Do the Deed: Hone Habits
Kids hate brushing their teeth. For them, it is a silly, repetitive activity that only eats away from their playtime. As they grow up, they realize that it is more than that. It is a healthy habit. Parents all over the world stress it daily. They explain a thousand times that, if you do not brush your teeth, bacteria will eat the enamel of your teeth, then bore through the tooth itself, and destroy it. In a few years, one by one, you will lose your teeth, and life with rotten teeth, with some of your teeth, or with no teeth at all, is painful and hard.
Who is the person in your household who always makes the bed? Who is the one who washes the dishes all the time? Who is the one who mops the floors and does the laundry? Who wakes up every morning at dawn to jog for an hour, then makes breakfast for everybody? Who does more in a day than the rest of the family?
Whoever it is, that person has habits. A habit is an activity that we do over and over again. It may be an enjoyable activity, or one that we dislike. It became a habit because it served a purpose for us. Doing that gave us something of value: better health, the appreciation of a loved one, more money, higher confidence, improved business. We did not do that activity three years ago, but something made us do it every day, and now it is a habit. The first twenty times we had to will ourselves to do it, but now we do it without even thinking about it. The activity has become a part of who we are.
My character is the sum of all my habits. Some are great, some are okay, and some are destructive. The more I want to do, the more habits I need to develop. Solid habits are the foundation of doing anything of value in life. Running a successful business requires solid managerial habits. Excelling in sports proves that you have solid training habits. Getting straight As in school is the result of solid learning habits. From small to big habits, if we do not have them, it is guaranteed that life will be difficult for us. Our dreams will not come true. We will struggle.
Successful people also struggle. In fact, we cannot become successful without struggling. At the beginning of a journey to realize a dream, it seems to us that all we do is fight for ground. As time passes, our struggles may not diminish in intensity, but we have gained experience from prior battles and the new challenges do not intimidate us as they used to. Gradually, we become pros at handling stress, meeting deadlines, and surviving jumps through rings of fire.
This is all good, but along the way, the genuine successes, those who have reached the top without compromising their integrity, are the people who have done it not at the expense of somebody else. If I became a Vice President at my company, but have not spent enough time with my children and wife for years, am I successful? No. If I won a big award, but did not care for my ailing father when he needed me, am I a winner? No. My business habits may be great, my math skills and IQ may be outstanding, but my personal, relational, human habits suck. At my deathbed, I will not be thinking, I’m happy I became a Vice President. I’ll be regretting the missed time with my family, the difference I could have made in their lives if I devoted myself to them as much as I did to my job, and the happiness I squandered by wanting more money, a higher rank, or public adoration.
Truly successful people do not struggle to pay the rent because of bad work habits, which would keep them unemployed. They have more work than they could do and struggle to keep up with it. They do not struggle in their relationships because of bad personal or relational habits, which would distance them from people and make them lonely. They are close to their family and friends, they are loved by them, and struggle with remembering everybody’s birthdays.
When we struggle for basics because of poor habits, we hope for luck, for a break. We play the lottery, gamble at casinos, bet at the racetrack. Instead of creating our own luck by learning new things and making new habits, we wait for luck to come to us. Luck never comes to those who wait. Luck comes to those who strive to perfect their habits.
Anybody can dream and believe, but not all of us can develop good habits. Why? Habits demand consistency and repetition, two of the hardest things in life. People hate repetition. They like variety, inconsistency, fun. That’s why there are a lot of dreamers, believers, and fun seekers. It’s easy to do that. Many people do not reach their goals and dreams because they either lack good habits or have bad habits. This is great news for those who have good habits and reinforce them daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.
Discipline is the reinforcement of a habit. One does not become a Navy SEAL without some kick-ass reinforced habits. From making a perfectly tidy bed to killing Osama Bin Laden, the Navy SEALs are the best warriors and bed makers in the world because of hundreds of amazing habits. Try shooting an automatic rifle while scaling up a 40-feet stone wall, then jumping off a cliff to catch a wounded soldier in midair, then deploying a parachute and making the opening of a tank chute. It sounds impossible, it looks impossible when you see it, but doing the impossible is the life of a Navy SEAL.
Before attempting a big deed, we need to pause for a minute and check whether we have good habits or not. If we cannot be bothered to do small things, like throwing away the garbage, or dusting up the furniture in the house, we do not have a chance in doing a bigger deed. Our big success is always built on top of the thousand small things we have done before it. Some may say, “I’m very successful without ever throwing away the garbage.”
You may be, but here’s a question for you: Why aren’t you more successful? Why aren’t you in the Top 20 in your field nationwide? Is it because you missed doing a few small things on the way to your success — things, which, if you were patient enough to turn them into habits, might have led you to a bigger success? Or is it because you refuse to learn new habits that can elevate you to the next level of success? In any case, you are where you are partly because of your limited habits.
So if we think that our dreams and beliefs are unlimited, we should not limit our habits. We should develop them all the time. The more often we do them, the easier they will become. As they become easier, we add new ones to our arsenal of habits. Sometimes we need to kill destructive habits and replace them with new, healthy ones. Smoking cigarettes, spending more money than we earn, lying to people, petty stealing, being egotistical, eating bad food, laziness — all these habits have to go. They pull us back. We all know talented and gifted people, who have the potential to be successful in a given field, but they squander that talent and those gifts and never amount to anything. They waste their potential because they do not develop habits that move them forward in that field. Talent is a dime a dozen. Hard work, which is a string of habits, makes the difference between a failed life and a successful one.