Like all my posts, I'd like to open with some wisdom - don't take my word as law in any way, but as an opinion backed by personal experience. I'm not an expert in any particular field and don't claim titles, nor do I prescribe to idolism towards any fleeting mindset which may befall my generation... My only hope is that you read with the intent of reflection, gleaning some useful insights from introspection on your own way of living and overall lifestyle.
In the beginning, there was habit
When mankind first scoured the great Earth, man's ancestor learned a way of life from birth to death, and that nurturation by the parents oftentimes charted the course of the Neanderthal - some families had fire and others didn't. At this point one might say that one Neanderthal had an advantage over the others because of this fantastic invention - finally they had a tool for cooking things, smoking out predator and prey alike! Huzzah! This must have been their competitive advantage, and why they evolved... Opportunity unfolded for those more privileged, as the trope is ever-told.
Hold on a minute though, that's not the whole story... Why did those particular Neanderthals stick with using fire? Surely others had stumbled upon the incandescent natural force, and had looked upon what it wrought, but sorely turned away from the gift out of fear... Surely others saw the capabilities of fire and tried to harness it, only to be engulfed in their sleep due to mishandling. The greatest asset to those early adopters of fire was their ability to affect their own habitual change when they willed it so - adaptability of habit, after being able to harness this awesome force. Once our progenitors had a grasp of fire, they had to adapt their daily habits to keep the habit lit, whether that would be having one Neanderthal holding the fire steady while the others hunted, or using flint to start the fire.
Fast forward a number of years and we still use fire every single day in one form or another. We cook with it, we use it for warmth, and we perform a number of functions all around this technology. It now fundamentally drives our habits directly and indirectly whether we acknowledge its force or not. Imagine a world without a stove, or a heater - what's that world like? Chances are its fairly hard to picture us modern humans living without these conveniences. It's curious to wonder how many humans take a hot shower each day to refresh themselves and their appearance, all made possible by a water heater, powered by fire or electricity, a derivative of fire (the fire is burning elsewhere to produce the energy for the water heater).
Now what's the point of all of this conjecture? As a society, habit is our greatest tyrant. Habit rules us in ways we do not comprehend most of the time, and bends us to its will, if we are not cognisant to the undertones of our behaviors.
Habit as the hero
There exists another side to habit than that of a controlling natural wave that humans succumb to - habit is a hero, and can save your life right this very minute.
What habit does in your life is dependent on the force which is given more power: the force of growth, or the force of degeneration (accredit to Matt Ross for this idea of core life forces). Growth is relatively easy to understand. The influence of the growth mindset is seen in positive upward movement of an individual in their life, in some form. Manifestation of this force can be best felt by those who have mastered adaptability, insomuch that they can recognize habitual force, and direct it with ease on a whim. Degenerative forces, however, are best observed in those unwilling to gain control over their habits and wield them, otherwise known as 'victims' of cause, environment, and circumstance. In the most general sense, those feeding the degenerative force will blow off commitments, fail to meet expectations, and overall live a very sloven lifestyle. Everything can 'be taken care of tomorrow'.
Crucially, we all must realize these forces are inherent in us all and they manifest each day through the power of decision. We make the choice to feed either force, and through that choice, we shape habit, which then becomes the base for other choices.There are well-rounded literary works on both habit and decision you can look into as a follow up to my post, and they have evidence beyond my weekend-warrior writing capabilities... Moreover, these pieces of literature are reinforced by complementary undertakings by Stephen R. Covey for the power of habit, and Thomas J. Stanley's work on dissecting the 'millionaire mind' and millionaire habits. Repeatedly the ongoing trope is that habit is the underlying force behind much of our life's direction and end state.
Baseline for change has been established - we must, as individuals, effect and change our daily habits in order to change for the better. How do we do this? A better question to ask in this situation is: 'How did we form the bad habit in the first place?' rather than expecting to pull an answer from the aether.
Think back to a time when you started a new habit, like coming home to a beer at night, or hopping on your phone to check some social media site right before bed - what drove that habit? At first it may have been something exciting or enticing, maybe some reaction to a post you had made, or maybe you're expecting a message from an old friend. Whatever the case, after that initial action, what reinforced that action? Its likely that now the mind is veering towards the answer: repetition. Didn't mom always say, 'practice makes perfect'?
Our focus is now on repetition of some act, over days, and maybe even months to years. The human brain is so well adapted to change that this habit can become 'sticky' in a relatively short amount of time, and however well it first 'stuck' sometimes determines the length in which a habit is reinforced without additional action by the person. For instance, when selling door to door with Southwestern, one habit our student managers instructed us to adopt was to wake up, race to the shower, and jump in before the water got warm. Why was that? At the time, most of us just thought it was some kind of crazy hazing technique, however, what they were doing was laying foundation for new habits to arise. I mean, who in their right mind does that habit every single day, in a 9 to 5 job, with kids and the like? Hopefully nobody does that (unless you're an ex-Southwestern book person of course)! By molding our basal habits, the habit of 'going for the blue nob' in the morning, Southwestern shaped how our other habits would form, like knocking on a door at 9 o'clock at night, out in the country of North Carolina, even when our gut was against it completely. Success in Southwestern often came down to habit - how you woke up, how you mentally prepared for 14 hours of work, knocking on doors, meeting rejection - all of this habit forming was a part of their training, and it works.
Additionally, the book which they hand out to students embarking on the Southwestern journey, is one 'The Greatest Salesman in the World' by Og Mandino. This tome of wisdom contains 10 'scrolls', readings to perform each month, without fail. The first of these scrolls is the key to the rest, and it expounds on habit in lengths:
'In truth, the only difference between those who have failed and those who have succeeded lies in the difference of their habits. Good habits are the key to all success. Bad habits are the unlocked door to failure. Thus, the first law I will obey, which precedeth all others is - I will form good habits and become their slave.'
Og Mandino's prescriptive nature for habit, in that it drives all other things in life, is of the utmost importance! Mandino does readers a great favor by even defining how to drive the evil habits out of our lives, and go forth unencumbered in the very same chapter:
'I will form good habits and become their slave. And how will I accomplish this difficult feat? Through these scrolls, it will be done, for each scroll contains a principle which will drive a bad habit from my life and replace it with one which will bring me closer to success. For it is another of nature's laws that only a habit can subdue another habit. So, in order for these written words to perform their chosen task, I must discipline myself with the first of my new habits which is as follows: I will read each scroll for thirty days in this prescribed manner, before I proceed to the next scroll.'
Though Og Mandino's prescription for daily reading of these scrolls, for thirty days on each scroll, may seem a laughable aide, really track your readings to see how feeble and weak the human mind can be. Boredom, 'lack of time', forgetfulness, and the like all derail a seemingly banal task of daily reading. All this takes is a ten minute dedication each day, yet the fruits bore from this rhetoric feed the mind in ways we do not immediately comprehend:
'And what will be accomplished with this habit? Herein lies the hidden secret of all man's accomplishments. As I repeat the words daily they will soon become a part of my active mind, but more important, they will also seep into my other mind, that mysterious source which never sleeps, which creates my dreams, and often makes me act in ways I do not comprehend.'
Habits, Mandino implies (which is confirmed by deeper investigation into the realm of habits by Charles Duhigg), are the truest essence which shapes our whole, and therefore we must align ourselves veraciously with the image of whom we want to be, by shaping these habits.
Habits exist in the deepest part of our brain, even after all else has left us, in the amygdala primarily, which is influenced by many factors in the basal ganglia. This area of the brain is often considered the central store to 'learning' memories (conditioning), or the storehouse of the cause-and-effect considerations the mind goes through, memories of which are highly correlated to the emotional 'charge' of a memory (more emotion correlating to higher amygdala retention). As we feed cause with effect, through this ancient system, we subconsciously effect this limbic system artifact of our creator, which in turn directs the course of other interconnected brain systems. Science is pretty cool, right??
As you embark on a habit-changing journey, there are some pitfalls to watch out for. Myself being someone who has gone up and down, through many a trough and hill, expect to be disappointed often.
Change is a tough thing to affect, especially in our day and age where distractions are all too common. Get really focused on what you want - I mean really, really focused, like a horse with blinders on. Run your race as best as you can, until you have nothing left in you to give, then run it again and again, measuring your success against the shadow of your past self.
The human mind needs to block out all else and hone in on one thing at a time, in order for it to truly 'stick'. What does that mean? Try to tackle one goal at a time, and tackle it every single day until it becomes a habit. Whether that's packing your lunch, going to the gym each day, or remembering to hug your family members - do it every single day without question until it becomes unnatural to do otherwise. When you feel awkward saying 'yes' to going out for lunch, and leaving your packed lunch in the fridge, know that you've succeeded.
Additionally, be ready to forgive yourself once or twice - your going to mess up. You're going to skip the gym because of a meeting or an emergency, just be prepared to get right back to work at your vision when the obstacle is overcome. Even more importantly, don't make the excuse the rationale for giving up the habit in the first place! Rationalizing going out to eat for lunch because you've been packing lunch for three days already is not good, but rewarding yourself once for three days of doing the right thing should yield the incentive to keep on doing that thing. Just remember to stay clear of equally negative reinforcement when you fail - this leads down a road of discouragement.
Above all else, remember to never, ever quit. You can stomach failure, but by quitting, you'll never know how close you were to success.
'Never, never, never give up.' - Winston Churchill, The Crisis
Seek to plateau
My greatest personal advice to give it seek a plateau - seek consistency in your thoughts, habits, and in your soul. Seek it above all else, for how many charlatans and turncoats do we have in the world, who injure themselves with their ways?
In the jobs I've worked through, the idea of consistency was often at the forefront of performance. The power of consistency was amplified one hundred fold at Southwestern, where the idea was talked in lengths by some of the greatest salesman to grace the halls of Southwestern.
For instance, one senior salesperson had a two hour seminar to student managers about how he measured his consistency with immense intensity, and how he based his success on finely-tuned unit counts. He wouldn't quit the week without hitting his mark, he wouldn't give in to 'good enough'. This was a salesperson who had on record 52 consecutive weeks of President's Club membership (~$3,000 a week profit, 600+ units sold), where one typical seasonal sales cycle was only about 11 weeks. Realize that's almost 5 years of consistent top-grade sales performance, week after week, regardless of any conditions he faced.
What did he accredit for his performance? Habit, above all else. Habit permeated everything he did - how he reacted when his unit count was low, what he thought about before bed each night, and why each of these little pieces formed the big picture he envisioned. As Og Mandino prescribed, this man stuck to his habits like a shield in the phalanx.
'Thus a new and good habit is born, for when an act becomes easy through constant repetition it becomes a pleasure to perform and if it is a pleasure to perform it is man's nature to perform it often. When I perform it often it becomes a habit and I become its slave and since it is a good habit this is my will.'
Today I begin a new life.