We often read about the science behind habits, how helpful it can be to create them, and how talented people use them to sustain their talent and build their success. While the idea is very helpful, most of us get lost in the practice. The following are five ways to use habits to create the breakthrough you are searching for.
(1) Develop useful habits. Useful habits can be described as the general set that help your health, wealth and productivity.
Benjamin Franklin said it best, when he said, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”Getting up early is helpful for getting in the zone, and rising before everyone else, if you have multiple people in your household.
Getting to bed early, and focusing on getting enough rest is crucial. While some studies recommend at least eight to nine hours of sleep, and others recommend sleeping in complete 90-minute cycles, you should measure and determine what works well for you.
If you find that a solid six hours provides you with peak energy levels and allows you to accomplish what you need to, then you should adhere to the best outcome for your needs. On the other hand if at least nine hours is the best amount of sleep for you to maintain focus, energy, and enthusiasm for the tasks that lie before you, then you should get that amount. Most studies indicate, however, that consistently getting at least eight hours of rest is optimal.
Rest, energy, and productivity are all highly connected, and translate into your ability to get things done, which in turn, affect your bottom line.
(2) Track your habits in order to measure and manage them. In order to figure out which habits promote optimal results for you, and determine what patterns encourage consistency, you should keep a checklist.
A simple inventory of your habits can be recorded in an excel spreadsheet, or with a notepad and pencil. It is true that you are most able to manage what you measure, so that keeping track of behaviors that you engage in that provide you with good results, also allows you to see what other influences supercharge them.
(3) Identify habits you want to break. Breaking bad habits are just as important (if not more important than forming new ones). While we can all list our goals and identify an idealized version of ourselves, taking a close look at our imperfections can often be daunting and overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be.
Isolate your bad habits from yourself by making a list (in order to make it a little more clinical). If you can separate consistent actions (or inactions) from your value or worth, you will make the task of improvement a lot easier on yourself. In other words, identify the behavior you want to modify. Period. Write it down without chastising yourself or lamenting what type of person you are or aren’t.
(4) Reflect on why you engage in said bad habit(s). After identifying the bad habit(s) you should ask yourself why you engage in it. Again, this is still not the time to make value statements about yourself, or what you lack (which has the opposite effect of encouraging you), but to determine how you can improve your decisions.
For example, a habit like being late consistently, might just seem like you don’t leave yourself enough time to get ready, and his perhaps might be true. You could benefit from preparing your meals or wardrobe beforehand in this case. But if you reflect on a bad habit and notice that you are consistently late with a certain activity or person, you should stop and ask yourself why.
In this case, if you do not want to be part of something, or you prefer not to spend time with someone, you should let them know at the outset. Being late is one bad habit, in particular that reflects on your integrity. So if you do not want someone to count on you for something that you are not capable of, or wanting to give them, you should let them know.
(5) Create a plan to break bad habits. In The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, the author describes habit researchers’ take on what he calls a habit loop, or a cycle of what a habit looks like. First there is a cue, which acts as a trigger to encourage you to engage in a particular behavior. Then there is the routine, or the set of acts that you engage in after receiving the trigger — the behavior. Lastly, there is a reward, which satisfies a need you were looking to meet.
In order to change the bad habit, Duhigg suggests: (1) identifying the routine or behavior that you want to change, (2) experimenting with the rewards (which can be anything from the feeling you get after engaging in the behavior or the praise you receive from others, etc.), and (3) isolating the cue, which means paying attention to what you were doing, where you were, what time it was, etc. so that you might identify the setting or elements that were present in promoting your “trigger.”
Lastly, Duhigg recommends (4) creating a plan in order to change your routine. Your plan might be as simple as a sentence that you resolve to stop by a co-workers desk in the late afternoon, so that you might receive the benefit of being social towards the end of your workday, without the added sugar and calories of taking a cookie break.
The point of the plan is that you have become aware of what your triggers are, and you have already identified what behavior you will replace your routine with. The execution thereafter is what makes the difference. Focusing on any or all of these can help you make space to create the life you desire.
Call to Action
If you’d like to know how to focus on specific habits in order to supercharge your way to your breakthrough, take a look at my checklist.
Originally published at medium.com