As we learned from the great philosopher Aristotle, excellence is more than just an act; it is a habit.
But, how do we go about developing the types of habits that will help us achieve our goals?
Habits are the patterns we establish that further allow us to demonstrate our priorities and are a logical outcome of our choices.
Most importantly, they don’t happen by accident!
Charles Duhigg described in his book, The Power of Habit, the ways in which habits influence how and what we do in life.
He explained that, in order for habits to become cemented, we must first experience positive rewards from our actions. These rewards become reinforcement for our behavior and drive us to crave more and more.
As it relates to choices, Duhigg noted that when a habit becomes established “we (stop) making a choice and the behavior becomes automatic.”
Let’s consider a few examples:
Very few students actually enjoy the act of studying.
If you need further evidence of this claim, pause for a moment and begin a mental list of all the things you would rather do OTHER than study. (Didn’t take long for it to fall down in the priority rankings, huh?)
Although we are told from the beginning studying is important, it doesn’t automatically become a habit.
Here is the irony—you don’t begin to value studying until you feel the positive rewards from it.
Imagine you have a big test this week and you believe that your ability to get a good grade depends on how much you prepare.
You then spend hours doing so, take the test and receive an “A” grade.
You have followed the pattern perfectly—your goal is to be a successful student, therefore you choose to prioritize your preparation for the exam above other options and you are rewarded in the form of an excellent score.
The habit is becoming entrenched.
The image of being physically fit and healthy is often much more appealing than the actions it takes to achieve the goal.
Exercise programs are often tremendously difficult, at first.
A person new to such a regime is frequently met with disappointment, both physical and mental.
With persistence, eventually the reward kicks in and reinforces the effort.
It’s easier to choose to go for a run or get to the gym if you know your actions are allowing you to be more fit.
What about when you start to develop negative habits?
As humans, we often fall into poor patterns of thoughts or actions that are contrary to our goals.
Sometimes it is nice to be lazy or not focus on our responsibilities.
The key is to allow those feelings only temporarily.
Make them the reward you give yourself after the hard work is done.
Giving yourself a day off to binge-watch the newest streaming series on Netflix is fine, as long as you don’t permit it to replace your priorities.
If you find yourself shifting your habits, go back to your original goals and take meaningful action to shock your system back into balance.
In focusing on the choices you make and how they develop into habits, you become more-mindful about how your actions lead to success.
You have set goals for yourself and now it is time to establish and reinforce the patterns that will allow you to achieve them.