“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” Bill Gates
20 years ago, I went through a deep teenager crisis which completely disrupted my life trajectory. From being best student in class and a competitive judo player, I became the shadow of myself, dropped out of school, and picked up multiple addictions.
This experience changed my life forever. I was only 18 but I thought back then that I was like already dead and would never feel joy again. Surprisingly, though, this fiasco turned out to be the most fruitful phase of my life.
It started as a reaction to a minor tension between my parents. I was probably not mature enough to understand and accept what was going on. As a result, the paradigm of success I had at the time was not making sense any longer and it exploded in pieces.
In a desperate attempt to numb the pain, I indulged into self-destruction. I stopped sport competitions, started to smoke, first a cigarette, then a joint, then a bong, etc. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd.
I needed meaning but could not find it anywhere. I had picked up philosophy classes but what they were teaching there seemed superficial and did not answer my questions –or my distress. I dropped out of university after a month.
I felt increasingly isolated. I stopped talking to people. I would just write notes to my mother. I had built a hut in the forest where I would spend most of my time, in the loneliness of my morbid thoughts. So when people say “If only I could be 18 or 20 again…”, I think to myself that it was actually the worst time of my life.
It took me some time to recover. My parents had the wisdom not to push me. I did not want any help. They were confident that I would somehow get back on track. The odds seemed against them at that time. But actually they were right. I made it through.
In retrospect, I realize that there were many steps involved in getting over failure and building my life back. Let me try and share them with you.Advertising
1. Give up the victim mindset
When something bad happens, we tend to picture ourselves as victims. As a result, we adopt a passive attitude: if the world did us wrong, then it should also make things better again for us. It is as if we were trying to convince ourselves that there is nothing we can do to bounce back. After all, it is a comfortable thought: if there is nothing we can do about it, we have nothing to do but bemoan our fate.
The first step in my “recovery” process was a mindset shift. I simply realized that nothing was going to change by just waiting for it. I had been through tough times but I could not expect the solution to come from outside. I had to hold myself accountable for what was coming next. No one will look after you if you don’t start by looking after yourself.
This realization did not come overnight. It took me almost a year to get there. Of course it was frightening. When you are at the bottom, you can’t fall lower. If you try to come back up, you expose yourself to failure again.
But the biggest risk at this stage was not to take any risk at all. By maintaining self-destructive behaviors, I would just lose any chance of a better life. What did I have to lose but the hell I was living in?
I had touched the bottom and pushed it with my foot. I was ready for action and committed myself to getting back to the surface. There was a long way to go.
2. Change the setting
Our lives are deeply influenced by our environment. The place where we live, the people we know, etc. They are part of our identity; they are constant reminders of who we have been to date. To a certain extent, they anchor us in our past.
This is natural, and even comforting. But it may be unhelpful when we strive to create change in our lives. People sometimes expect us to behave in a certain way which makes it difficult to adopt new behaviors.
When I decided to rebuild my life, I felt the urge to break free from the past –at least temporarily. I enrolled at the university in a town where I knew no one. It made it less awkward to try and be the new me that I wanted to be. There was no sign from the past; I could focus on the present. It was like a cocoon in which I could be born again.Advertising
Sometimes changing the outside makes it easier to change inside. This is what behavior psychologist James Prochaska calls “Environment Control”.
Depending on the severity of your setback, you may not have to go as far as moving country or city. But taking a 1- or 2-week break at least can prove beneficial. It will facilitate the introspection process and help you get a fresh perspective on the situation.
3. Know yourself
Major breakdowns shatter our identity. In order to move on with life, we have to rebuild a sense of self.
Who am I? How did this fiasco come along? Where do I want my life to go from now on? I knew I needed answers to these questions in order to get back on track.
When life doesn’t go the way we want, we tend to avoid mirrors and the ugly reflection they send back to us. Yet facing the mirror and raising awareness is essential to pick ourselves back up after a fiasco. Without self-awareness, any behavior change process has very little chance to mature.
I used two mirrors: reading and dreaming. I would read voraciously anything that could help me understand the situation better: psychology papers, books on mental illnesses and spiritual experiences, biographies from people I felt somehow related to, articles about substance abuse, etc.
This is also when I started to write down all my dreams. I had a Dictaphone next to my bed and I would wake up at night to record a few words and remember the dreams the next day. I became an expert dreamer! I could remember up to 20 dreams per night very vividly. I didn’t feel the need to analyze them. By simply acknowledging them and exploring my subconscious, things were getting clearer: my fears, my aspirations, the people I loved, what mattered to me.
Self-understanding leads to self-acceptance. It is the cornerstone of any genuine reconstruction process.Advertising
4. Body first
Critical setbacks in life leave us with a lot of uncertainties. We doubt whether any activity is worth pursuing.
At the peak of my personal crisis, I wouldn’t listen to any music anymore because I could not identify myself any longer with anything. Why would I listen to this song rather than this other one?
The first certainty that emerged out of the chaos was the importance of physical health. I did not know which life track I would eventually follow, but I was sure that I would be better equipped under any scenario if fit. This fundamental belief was where I started my reconstruction process from.
I went back to a healthy life with regular exercise, pushups every day, a balanced diet, no smoking or drinking, etc. The downward spiral was over. I was engaged in a process of progression which helped regain self-confidence.
When we are in good shape, our thoughts are clearer and we manage our emotions better. Our body is ultimately our home, our temple. Treating it with respect is essential to rebuilding a positive sense of self.
5. Mull it over and get it out
A life crisis is a traumatic event. We can be tempted to avoid thinking about it and live in denial in order to reduce our pain. Yet this can’t be fruitful in the long run. We have to face reality and confront our suffering if we want to go beyond it.
At the same time, we shouldn’t get stuck in unpleasant thoughts and relive in our mind the fiasco we have been through again and again. We need to eventually get it out of our system.
The way I did it was through writing. For about a year, I wrote poetry. I had some very strong feelings inside that I needed to crystallize in order not to drag them along. This was my emotional catharsis.Advertising
Creative activities such as journaling or painting can be immensely helpful in getting you over the bad aftertaste left after a personal fiasco. The point is not to create a masterpiece, but to let go of limiting emotions.
6. Set goals
Goal-setting probably saved my life! As I engaged in a reconstruction process, I felt deeply frustrated with where I stood. Setting personal objectives allowed me to set eyes on a new horizon and move forward. I was perhaps very far from where I wanted to be but I was on my way there, step by step, day after day.
I wrote a list of the goals I wanted to achieve in life, organized them by category (physical, intellectual, artistic, etc.), and kept a daily log of the activities that were me getting closer to these aspirations. This provided me with a sense of direction and helped me be at peace with my present self.
By setting goals, you make yourself responsible –you adopt the viewpoint that you can do something about your situation. By having goals, you take ownership of your destiny and become the architect of your life.
Don’t set too many at first. Try with three to five simple goals, with a focus on daily or weekly habits. Make them S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound); e.g., exercising 3 times per week, reading 20 minutes per day, or drinking 2 L of water daily.
When failure becomes an opportunity
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill
If you had asked me back then, I would have told you that I would rather have avoided this fiasco. It’s only years later that I recognized how beneficial it had actually been. A breakdown may shake you but it does not destroy you –it de-constructs you. The bricks of your life may be scattered all over the place but they are still here. This gives you a rare chance to rebuild from scratch the life you want.
It took me some time to get back on track. I eventually managed to enter a prestigious university and started a career in investment banking. 12 years later, I launched my own venture to help people reach their own life goals. It was a way to close the loop: failing, growing, and sharing.
The lessons I have learned and the habits I have picked up through this personal crisis stay with me to this day. This fiasco ended up having a positively transformative impact in my life.
When you experience personal chaos, you may not see the light at the end of the tunnel right away. It may feel like everything is over. Don’t freak out, it could well be instead a blessing in disguise and a rare opportunity for you to step back and build the life you want.
Last Updated on March 21, 2019
11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits
Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:
You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”
But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:
To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.
It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,
“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”
The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.
In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.
Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?
1. Start Small
The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.
Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.
Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.
Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.
Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.
Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.
It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.
Do less today to do more in a year.
2. Stay Small
There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.
But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.
If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.
When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.
I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.
Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.
The same thing applies to every other habit out there.
Pick a (small) number and stay at it.
3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence
No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.
There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.
What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.
Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.
This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.
This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.
4. Those Who Track It, Hack It
When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.
Peter Drucker said,
“What you track is what you do.”
So track it to do it — it really helps.
But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.
5. Measure Once, Do Twice
Peter Drucker also said,
“What you measure is what you improve.”
So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:
For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.
Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.
6. All Days Make a Difference
Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.
Will two? They won’t.
Will three? They won’t.
Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.
What happened? Which one made you fit?
The answer to this (Sorites paradox) is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.
No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).
7. They Are Never Fully Automated
Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.
But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.
What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.
It will just become a part of your lifestyle.
The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.
It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.
It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.
8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.
Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.
When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.
The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.
Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.
9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It
The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.
Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.
You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”
But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.
So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.
If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.
This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect and why process-oriented people don’t.
The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.
Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.
10. Punish Yourself
Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.
I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.
It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.
You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.
No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.
The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.
But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.
11. Reward Yourself
When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.
Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.
The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.
After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.
If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.
Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.
If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.
In the End, It Matters
What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.
When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.
And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:
“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”
More Resources to Help You Build Habits
- How to Break a Bad Habit and Retrain Your Brain
- Understand Your Habits to Control Them 100%
- How to Break a Habit and Hack the Habit Loop
- How to Break Bad Habits (The Only Effective Way)
Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com
|||^||Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox|
|||^||Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?|
|||^||Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit|
|||^||Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes|