How do you define success?
For some, it could be building a sustainable business. For others, it means finding more time to spend with your loved ones. How about filling your spiritual need or finding a higher calling? (If you’re like me, you find all three of these important–in varying degrees.)
But here’s the thing: No matter what your goals, there’s a key that will help you achieve them: creating habits.
Think about it: If you’ve ever been successful at anything, you know there’s hard work behind the end result.
LeBron James and Stephen Curry may be physically gifted, but they didn’t become the greatest basketball players in the world without thousands of hours of practice. Bill Gates built one of the most successful companies on the planet–by establishing practices that guided him along the way.
And that sweet old couple you know, still deeply in love after 50 years of marriage? You can bet there were countless “thank yous,” “I’m sorrys,” and “I love yous” along the way–all backed up with action.
So, why are habits so vital to success?
HABITS BECOME ROUTINE.
I spoke recently with registered clinical counselor Julia Kristina Mah, who’s written on the value of cultivating good habits.
Here’s what she had to say:
One reason why so many of us are unproductive and procrastinate is that we are waiting to feel like doing a task. We are waiting to feel like making that cold call or writing that proposal. Waiting to feel like getting out and going for a run. And usually that feeling never comes–unless or until there is a major consequence.
But what’s the easiest way to take the “waiting to feel like it” part out of the equation all together?
Habits are just things you do without even having to think. And the less time we spend wasting our time, energy, and effort thinking about things that are really useless to think about, the more time we have to think about and use our energy toward the things that matter.
Yes, habits turn into routine. And routine increases efficiency and makes it easier to keep up with those difficult or undesirable tasks.
Which habits would be beneficial to you? Maybe:
- Establishing an exercise routine
- Reading something of value every night before going to bed
- Arriving early for appointments
- Getting up earlier (not that much earlier–just early enough to have a decent breakfast and take your time, instead of rushing out the door)
- Setting aside time every week to reflect on lessons learned
- Praising your team or fellow colleagues right away for accomplishments
- Listening carefully to criticism before dismissing it as flawed
- Waiting before responding to an antagonizing email
- Leaving work at the same time every day
- Thinking before speaking (which is easier said than done. Here are three questions to help)
Of course, you need motivation to start building habits. But once you’ve established them, motivation is no longer an issue.
Strong habits become automatic.
A WORD OF CAUTION.
Just as good habits can lead to success, bad habits can be disastrous. And although experts agree that the time it takes to build and break free from habits varies due to numerous factors, they also agree on this:
It takes significantly longer to break free of a habit than it does to build a new one.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get rid of bad habits–by replacing them with good ones.
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
Remember, there’s no microwave method to success. Reaching a goal requires hard work and perseverance. But regardless of where you’re trying to go, the right habits will help you get there.
Discover the habits that lead to your destination, and get going.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.