Today, I want to talk about another takeaway from that book. And it’s juicy — it involves my own bad habits!
Now, there’s a ton of gold in that book, and I recommend you read it for yourself.
But here’s something you can apply today.
Want to fix your bad habits? Here’s your first step…
When we’re talking habits, we all have a lot of them. In fact, about 40% of our behaviors on any given day — if not more — are governed by habit. What you do when you wake up. What you eat for breakfast. What drink you have with breakfast. When you brush your teeth. Which clothes you wear. What you do before you leave for work every morning. What route you take to the office… And so on…
All throughout your day, so much of what you do is governed by daily habit.
Sure, there’s some variation from day to day, but you’re largely riding in the same groove, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
And what I don’t think that 40% stat even accounts for are the littler habits.
The fact that you roll out of bed and trudge into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee every morning is an obvious habit. Asked to name some of your morning habits or routines, you’re going to mention it. It’s something you’re conscious of.
But there are a ton of unconscious habits, too. Things like how you react when you’re cut off in traffic. Your internal dialog when the phone rings, but you’re busy with something else. What you do when your phone dings or vibrates, telling you that you have an email.
Asked what you habitually do every day, these may not cross your mind. They’re the unconscious habits we all have. And if 40% of your day is governed by obvious and conscious habits, I’d be willing to bet another 40-55% of your day is controlled, in large part, by the non-obvious, unconscious habitual responses to things going on around you.
These may not be daily habits, but they’re just as influential in your life.
If you have bad habits — and we all do — the key is to know what they are.
And so to fix your bad habits — as well as reinforce the good — the first thing you need to do is to start tracking them.
Start a daily activity journal. Use whatever format works for you. And preferably, make it portable.
If you prefer to work on your smart phone, use Google Docs or some other always-accessible document that you can update on the go.
If you’re a paper-and-ink person, find something you can carry around and write in whenever you have something to add.
Whatever you choose, make it something you’ll use.
Here’s what each entry in your habit journal should look like…
Enter the time, and what you did.
Here’s the first few lines from mine this morning:
5:20 am – woke up
5:30 am – answered emails: Brian Kurtz, Chris Wright, drank 1/2 jar green tea
5:45 am – dishes, listened to Power of Habit audiobook
6:30 am – banana
Go through your day, indicating what you did. If it’s work, get specific about what it is. If it’s food, say what you ate, and how much if it makes sense to.
You can also record all sorts of other things in there. How you felt. What you were thinking about. How distractible you were.
Put a password or a lock on this if you need to, because you need a space where you can be unfiltered, and honest with yourself. (Note, Google Drive doesn’t allow password protection of individual files, look into other solutions if you’re really concerned with someone else who might use your computer or phone stumbling onto your bad habits!)
This is meant to lay bare both your good habits and your bad…
It’s meant to bring things that are unconscious into the conscious.
If you’re snack-prone mid-morning (or right after everyone goes to bed), it’ll tell you when and what you eat.
If you check your email first thing when you wake up (see mine above!), it’ll tell you that.
If there are days when you should have done the dishes before you went to bed, but you didn’t and so you had to start your day by doing them (again, see mine above!), it’ll tell you how much that happens — and you’ll even be able to dive into how that impacts your morning’s productivity!
The idea of this is that you’ll start to notice things — both good and bad — about what you do.
And once you’re aware of your habits, you’ll notice some you want to change…
Now, I’m NOT telling you to start a journal, and then start making a list of all the habits you want to change. Quite the opposite, in fact. I think you should JUST keep your habit journal, and track your habits. Don’t set out to change any of them.
But here’s what happens.
When you start tracking your habits, you’ll want to do better.
You’ll think of the little things — like taking a brisk walk — that you’d love to see in your habit journal.
You’ll think of the other little things — like choosing a delicious Snickers bar over carrots — that you’d rather NOT write in your habit journal.
And slowly, you’ll start to shift those habits.
As you make yourself aware of your habits, and as I make myself aware of mine, we’ll decide to do more of the good habits, and less of the bad.
This approach has proven itself over and over again…
By bringing our behaviors into our awareness, we’ll do less of the ones we don’t like, and more of the ones we do.
For example, a study was done where participants were trying to lose weight. One group was asked to keep a food journal, the other wasn’t. No other differences were recommended between the groups. On average, those who kept a food journal lost more weight than those who didn’t.
If you keep a productivity journal, it’ll help you be more productive.
If you keep an exercise journal, it’ll help you exercise better and more frequently.
There’s more you can do, of course, but being honest with yourself is the all-important first step…
One more story, then I’m done…
In the book, The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg recounts the story of Alcoholics Anonymous. The 12-step approach, now famous, was scribbled down quickly. It wasn’t based in science, or any proven methodology of getting alcoholics to stay sober.
And yet it’s become a time-tested way for many alcoholics to fight their addiction, and win.
It’s not perfect — no approach is. But the number of success stories is now off the charts. The number of lives changed for the better is enormous. Lives saved. Families saved. People brought back from the brink to become leaders and positively impact hundreds and thousands of others.
And, in fact, the methods of AA and the 12 steps have, in the decades since it was started, started to be proven scientifically accurate long after they were first created.
And one of the key components, according to Duhigg, is that you simply can’t go through the 12 steps without being radically honest with yourself and others about your “wrongs” and “shortcomings” including but not limited to your alcohol habits. (See for yourself — read how many of the 12 steps involve being honest with God, yourself, and others about your behavior and innermost thoughts and feelings.)
The more honest you are — starting with being honest with yourself — the more control you gain over your habits…
So, start that journal. Get to know what you do throughout the day, what your behaviors are, and what habits they reveal.
Get radically honest with yourself.
And then notice what behaviors and habits you want to keep, and which ones you don’t.
I’ve got a few bad habits I know I want to kick. And there’s that little extra motivation — just in the habit journal — of not wanting to write down that I did them!
There are also good habits I want to develop, where I can complete them and reward myself by writing down that I got them done!
Either way, the habit journal makes it much easier.
I recommend you start your habit journal right now, and make it a personal commitment to yourself to continue it for the next two weeks, at a minimum.
You don’t have to show it to me or anyone else.
But you have to do it. For just two weeks. Then quit if you can’t stand doing it anymore. Or keep it up if you’ve noticed it starting to make a positive impact in your life.
And over the next two weeks, you should also pick up a copy of The Power of Habit and read it, to start to understand habits better. How they’re formed, how they’re changed, and what impact they have on everything from winning Super Bowls and Olympic Gold, to selling toothpaste, to making an aluminum company incredibly profitable, and more.
If you’re not already 100% in control of your habits, this could be the biggest breakthrough book you EVER read.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets