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The One Habit That Can Transform Your Life Forever

The One Habit That Can Transform Your Life Forever

Over the last 31 years of my life, I’ve learned a lot of habits.

I’ve studied executives from companies like Cisco, Google, Yahoo, VMware, Box, Optimizely and MTV and read numerous business articles and books ranging from Tony Robbins to Seth Godin. Many of you have searched endlessly for an answer to the question – what can I do on a daily basis that can ensure the right positive mindset?

If I only had to choose one habit that’s made the most dramatic impact on my life, I would choose this one: The 10 years test. This habit has helped me get back on my feet time after time.

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Fight or Flight Mode

Whenever I get thrown into a tough situation, my initial reaction is feel negative. I’ll get angry, upset, worried, panicked, frustrated or (insert any other negative emotion you can think of here).

Sound familiar?

My guess is that 80% of the people in the world have this exact same reaction. The reason?

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In the early (and primitive) days of mankind, humans were conditioned to be in a “fight or flight” mode. After all, it was critical for humans to trust their emotions and instinct to survive. Nowadays, we use rational thought a lot more to assess perceived threats, but our emotional response can still be very similar.

For example: when you run into a tough situation, do you notice you have an actual physiological response to a perceived threat? I know I do. My shoulders tense up. My breathing becomes less regular. My eyebrows furrow. My smile turns into a frown. This why humans are so quick to react negatively in rough situations. We panic. We stress. We worry.

It’s only natural.

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Problems Solved

When I flunked my economics class in college, I was devastated. I thought I would never land my dream job. I was wrong. I studied harder than ever the next quarter. I even went to office hours with the professor. I aced the class. I bounced back. I got 6 job offers shortly, including offers from Cisco and Google. Today I have my dream job as the VP of Partnerships at an incredible company.

When I broke up with the first person I had ever fallen in love with, I was worried that I could never live a life as fun and awesome as the one I had with her. I was wrong. I bounced back. I got into the best shape of my life (I’ve run 406 miles in 65 days), have traveled to places I only dreamed about going to (like Spain, Croatia and Portugal) and am more excited about life than ever before. Next up? Traveling to Hawaii, Hong Kong, Taipei and Tokyo. I can’t wait for the next adventure. It’s time for a new chapter in life.

When I got a letter in the mail threatening a lawsuit, I was stressed out like never before. Seriously, I could feel my heart drop into my stomach and trust me, that’s a terrible feeling. I remembered lying in bed worrying about the future. I thought it was a huge disaster. I was wrong. I bounced back. I called an attorney and took care of it in less than 2 weeks. Problem solved.

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So how did I deal with these situations?

The Secret Habit

Here’s the secret habit:

It’s called the “10 years test.” All you have to do is ask these 3 simple questions:

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  1. Will this matter in 10 days?
  2. Will this matter in 10 months?
  3. Will this matter in 10 years?

Every time I do this, I find that the answer to the last question is almost always “no.” And that changes everything.

Give it a try. It could change your life. It changed mine.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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