Intuitively, you know that your habits are the only things standing between you and everything you want in life.
“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits — practical, emotional, and intellectual — systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.” –William James
But in practice, doing the work necessary to upgrade your habits isn’t easy. In fact, it might be one of the most difficult battles you’ll ever fight. The stakes couldn’t be higher: you know a better quality of life is available to you and those you care about if you upgrade your habits. If you don’t upgrade your habits, eventually you’ll have to face enormous regrets.
The Power of Habit is one of the most important primers and science backed starting points for upgrading your habits. The book contains vital reminders:
“Once you know a habit exists, you have the responsibility to change it . . . others have done so . . . That, in some ways, is the point of this book. Perhaps a sleep-walking murderer can plausibly argue that he wasn’t aware of his habit, and so he doesn’t bear responsibility for his crime, but almost all of the other patterns that exist in most people’s lives — how we eat and sleep and talk to our kids, how we unthinkingly spend our time, attention and money — those are habits that we know exist. And once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom and the responsibility to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp and the only option left is to get to work.” ― Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Duhigg boils it down brilliantly:
“The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.”
I’ve found four things are game changers to help effectively build and upgrade habits. They are: Systems, Mindset, Identification, and Implementation. We’ll run through each of them here, plus a few brief tips and ideas to help apply and immediately implement them.
1. Systems: Set up the exact systems you need for incentives and accountability… then ensure you can’t escape.
This year I didn’t just set new year’s resolutions. I set up systems with accountability and incentives to ensure I know exactly what I need to daily, weekly, monthly, and even quarterly. I got started by simply keeping a better record of what I did throughout the day. After each month, my wife and I go over our records. Because we write them down, it makes it easy to go over them at the end of each month and quarter. We then talk about how those tasks are helping us reach larger quarterly goals. Either we’re on track, or we’re not. With this system, I know I have to record what I’m doing because I’m going to be discussing it with someone else who is doing the same thing… When you know that your Monday through Friday tasks aren’t going to be forgotten, you start making different choices. When you know that someone is going to hold you accountable… you become much more likely to upgrade your habits to ones that better serve you.
If you want to setup this system for accountability today, stop planning. Pick up your phone right now and text a friend, spouse, or even acquaintance with the challenge, “I want to (workout more). Let’s track our workouts M-F, and keep each other accountable.” It’s that easy to get started, but most people won’t. It’s that easy to talk about, but actually following through and being serious about it is where the rubber meets the road. Ideally, you want to setup a system of accountability where both parties can’t escape, and where you win a few victories together. You’ve got to work hard to make this system of accountability fun so it’s easy to follow through.
I can guarantee that every person reading this knows at least a few people who would love to help them be more accountable.
2. Mindset: Upgrade your mindset and linguistic skills so you can align incentives, and negotiate scenarios that help create more value for everyone involved.
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” –Ludwig Wittgenstein
Once you have systems set up for accountability, the next battle is to develop a mindset necessary to foster habit building and upgrades.
The best way to do this?
Why? If you can’t say what you intend to do, change, or become, you’ll have a hard time turning it into a reality. You must wage a constant battle to upgrade your language so you can better articulate your vision, actions, and plans.
Like clockwork, when I read and spend time in the presence of someone who is wise… I leave their words feeling refreshed and brimming with a mindset that is conducive to creating good works. The practice of reading gives us new language and new words which expand our definitions of what is possible. When you can better articulate what you want, you exponentially increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to create it.
Take the idea of upgrading your habits. I found that it wasn’t until I read The Power of Habit, that I became armed with the language and concepts to make upgrading my habits easier.
Reading TPOH led me to Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.
After I read Spark, I realized that my brain would work better if I did more cardio to cause my body and brain to release more Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor. So I upgraded my workout to include more cardio. After this upgrade, my mind and physiology were feeling great, which led me to read Travels.
There, I became obsessed with direct experience, which put me in a very receptive state when I came across the next book I read.