By Marc Beauchamp
Habit creation is a hot topic—and for good reason. We constantly run habits whether consciously or not. In fact, Duke University stated that habits account for about 40 percent of our day-to-day behaviors. Aristotle nailed it when he said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
The things you do repeatedly—not what you're thinking about doing, but what you actually do—form the person that you are, from diet and exercise to personality and beliefs. As leadership expert John C. Maxwell stated, "Ultimately, people do not decide their future; they decide their habits and their habits decide their future."
The goal in forming habits that support you is to reach a state of automaticity. While there has been much debate about the amount of time it takes to form a new habit, recent research from the University College of London has helped illuminate how long it takes to reach the level of automaticity.
The study examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period. Each person chose one new habit for the period and reported daily on whether they performed the behavior and how automatic it felt.
Some people chose simple habits like drinking a bottle of water with lunch. Others chose more challenging tasks like running for 15 minutes before dinner. After 12 weeks, the data revealed that it took, on average, more than two months to create a new behavior—66 days to be exact. Of course, this can vary by person and individual circumstances. But the old idea that it takes 21 days to form a new habit was shattered.
Researchers also discovered that "missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process." So you can mess up every now and then.
Positive habits enable you to keep your commitments, and commitments convey dedication to a cause. When you're working through your daily targets and morning ritual, you must know what you are committed to achieving. Not what you think others want you to commit to, not what your parents or tribe told you to be committed to, but what you truly want to commit to.
What do you want for your life? What can you really take a stand for? Not what you'll try to do or intend to do, but what you'll really commit to.
Here's an example of an all-in commitment. The "Marathon Monks" of Japan are known for their commitment to completing the kaihōgyō (circling the mountain). It's an ascetic practice performed by Tendai Buddhist monks. It requires them to walk a route on Mount Hiei, the longest of which takes 1,000 days to complete. The solo walking mediations are broken into 100-day hikes over the course of seven years.
In the first 100 days, withdrawal from the challenge is possible, but from day 101 onward a monk is no longer allowed to withdraw; historically, he must complete the course or take his own life. Now that is commitment.
When we slowly give up on our commitments and easily justify why we can't live up to them, aren't we experiencing the ultimate punishment or taking our own life?
I love what Jocko Willink wrote in Discipline Equals Freedom. "NO MORE. No more excuses. No More: 'I'll start tomorrow.' No more: 'Just this once.' No more accepting the shortfalls of my own will. No more taking the easy road. No more bowing down to whatever unhealthy or unproductive thoughts that float through my mind."
The most important habit I've developed, by far, is the morning ritual. Through practicing my morning ritual, I've come to understand that I create each day either intentionally or by default. By practicing this daily, purposeful ritual, I'm ensuring that my actions are aligned with my purpose, values and goals. This has helped me achieve more than I ever thought possible.
The key is purposeful practice, as Anders Ericsson points out in this book Peak, "Purposeful practice has several characteristics that set it apart from what we might call 'naïve practice,' which is essentially just doing something repeatedly, and expecting that repetition alone will improve one's performance."
Purposeful practice is deliberate, focused and well-defined. Just as the body responds to exercise, the brain reacts to these new routines. It affects homeostasis, which is a system's tendency to do what it needs to do to maintain stability. With deliberate, purposeful practice, you are challenging homeostasis—getting out of your comfort zone—and forcing your brain to adapt and expand.
The purpose of the morning ritual is to prepare you for the day ahead, get centered and set your intention, so you can perform at optimal levels the entire day. Your morning ritual must be just that: yours. It may take time to develop a ritual that serves you best, and routines may change as the rhythm of life changes. My routine today is much different than it was when my children were younger, and the hands-on demands of parenting were present. Be flexible and open to trying new things that support your outcomes.
So, what must you become to get what you want? What routines and habits will you need to create to realize your greatness? Knowing that we plan most effectively in 90-day increments and form a new habit or replace a negative habit every quarter, what will your life look like after one year, three years or 10 years?
Marc Beauchamp is author of Survive and Thrive in the Merchant Services Industry and founder of Bankcard Life, a community for payments professionals. He is offering a free copy of his book to all payments professionals at www.bankcardlife.com/greensheet. Marc welcomes your comments and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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