you and I can’t master our habits without first being aware of the decisions and actions we are taking on a daily basis. Awareness is the first and most critical piece for building good habits and breaking bad ones. Without awareness, even the most intelligent and talented people can struggle to make the right decisions on a consistent basis.

This may have you wondering…

What can you do to raise your levels of awareness? How can you change your bad habits if you’re not aware of them in the first place?

Again, I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here is one tactic that has worked for me…

For Better Habits, Measure Something

What gets measured, gets managed.
—Peter Drucker

If you’re serious about making change, then you can’t sit around and hope to magically become aware of the important things. Instead, you need to make an active effort to measure and track what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

This is much simpler than you might think and it’s also one of the best ways to kickstart new behaviors. Here are a few examples…

Exercise — I have a good streak going with weightlifting right now. I’ve trained at least once per week for over a year (which includes travel to IstanbulMoscowItalySouth Carolina, Portland, and a handful of other places). And for the last four months in particular, I have been in the gym at least 3 times per week.

It all started when I began tracking my pushup workouts. That simple action prompted me to track the rest of my training with a more watchful eye. It sounds so simple, but writing down how many days I was training each week helped me get my butt in the gym more consistently. (And along the way, I doubled the amount of pushups I could do.)

Further reading: 6 Truths About Exercise That Nobody Wants to Believe

Writing — Before November 2012, I thought that I was writing consistently, but I wasn’t. Eventually, I decided to measure my writing output and realized that I was unpredictable and erratic. I wrote when I felt motivated or inspired, which turned out to be about once every three weeks.

Advertising

After becoming aware of how inconsistent I was, I decided to set up a Monday and Thursday publishing schedule. It’s been 10 months now and I haven’t missed a week. (You can look back in the archives and see every article I’ve written.) My Monday and Thursday posts might look like an old habit now, but the only reason I started writing on this schedule is because I measured my output and discovered my inconsistency.

Further reading: The Difference Between Professionals and Amateurs and What is Your Average Speed?

Money and Business — According to many historians, John Rockefeller was the richest man in the history of the world. Recently, I read about his life and learned that Rockefeller was known for tracking every single penny across his massive empire. After reading about Rockefeller’s strategies, I was inspired to track my own finances even more closely.

What happened? I quickly became more aware of my finances and discovered a handful of places where I could cut costs and increase earnings. Furthermore, my increased tracking and measurement has helped me learn about things like tax efficiency and asset allocation, which I had previously thought very little about.

Notice that in each example above, I didn’t start by worrying about all the improvements I needed to make. I simply started by becoming more aware of my behavior. I tracked and measured. And by paying attention to what I was doing and how I was spending my time, ideas for improving my habits naturally presented themselves.

Your Challenge

It is all about paying attention.
—Dean Hovey

Nothing happens before awareness. If you aren’t aware of your decisions, then you can’t do anything to improve them — no matter how smart you are.

With that in mind, I’d like to challenge you to measure something in your life for the next week.

Pick something that is important to you and make an effort to be more aware of the things that drive your decisions and actions. Don’t worry about changing your whole life. Don’t judge yourself for not being as good as you want to be. Just pick one thing that’s important to you and measure it. Take stock of it. Be aware of it.

Your awareness and your habits go hand-in-hand. The simple act of noticing what you do is the first step for improving how you do it. If you recognize how you’re spending your time, then the next step will often reveal itself.

Featured photo credit: Chris Tse via flickr.com

More by this author

7 Reasons You Haven’t Found Your Passion Yet 7 Ways To Get Over Fear and Make Big Life Changes Fast Growth Is Overrated — Here’s Why Famous Biologist Louis Agassiz On The Usefulness Of Learning Through Observation How to Fall in Love With Boredom and Unlock Your Mental Toughness

Trending in Productivity

1 How to Succeed in Life on Your Own Terms: 7 Essential Steps 2 How to Spot Job Burnout and Cope with It 3 10 Best Calendar Apps to Stay on Track in 2019 4 25 Brain Exercises for Memory That Actually Help You Remember More 5 11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on August 19, 2019

How to Succeed in Life on Your Own Terms: 7 Essential Steps

How to Succeed in Life on Your Own Terms: 7 Essential Steps

There is a great deal of advice in the world telling us how to succeed in life, but often we are given advice that isn’t tailored to our needs, desires and priorities. Success means different things to each of us, and living a life that feels genuinely successful to me might be very different to your idea of a successful life.

Naturally, when we follow the advice of someone else, which is tailored to their life goals and personality, we can end up with something that doesn’t deliver on the promise. We don’t get rewarded with our vision of success: we get theirs.

This is why I’m a proponent of self-discovery, introspection and personal sovereignty. So how to succeed on your own terms?

These 7 essential steps are not going to tell you exactly what to do, but they will provide you with the tools and the questions to ask so that you can discover your own path, so you know how to succeed in life on your own terms.

1. Know Thyself

One of Socrates’ most well-known quotes is,

An unexamined life is not worth living.

I argue that an unexamined life is not a successful one. Self-knowledge is something we could dedicate our lives to, but I’m not suggesting you sit around and navel-gaze in order to find happiness and meaning.

Thankfully, there are people who have created techniques and systems that less us fast-forward through a lot of personal philosophizing, and quickly identify some key aspects of what makes us, us.

You might want to find out what your ideal daily schedule is,[1] and you can take tests that reveal just that. Or you might want to figure out what you need to get things done – and yes, there’s a quiz for that too.

Advertising

None of these tests are infallible, and some are more scientific than others, but the process of asking yourself questions about your behaviors and traits is invaluable when it comes to determining your path to succeed in life.

For example, if you know you are an introvert and are unhappy in your current workplace, it might be worth considering why that is (an open plan office space perhaps) and what you would prefer.

It’s these little questions that will provoke answers in you that can guide the decisions that truly improve your life now and in the future.

2. Figure out What Matters to You

What lights you up? This is a question that often gets forgotten as we age. A fortunate child will be given the stimulation they desire in the form of bright toys, affection and entertainment. Little by little, the things that bring a child joy get replaced by what society demands on their behalf.

When we return to that question, and ask ourselves what really matters and what brings us joy, we can move closer towards a successful life. It can help to think back to your childhood, and the times in your life when you were in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a flow state.[2]

In a state of flow, time slows and our focus is directed like a laser. We are fully present.

Whilst not everything in life that matters to you will conjure up a flow state, it’s a good indication of the kind of activities and experiences you can try to incorporate into your life on a regular basis.

A successful life is made up of moments like this, and when you know what matters to you and brings you a sense of joy and purpose, you can go about creating more of that.

3. Play to Your Strengths

Why spend your time only on mitigating your weaknesses, only to feel average? Instead, playing to your strengths and amplifying those skills and qualities you already have will help you go from average to extraordinary.

Advertising

If you’re great at big picture thinking and love dreaming up new ideas, but often lack attention to detail, acknowledge that. Then instead of trying to improve your analytical skills, focus instead on developing your existing skills of imagination and insight. When you need someone with a keen eye for detail, you can collaborate with those people.

Jackson Pollock was an extreme introvert, with no real desire to get his artwork in front of people. Fortunately, he had Clement Greenberg, who was much further towards the extrovert end of the spectrum, to popularize his work and get Pollock the publicity he needed.[3]

Start by identifying your strengths and what comes naturally to you. Then work on developing those and becoming known for those strengths. You can always find someone who will help you in fill in the gaps.

4. Listen to Yourself

It isn’t always clear to us that we’re on a path that leads us to failure or to success. People can spends decades in a job that is unfulfilling and slowly breaking their spirit, without even realizing it – until it’s too late. This is usually because they haven’t learned how to truly listen to themselves.

The challenge we face is that we’re listening to so many other sources of information; whether it’s the news, television, social media, family, friends or colleagues. Many may want to help, but that doesn’t mean they know what’s best for us. Only you know what success means for you, and working this out begins with listening to yourself.

Listening to yourself requires practice. It’s a daily effort, which over time, does get easier. That inner voice of wisdom will get clearer, and the decisions you make will feel more convincing.

To start, you could try to set aside 10 to 15 minutes when you first wake up, in silence. Rather than look at your phone, checking emails or social media, simply sit in silence, listening.

Ask yourself a simple question like, what am I feeling right now, in this moment? Notice the answer that bubbles up, without getting lost in the story. Starting an inner dialogue, without judgment is one of the key tools you can use to start making better decisions in your life.

Learn more about listening to your true self in this guide: How to Listen to Your Inner Voice for Greater Fulfillment

Advertising

5. Listen to Others (But Not Everyone)

Listening to yourself is one thing, but listening to others is crucial in order to learn, empathize and be of benefit to your community.

Truly listening to others is not just waiting patiently until it’s your turn to speak. Active listening requires focused attention, and the intention to understand where the other person is coming from.

When you do this, you can ask better questions and discover more about the world and everyone in it, as well as learn how to interact with others in order to succeed in life on your own terms.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to listen to everyone you come across. Trolls on the internet may come into the category of people not to listen to. Some people’s opinions will do more harm than good, as not everyone has your best interest in mind.

It’s worth identifying a shortlist of people whose opinions you will listen to. Brené Brown, author of the New York Times best-seller Daring Greatly, recommends taking a 1-inch x 1-inch square of paper and make a list of people whose opinions matter to you. These are the people who love you and will genuinely support and help you. According to Brown,

“If you need more paper, you need to edit.”

6. Make Time for Reflection

It’s easy to go through life without taking inventory of what you’re actually accomplishing. Missing this crucial step means we end up jumping from one goal to the next, without feeling like we’re getting anywhere.

Make time, ideally each day to reflect. You might keep a paper journal, or an online document. Either way, jot down:

  • What went well today
  • Something you’re grateful for
  • What would make tomorrow even better

Doing this can have measurable benefits to our overall sense of well-being, as well as keeping us focused for more success in the future.[4]

Advertising

It also helps combat feelings of lack and doubt, that arise when we compare ourselves to others. When we look at someone who appears to be more successful than us in an area of life, we can forget how far we’ve come and how much we have to be grateful for.

Making time to reflect on what you have accomplished is critical to keep you on track, and just not looking at what others are doing.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Your Mind

Arguably the most important step of all:

Remember that there’s nothing wrong in changing your mind and correcting course.

The path to a successful life is not straight and narrow. It meanders and there’s no harm in going back and picking a different (and better) route.

“I think our life is a journey, and we make mistakes, and it’s how we learn from those mistakes and rebound from those mistakes that sets us on the path that we’re meant to be on.” — Jay Ellis

Be willing to make mistakes, learn from them and change your mind. Ultimately, there’s no better way to succeed in life on your own terms.

More Articles About Achieving Success

Featured photo credit: Shirly Niv Marton via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next