“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” –Aristotle
It may appear that I was meant to be a Navy SEAL all along. Some might say I was born that way. But I had to work hard to habituate the thoughts and actions that allowed me to become one.
When I started my journey to become a SEAL I didn’t like who I was, the thoughts that drove my behavior, or the choices I made. I had seen them in my work on the meditation bench. I said, “Ok, it’s time for me to change this.” Two years later I was in SEAL training. Changing my habits caused that transformation… cementing my destiny.
I developed new habits that I felt would change me in the direction I needed to go to be an elite Spec Ops warrior. These included thinking positively, controlled breathing, visualizing success, training harder than anyone I knew and meditating. I started out with small drills every day that turned into rituals. These ritualized habits had a huge impact over time… they built serious momentum from the compounded effect. Every day I would start my day with these new habits. Day by day, slow is smooth and smooth is fast, I developed the superpowers that transformed me from a CPA into a soon-to-be Navy SEAL leader.
Those habits were important when I moved out of the active duty navy to become an entrepreneur. However, I needed to become a new person yet again. So I began the process of creating new habits to become a successful entrepreneur. I had the habits of a Navy SEAL, but not all of these transferred. I learned that I couldn’t order anyone to do things they didn’t want to do, nor could I expect the same level of trust I had from my SEAL teammates right off the bat. At first, I tried to do things like I had always done, expecting the same results. But I kept failing and getting frustrated until I finally realized that I needed to reinvent myself again. This has happened numerous times now and, I believe it is a core skill if you want to be uncommon.
Habits guarantee your destiny, whether good or bad. Of course, you want your destiny to be amazing, so you will build superpower through super habits. We will take a look at why habits create superpowers, and also what habits you must develop to be uncommon. I will also give some tips for effective habit creation and stickiness.
Uncommon habits will give you at least four superpowers I can identify. And once you develop these, they are yours for life… nobody can take them from you. These superpowers will make you stand out from others, and achieve any success you set your sights on. They are compound power, projection power, momentum power, and transformation power.
If I offered you the choice between one million dollars, one-time, or a penny that doubles every day for thirty days, which would you take? Most people, without getting their calculator out, say they would take the million bucks, hands down. But, choosing the penny would net you $671,088.64 on day 26 to add to your accumulated $671,088.63. And it would double four more times for a total of $5,368,709. doubling. That’s the power of compounding.
Uncommon habits, done daily, give you that power. When you start, you’ll only see the work and no gain. Then, small, seemingly inconsequential changes start to show up in your life. That first pound comes off, you run your first 8-minute mile, or you bang out 60 push-ups in 2 minutes. But like the doubling penny, after 30 days, you have some serious demonstrable change. After 3 months you are on your way to greatness. After 3 years, you are unrecognizable. Just imagine 30!
Unfortunately, compounding works with not so good habits as well. If you’ve developed a negative habit, like smoking, negative self-talk and the like, it will compound into nasty consequences down the road. That’s why it’s especially important to develop positive habits that turn you into a superhero, lest you become a villain to yourself.
Take a thousand dominoes and set them up in a series. If each one is slightly larger than the one before it, the last one would fall, even if it was the size of the empire state building. All you have to do is to tip over that first, tiny domino.
Now, let’s apply this principle to positive habits. When you start, your action has a very small ability to project force. But then you come back and do it again, and you have a little more forcefulness. By showing up every day and putting in the work, you keep knocking down bigger and bigger dominoes. Over time, you will project far more force than you ever thought possible.
This is true with any skill. I’ve seen it demonstrated by my Zen teacher Mr. Nakamura when he broke massive blocks of ice with his head. And his teacher, Mas Oyama chopped the horn off or a charging bull. Now that’s serious projection power. But you don’t have to become Kung Fu master to harness this same energy.
The power of projection can found just by showing up to class early, being utterly attentive, asking great questions, helping your classmates out, and doing more than the minimum required. Do this day in and day out and you will project more power academically that could lead you to a Stanford or Harvard MBA or a PhD (if that is of interest). An advanced degree from a top institution will likely allow you to project more power and energy into the world than an associates degree from your community college.
To get a SpaceX rocket off the ground is a gargantuan effort, but once it is flying it barely requires any fuel. And, it takes a lot of energy to get a train moving down the track, but once it is up to speed, it is pretty hard to slow down.
The power of momentum comes to also when you create a new habit. It’s a ton of work in the beginning. It requires an outsized effort to get the new habit installed in your life. You have to learn new skills, change your routines, ditch old habits, and do it better even day. But, once you have honed the new habit and made it an indispensable part of your life, then it gives you the momentum superpower. The hard work is well behind you and you will be almost impossible to stop. The momentum will carry you effortlessly and relentlessly toward your targets. You will barely have to put any effort into it to keep it going.
If you want to know why you’re where you are today, look back five years at your habits and the way you thought. That is why you became who you are today. So, if you want to transform yourself into someone totally uncommon in the next five years, then you need to change your habits and the way you think right now.
If you’re out of shape but want to be fit and ferocious, then you need to start thinking and acting like that person now. In five years, you’ll be that way. If you’re negative and don’t like yourself now, and don’t change your habits and thoughts, then you’s one even more negative and unhappy in five years. Good news right? Not that you can be a negative nelly, but that you, and you alone, have the power to transform through new thoughts and habits. Clearly, these four superpowers only accrue to you if the habits you choose are uncommon habits. Let’s take a look at common habits first so we can contrast them against the types of habits you will develop.
Most people are stuck in ruts they aren’t even aware of due to habits that lead to common and comfortable results. Those habits exist because they don’t seek to grow, rather instead they seek comfort. Growth and excellence are never found through comfort. You must get uncomfortable with being comfortable to be uncommon. Common habits are easy to develop and maintain because…
- everyone does it that way,
- that’s the way you’ve always done things,
- your parents did it that way,
- your friends do it,
- your teachers told you to do it,
- you see it done on TV or social media,
- You don’t even notice you do it.
Let’s take one example that is killing productivity and focus in our world. How often do you optic top and use your smart-phone? Apple’s new Screen time app said I used mine an average of 2 hours a day the last seven days. One hour of that was for productivity (email, scheduling, goals, and research) and the remainder split between health (unbeatable mind’s box breathing app) and my audible app. And I am concerned with my use of the darn device! But, the average for most people is 7-8 hours a day spend mostly on social media like snapchat, facebook and WhatsApp (or equivalent).
That is not just a weak habit, it is an addiction. So what is your relationship with your smartphone? Be honest… could that time be better spent in a different habitual way? Of course, it can. A habit like that gets you stuck in distracted, choppy thinking, not the thoughtful, creative and destiny generative thinking that you need to meet your goals. You’re skimming the surface, disconnected from your witness and from the source of your genius. Not to mention being disconnected from others and nature. Whether it’s using social media, watching useless YouTube videos, incessantly texting your friends, or randomly searching Google for irrelevant information, that habit won’t challenge you to grow.
Another one is too much talking without listening or thinking. People talk out of their butt about politics with little understanding of the real issues. People talk relentlessly about other people, judging and criticizing. Eleanor Roosevelt once said that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. One of our goals at Unbeatable Mind is to talk only when what you say is truthful and accurate, helpful and positive. Try it… it is much harder than it appears. This is one reason why wise people don’t speak much, while the fool won’t shut his or her mouth.
There are likely quite a few common habits that your family did or does that you take for granted. My family had a habit of telling biting, mean spirited jokes. They enjoyed digging and jabbing into each other. I fell right into that, often as the leader of the pack. My meditation showed me that this was negative behavior, so I changed the habit.
In my early SEAL days, I had the habit of jamming whatever food I could get my grubby hands on into my mouth. We trained so hard and long that I would eat anything… often two pizzas a day! We didn’t have the knowledge that is available today about the benefits of eating whole foods, paleo and keto, and intermittent fasting. Sometimes the pizza was a luxury, as I had to grab whatever I could quickly due to the nature of the job. Now that I am fully aware of how a habit like this will destroy my health, I have habituated myself to avoid anything with sugar and most processed food and only eat two meals a day, between noon and six pm.
We end up doing stupid little things unconsciously, never stopping to consider whether they’re optimal, or good over the long term. When asked why she cuts off both ends of the roast to cook it, the woman says it was because her Mom did it. When she asked her Mom, she said it was because the pan was too small!
What habits do you have that just makes no sense? What are you doing because everyone else is doing it? Where are you stuck?
Habits of Excellence
Ok, we have come a long way in this discussion about habits… but haven’t talked about just what types of habits will lead to the uncommon results we seek. First off, any new habit that will get you more aligned with your why is critical. If I want to be an elite warrior or athlete, then I will need habits of excellence around physical and mental training. Who are you committing to becoming? That will point to the first set of new habits to develop.
First, do the work to figure out who you need to be, and why. Then start the how by building the first new habit. Simplify it, micro goal it, link it, process it, measure it, team it, milestone it, reward it… and become it. Consider the following:
- Do some spinal and somatic movement for five minutes every morning.
- Do 20 minutes of intense physical training five days a week.
- Intermittent fast for 14-16 hours, 6 days a week.
- Do spot drills of squats, pushups, and pushups daily.
- Get 7 hours of sleep a night.
- Carry fresh water with you and drink it throughout the day.
- Get outside every day to walk, breathe and think.
- Box breathe for twenty minutes every morning.
- Read something inspiring for 20 minutes (or more) every day.
- Volunteer to do new things constantly.
- Learn a new language using an app like Duolingo.
- Begin to learn the first most important skill you will need for your new mission.
- Practice authentic listening. Don’t judge, think or analyze, just listen.
- Let go of attachment to things you own: cars, boats, businesses, furniture, etc.
- Let go of people and beliefs that keep you stuck in common.
- Start every day with prayer, reflection, and journaling
- Connect daily to the persona of your spiritual motivation, i.e. Jesus, Buddha, Babaji, Mohamed, Mother Nature.
Exercise: Start That New Habit
Go back to your 3P “Why” work and ask yourself who do you need to become.
- What new habits do you need to implement for the biggest impact, right now? Select one, then simplify it and micro-goal it.
- Set a milestone.
- Publicly declare it to your best friend or trusted group. Ask them for support.
- Write a contract to yourself.
- Recruit a teammate or team to join you.
- Remove the friction and set up your environment for success.
- Stack the action against some other action you already do.
- Measure your progress weekly and monthly. Shift fire when necessary.
- Don’t forget to celebrate your success!
A habit that seems hard at first will become pleasant in time if you follow these tips. Some may think you have gone overboard or are obsessed with these new habits. They will say you are self-absorbed. That’s ok. They have a fixed mindset and are jealous of your focus on growth, or being willing to do what they won’t. Remember you must master yourself first before you can serve others well.
Do today what others won’t….so you can do tomorrow what others can’t. When the uncommon becomes common, you become extraordinary in the eyes of others. And maintaining that will require a whole new level of emotional strength.