Habits determine outcomes
By Rick Heyland
You don’t wake up one morning and become great. Neither do you wake up one morning and become a failure. Both success and failure are outcomes of everyday actions, habits.
If I could give one gift to my children it would be “good daily habits,” because, as Stephen R. Covey expressed:
“Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character.” ―Stephen R. Covey
Covey wasn’t alone in emphasizing the importance of habits:
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.” ―Aristotle
“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” ―John C. Maxwell
I’ll repeat what I said earlier: habits determine outcomes.
Achieving Your Goals Every Day
We each have different definitions of success based on our life objectives. Every person has something inside of them yearning to be great in their areas of interest or passion. For some it’s to be a great musician. Others a great athlete or a great writer.
What is your top goal right now?
You want to become rich? Then start with saving money every day. Spend a little less every day. Reaching your financial goals starts with your daily habits.
You want to get in the best physical shape of your life? Then start with exercising first thing in the morning. Even if you just do push-ups and sit-ups as you get out of bed. Reaching personal fitness goals starts (and ends) with your daily habits.
You want to become more grateful? Then start with a gratitude journal every morning.
You want to become less stressed and less anxious? Then start with daily meditations and mindfulness for 10 minutes every morning.
For every long-term goal, there’s a daily habit you can develop to take action today towards that goal.
Of course, consistency and discipline are key to success. Try starting every day with your most important routines. Wake up before everybody else does so you can start your day with your small habits that will eventually lead you to excellence in your chosen goals.
My current favorite book on habits is by Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit. One of my favorite insights from his book is the following:
“Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.”
If that doesn’t totally “jack you up” for change, I’m not sure what will!
Channeling the Hype
But now that you are hyped up, how do you translate that into change? How do you start a good habit? Or, maybe more importantly, how do you stop a bad habit?
To understand that, we have to understand the basics of human psychology. Psychologists like Aubrey Daniels, BF Skinner, and many others have emphasized a basic model to understand how humans form habits.
The model is about as simple as they come, but extremely actionable. It’s called the ABCs, which stands for:
Activators –> Behaviors –> Consequences
The ABC Model Deconstructed
Let’s break this down.
An Activator is something that is a cue or trigger to suggest to the mind to start an action (a Behavior). A Consequence is a reward or something that happens after the Behavior.
Whether we are aware of the ABC model or not, we experience it on a daily basis. By recognizing how we respond to different triggers (Activators), we can both stop bad habits and create good ones.
How the ABC Model helps us stop bad habits
Recognizing the flow of the ABC model in our lives can help us abandon bad habits because we can more consciously:
- Remove Activators that trigger bad habits
- Change the Behavior associated with an Activator
- Recognize or adjust the Consequences to discourage bad behavior
How the ABC Model helps us create good habits
Similarly, the ABC Model can help us more consciously make good decisions towards good habits, by helping us:
- Create Activators to trigger good habits
- Add new positive behaviors to our repertoire
- Recognize or adjust the Consequences to encourage good behavior
By the way, a positive immediate consequence (PIC) is the most powerful reward, because the consequence is directly connected with the behavior. And when I say powerful, I don’t always mean good. Powerful and immediate consequences can be what makes kicking long-term development so hard.
Case in Point: The ABC Model at Work
Let’s test the model out on developing good habits or stopping bad habits.
Smoking: Kicking one of the dirtiest habits
Why do people smoke? Smokers know it’s unhealthy, yet they continue to smoke because there are many Activators.
Activators for smoking could be the smell or the time of day or seeing somebody else smoke.
There are also some positive consequences. The immediate Consequence of smoking is a relaxed feeling and even decreased appetite. I won’t go into the long-term Consequences, you’ve heard them before. Even though you and I see negative consequences to smoking, the smoker feels PICs.
So to stop smoking we need to reduce the Activators (cues or signals) and increase the PICs for not smoking. For example, don’t go hang around others at coffee break that are smoking if that was your cue. Instead, develop PICs for not smoking. Use the money you save to build your retirement savings. Or for something even more immediate, like treating someone to a shake. Your reward could be either tangible or intangible.
A not so dirty habit: Chocolate chip cookies
Let’s consider something a little less sinister: chocolate chip cookies. Who doesn’t love chocolate chip cookies? There are so many immediate and positive benefits for eating chocolate chip cookies.
But if I were going to try and stop eating chocolate chip cookies for some long-term health or weight loss goals, then I would use the ABCs.
First, remove the Activators. Don’t stroll by the Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookies on the shelf every day after lunch. Don’t have chocolate chips in your kitchen or pantry. Take away the cues.
Second, build some positive Consequences, those same PICs I’ve mentioned. Buy yourself a small reward for every day you don’t eat chocolate chip cookies. Weigh yourself every night or every morning seeing the daily benefits of not eating chocolate chip cookies.
Developing Keystone Habits
To start a new good habit, add cues (Activators) and add PIC rewards.
To stop a bad habit, take away those things that activate the behavior and create new positive immediate consequences for stopping.
Now, let’s take it one step further and discuss keystone habits.
In his book, Charles Duhigg teaches the importance of “keystone habits.” Keystone habits are those habits that can drive success in many areas of our life. He believes (as do I) that exercise is one of those keystone habits:
“Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”
My own research shows that the happiest people exercise at least 2 times per week.
So how do we start a new exercise habit? Let’s look at some potential activators and PICs.
- Set your running shoes by your bed at night
- Set out your exercise clothes in your closet
- Write yourself reminders around the house
- Plan to exercise with a good friend
- Weigh yourself after every run
- Reward yourself with ice-cream on Friday night if you have exercised 4 times that week or more.
You get the idea. Apply these principles to any goal!
Where to start?
Fill out this survey to self assess where you are on developing good habits for success:.
By small things (habits and daily routines) shall great things come to pass.
Please comment below if you have any other tips for developing good habits or kicking the bad ones