Setting goals for the new year is a fun and lovely and often inspiring activity that ignites a fire under our arses for a good week or even a month before we waddle back to our old ways and the luster of that once bright and bold goal fades. I say this often; set audacious goals that excite you. Goals that, as you lay your head down at night, keep you awake, dreaming and planning and plotting the ways in which you’ll see them to fruition. Alas, the goal, this audacious dream, is dependent on something that’s much more bland and boring: the almighty habit.
Great people have a fundamental understanding of the power of the habit. Their habits are set in stone, unbreakable and thus far unbroken. Their habits are in the name of something greater, one of those most grand and mighty goals that are relegated to our dreams for the majority of us, or simply for the simple reason that the right habits will create the right man. They know that the goal, the mission, the dream is dependent on the little things, not on some big, bold act or action, but in the daily processes that make up our lives.
Forming Habits Takes Time and A Lot Of Persistence.
Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, shaped the way we currently look at habits in a book he published in 1960, covering his other thoughts on behavior change, how long it takes to adopt new behaviors or get rid of old ones. The book, Psycho-Cybernetics, went on to become an blockbuster hit, selling more than 30 million copies, and cited his findings that changes in behavior take 21 days to adopt.
Of course, well-intended self-help gurus took this relatively short period of time and ran with it, telling every Tom, Dick, and Harry wanting to improve in some way or adopt a new habit, that all they had to do was stay the course for 21 days. Forming habits, though, is a very personal and situational endeavor. Forming the habit of waking up at 5am every morning, if you’re a morning person and that fits your natural sleep cadence, can take but a week. If you’re a night owl, however, and you want to start getting up at 5am, the habit can take months to form and one slip up can be the end, forcing you to start things all over again.
Thinking that all you need is 21 days to form a habit can be a great timeline, a course of action that is attainable, but it’s bullshit. When you get to that time period and your habit isn’t formed, the road ahead seems a lot more daunting, and there are reasons why the great men and women of history were able to form the habits that led them to success while all others failed, and the reasons lie not in talent or innate ability, but in the desire to persist, otherwise known as grit or toughness.
If you want something bad enough you’ll figure out the actions needed to create the image floating around in your brain and you’ll have the required toughness to make the required actions habitual, and not just momentary acts of discipline.
That thing that’s holding you back from building your ideal body or starting that business or saving that money to buy that house is toughness, grit, and the ability to persist. Most fail before they create the necessary habits because the truth about creating habits paints a far more difficult road than Maltz’ mythical 21 days.
In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, along with her team, decided to figure out precisely how long a habit actually takes to form.
The study examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period. Each person chose one new habit for the 12 weeks and reported each day on whether or not they did the behavior and how automatic the behavior felt. The habits chosen varied from easier to more difficult habits to adopt and the results, if you’ve ever tried to adopt a new habit you’d know, were unique to the habit the individual aimed to adopt, but also the individual. The constant, though, was the habits rarely took 21 days, in fact, some took up to 254 days to form and become truly habitual.
The average; 66 days.
That is, if you want to form a habit and you have the discipline to do so, mark off 66 days on your calendar and start counting down; however, this is, again, the average, so if you don’t want to be disappointed by a lack of success after said 66 day period, you may as well go ahead and mark off the entire year dedicated to adopting a new habit.
If anything, this offers insight into why success is in the hands of so few, why discipline is avoided at the behest of ease. It shows that the habits we want and need in our lives to create the lives we’re aiming to create or to accomplish the grand, audacious goals we desperately desire, take a very long time to adopt, and most people just aren’t cut out for any kind of persistence, let alone the addition of a new habit.
You Will Fail.
What’s also interesting about the forming of a habit is that a slip up is also a start over. So if you’re trying to form that habit of waking up at 5am every morning – a fine habit indeed – once you slip up and sleep in you have to start back at day one, and the reality of the matter is that you will fail. We all will.
This makes those great men like Robert E. Lee, Napoleon, or Theodore Roosevelt, men who seemed to get more done in one year than most of us will in a lifetime, so great. They were gritty enough to create the habits that allowed them to get the work done, and when they slipped up, which I’m sure they all did, they simply got back on the horse and once again got back to it.
Habits dominate success. Athletic brilliance isn’t found in talent, there were many as talented as Michael Jordan, but only he created the right habits. It’s the courage to push through and persist, to get back on the horse after you’ve been knocked down, that will set you apart from the majority of the people reading this article who will quit after they fail or simply quit as soon as they’re tempted by ease. (Read this: One Way to Guarantee Failure: Quit)
New Years resolutions rarely hold up. Audaciously laid plans are rarely kept. Diets are trashed at the first whiff of a Whopper with cheese. Jobs are quit as soon as the first hint of resistance is seen. Most people are quitters, which is a fortunate thing for those who are tough, because while the path to success lies in doing the right things, those things are typically learned in failure, in trying and failing and eventually succeeding through the single act of persistence.
When most people quit, you learn, adapt, and carry on.
If you truly do want to become better, maybe even great, all you have to do is persist through a buttload of pain and failure and form the habits that no one else is willing to form. You have to stay the course.
If you really want success and happiness and every inch of what’s sprawled across that dream board hanging on your wall, then you’d be advised to come to grips with the fact that your success won’t come quickly, your habits won’t be adopted in 21 days, you will face resistance, and the single thing that will carry you to the promised land is your own grit, guts, and toughness.
What Are The Right Habits?
The right habits are personal, and they usually exist within your greatest struggles.
I, for example, have a tough time concentrating, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this battle. A bird flies by, I chase it. An idea pops into my head, I follow it. Possibly the most important habit for me in my quest to become the person I have the potential to become, is focusing, defeating that voice in my head that wants to get away from the desk. Waking up early, at 5am, is also important for me, and for a number of reasons. (Try this: 7 Tips to Improve Focus and Productivity)
For one, the late hours of the night are my most useless hours. I’m very unproductive at night, so I may as well just sleep. In the morning, though, I thrive. I enjoy a good 4 hour work session without breaks in the morning, and I can do it with a strong focus, a focus that fades as the day progresses.
Your habits should make you more successful, and they usually lie in conquering a weakness.
This, of course, starts with knowing yourself and being real with yourself. When you identify your weaknesses, you can work at ratifying them.
A few things:
1. Measure everything.
I have a tracker on my internet that follows everything I do. At the end of the day I can see where I spent the majority of my time. This way I won’t lie to myself or smudge the truth.
2. Be aware of the battles at all times.
Men are warriors, we’re bred to fight and hunt. Seeing things as battles, as “strong us” vs “weak us”, helps us defeat that part of us that we want to leave behind.
Identify the habit you want to create, why you want to create it, and how you can ratify that which you want to get rid of.
By reading this article I know you want more. I know you have strength within you, untapped strength, because, at the very least, you’re searching. You’re searching for motivation or a reason to change. Your reason is this, a challenge:
What’s the 1 habit you want to adopt by the end of this year?
Tell me. Get it in the comments section. Get it into the world, and start becoming that man that you have the potential to become.