We all get stuck in ruts of some form or another. We just don’t have a mind that likes change, so when we adopt a thought or behavior and convince ourselves that that is “us,” we tend to stick with it. But things change around us, yet remain the same. So we get stuck in the rut of our routine doing-ness, creating suffering, or at the least, no growth. And no growth is the same as suffering because humans need to grow or they are un-growing.
There is no steady state… either we grow or we decline. Time to get unstuck.
So many of your habits are driven by unconscious or subconscious (not in our outer awareness) mental behavior patterns. They’re hidden from our view until we shine the flashlight of awareness on them. You can be doing the same habits over and over for decades without being aware that you’re even doing them.
You end up stuck doing the same things you’ve always done. You act and react with no conscious thought. You’re like a fish unaware that it’s in water.
I have seen this play out so many times in my life. If you’re part of a team you will adopt the habits of that team. That is what a cultural “norm” is… a set of habits and thoughts that a team adopts as “theirs.” When I was in the SEALS, the team wore military contractor style pants and boots everywhere. So did I. We had these running shorts we wore when running through Coronado. We thought they were cool, but the locals weren’t so keen because they thought we were flaunting our tough and tanned bodies. I didn’t see that until later either. I wear neither now. Does your team talk trash about the competition, bet on fantasy football, wear a specific type of clothes (separate from any uniform) or have certain sayings? Those become unconscious habits that are simple examples. If it is so easy to do these things for identity, what else are you doing?
Some teams, have really good habits and some don’t. In spite of the clothes, a SEAL team brings very good habits to its members, such as unusually hard exercise, a relentless focus on excellence, and attention to detail. But a team that’s hyper-focused on money will promote habits of want and comparison to other’s net worth. That is unhealthy. I experienced that in my finance company in NYC and quickly canned that habit when I saw what it was doing to me. Even more corrupt teams end up a cult because they force you to take on their habits and thoughts. can cause you to pick those up.
What about the habits of your family religious background. Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist cultures cause participants to take up a host of habits and ideas that remain unexamined for life. Some silly examples include Jewish tradition of wearing a Yamaka. The scripture says it is necessary to honor God’s presence above their heads. The real meaning of that scripture was that the crown chakra was the human’s conduit to the Divine presence, so it makes no sense to cover it up (unless it is cold). The Irish River Dance came about because it was considered obscene to move the torso in a dance. How absurd. So many of these hand-me-down habits exist in our lives.
You get stuck in ruts when you just go through the adopted motions. If you have thought deeply about all these habits and decide to keep many of them, that is great. At least you have examined them. But if not, then you may be stuck in a few ruts… because you have been developing the superpower of habits with the wrong habits. Momentum keeps you stuck in them and they can appear insurmountable.
I don’t want this to sound like a judgment or that you are bad for adopting these patterns of beliefs and habits of your family and culture. I just want you to live an examined life, and choose yourself first. Living with common unconscious habits is normal. Examining and changing them to uncommon habits is not normal. But it will make you special. To succeed at the highest level, normal isn’t good anymore. Normal will get you stomped. It’s time to break free from the ruts.
You have to want to break the bonds of common habits. All the work you’ve done in this book so far should create a strong sense of purpose, and a clearer vision for where you want to go. The commitment to getting there will give you tremendous motivation. But it is the daily enactment of small, powerful and uncommon habits that will undock your superpowers and guarantee your destiny.
A lot of people get to this point and are so excited about their new possibilities… but are stuck in their old habits. They don’t know where to start, or they start on too many changes at once. Another mistake is to tackle the whole elephant, instead of taking small bites. Starting, and sticking to new habits requires some finesse. Here are some proven tips for making new habits stick until they are new processes.
First, you will want to simplify the goal before breaking it into micro goals. A complicated goal or project sucks motivation. Can you see a simpler version of the plan to get there? Starting a complicated diet with special food preparation fails far more often than a simple plan to eat only between the hours of 11am and 6pm daily. Or, starting an Olympic lifting program with complex movements is a bad idea when you are just getting off the couch. How about a goal to run for 30 minutes four times a week? You have to make the goal seem achievable by making them simple (remember the SMARTP goals?).
You are looking for small changes in your behavior that you can make daily, not major movements done right away. It is much more motivating to set goals first that impact who you are, rather than how you do things or what you do. As the “who” of you gets better every day, then the how and what goals will change, and get easier to achieve as well.
Chunk the goal into the smallest component part that you can envision. Make sure those parts have a clear start and stop point, and link to the next part… like a chain’s link. Then, when you get going each day, you have an easily achievable task, rather than an overwhelming goal to achieve for a new habit.
And, do one thing a day for your most important goals/habits. Daily, sustained small efforts will lead to the big win soon enough. Research on goals has shown that it is not how long you do something that counts in making a new goal or habit stick, rather it is how many times you do it. So if you do it every day it will happen quicker than twice a week. And if you do it ten times a day, it will be a new habit even quicker.
My friend James Clear is an expert on goals. In his book, Atomic Goals, he says that in order to get real results, you have to make goals obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying.
Obvious. If you want to exercise more, then sell your car and force yourself to bike to work. Ok… that may be extreme, but it makes the point.
Attractive. Doing something every day that you are drawn toward, as opposed to repelled by, is really important. I am repelled by smelly gyms with big ego weightlifters, so I would never set a goal to improve my strength by going to one. But I do love to spend time on my back deck looking at the Pacific ocean, so a simple barbell set-up there with a commitment to lift three times a week will be enjoyable.
Easy. Make the micro goal an easy micro goal. So instead of starting a strength program that requires 2 hours of work on a ton of new movements and complicated equipment, just start with three simple lifts that will make your whole system stronger… the deadlift, front squat and bench press. And you don’t need a super complicated set and rep scheme. Research has proven that less is more… three sets of five reps of each life, or five sets of three of each, at 50%, 65% and 80% of your capacity, will work and be easy to stick with.
Satisfying. What is your satisfying measure of success? Are you rewarding yourself? If not, why not? If I tried to be the strongest man in my age group at the “Dumbass Games” I would be disappointed in how much work I spent only to find that there are a lot of people stronger (and dumber) than me. Make the goal and habit satisfying instead of frustrating. This speaks to choosing the right goals, and the right habits to change your behavior.
Jame’s recommendations are spot on and you can learn more from him at jamesclear.com. Another tip is something I have already discussed in relation to your morning practice. And that is to stack actions for habits you want to embody. The morning routine is a habit stack: When you drink your water, then you think about gratitude. When you think about gratitude, you begin to box breathe. When you box breathe, you activate the witness process, and so on. This habit stack develops all four of the superpowers simultaneously. It gives you the power of compounding daily effort, brings great momentum, develops projection power and will transform you after months of daily effort.
Often there is friction in our environments that causes us to quit a habit. Me going to a sweaty gym would cause friction. But not allowing myself to leave my home until my three lifts were done, and rewarding myself with my daily Ample meal is removing friction. Look for any area you can remove friction and prepare your environments for success. Turning a new habit action into an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) is how we succeeded at our “be uncommon” habits in the SEALs. For instance, after our 7am operations meeting, the entire team would go out to the “grinder” to workout together. That began a series of physical and mental actions to forge our bodies and minds. This was a daily process that was attractive (we wanted to prove ourselves and earn the trust of the team), it was obvious (we would only miss if for a good reason), it was easy (not easy in a physical sense, but easy to make the decision to do, and hard to not do), and very satisfying (once we embraced the suck after a year of this SOP we were fire breathing dragons that could back up our confident mindset with the fittest bodies in the world. And that is satisfying! What is your version of this? Do it daily, don’t think twice about it.
You will want to bring others into your movement toward excellence. A partner or team will help you to commit deeply and hold you accountable. Set milestones for the team to drive toward, and create incentives for reaching them, along with dis-incentives for missing or sliding back into old habits.
And, take time to pause, look back and notice how far you’ve come after 30, 60, or 90 days. Notice how much progress you’ve made and reward yourself for it. Take a day off. Or treat the team to something nice. And don’t hesitate to shift fire when you learn your target is off. That means to adjust your habit actions or goals if they are not working for you or the team. This requires weekly or monthly assessment of progress and the effectiveness of your actions. There is simply no straight line to the type of success we are seeking… so be ok with the squiggly lines and coloring outside the box.
Finally, it is important to be deadly serious about developing your new, uncommon habits, but please don’t be so serious that you are a drag. Don’t try to be Mr. or Mrs. Perfect. There’s no such thing as a perfect human, nor any perfect action. There is only better.