Researchers estimate that up to 40% of our daily activities are habitual. You can harness the power of habit to help you achieve your goals by setting up structures and routines that ensure you're working toward your desired outcome.
- It's kind of shocking to think about, but research shows that about 40% of our daily activities are actually habits. There are the obvious ones like showering or brushing your teeth, but whether it's the path you take to drive to work or checking the news online when you sit down at your desk every day, there are a lot more habits in your life than you might imagine. That's actually good news when it comes to setting and achieving goals. That's because if you can form the right habits, then you don't have to work quite so hard and be quite so intentional all the time about doing what you know you should.
Instead, the behavior becomes automatic, and you're on a set pathway to success. So how do you form those habits of success? A while back, I interviewed New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, who's also the author of the best-selling book Habit. Here are three important insights that he shared with me. First, you have to start with a question: what habits do you want to cultivate? As we've discussed, you can't pick 20 new habits and expect to integrate them all at once. Instead, start with one keystone habit, something you know will be good for you and will make everything else in your life easier.
For instance, let's say you want to get in shape. If you decide to make it a routine to go to the gym every morning before work, that will take time and investment to build into a genuine habit, but the payoff will be enormous, because with the physical health you're cultivating, you'll have more energy for every other task in your life. Next, be patient with yourself. People often ask how long it takes to form a habit, but the truth is it's different for everyone. Some people form habits very quickly. That could be a good thing, like going to the gym, or a bad thing, like getting addicted to drugs.
For others, it takes far more repetition, and you have to be patient, but know that every time you repeat an action, you're strengthening the neural pathways and making it easier the next time. Finally, recognize that you can't simply eradicate bad habits. Your brain doesn't just forget them. Instead, it's about retraining and rewiring your brain. The way to do it is to identify the cue for your habit. In other words, what prompts you to do something? For instance, you might be feeling stressed at work, so to relieve that pressure, you start checking social media.
Then, you need to identify a new behavior to substitute. The key is that the new behavior also needs to provide a sense of reward or it won't meet the same needs and it won't stick. For instance, you probably can't substitute I'll check Facebook for I'll just do my taxes instead, but you can think about another reward that might be meaningful to you. You could try deep breathing for two minutes, which would calm you down and relieve some of the stress. Or you could take a quick break to chat with a coworker, which is also social but could potentially lead to deeper workplace collaboration.
As humans, we have a finite supply of willpower, so we have to deploy it wisely. One of the best ways to conserve our mental resources and get more done is to be conscious about habit formation. That's because the more we can get done automatically, the more we can use our willpower strategically to accomplish even greater things.
- Setting your goals
- How many goals should you have?
- The difference between a goal and a to-do list
- Building systems to help you succeed
- Making success a way of life
- Learning to ignore the unimportant
- Rewarding yourself for success