All successful people men and women are big dreamers. They imagine what their future could be, ideal in every respect, and then they work every day toward their distant vision, that goal or purpose.
Forget the feel-good, zero-result articles like “12 ways to be more thankful today.” Those don’t help you. They make you feel good for five minutes. Tomorrow they are forgotten, as they should be.
Success comes from focusing your energy on what works. What then, is the clearest, simplest path to success in any pursuit?
- Develop your vision of success – what does success look like when you get there?
- Support that vision by strategically creating/removing habits – what daily actions would result in you getting there?
Some people scour the web for the secrets to success, sometimes unaware that they do it. But how can there be a secret to success when so many humans have been succeeding for centuries? There is no secret. Successful people didn’t find a magical fountain and burn the map. There are known methods that work and methods that do not, and they use the former.
It starts with vision.
Vision Connects Today’s Actions To Tomorrow’s Results
Without vision, there is no exercise, because pain is now and muscles come later. Without vision, there is no healthy eating, because raw broccoli is now and a lack of disease comes later. If you eat vegetables and work out, like with many areas of success, you’ll reap the rewards later.
How do you pick which vision to pursue if you have a bucket list of dreams?
If you try to tackle your dreams all at once, or a large chunk of them, which is a natural LET’S-DO-THIS adrenaline response to wanting to change your life, you will fail. It stems from the belief that you can will yourself into another person with pure desire.
Change begins in the brain, and your brain is built for stability (you’d go crazy if you could change your entire life overnight). So the people who try to change everything at once are literally fighting against their own brain. It doesn’t want to change that fast, and it won’t. It will SHUT YOU DOWN.
BRAIN: LIFE CHANGE REJECTED, PLEASE CONSULT OWNER’S GUIDE.
Your Vision Can Be Your Passion, But What If You Don’t Have A Passion?
A reader emailed me a while back about finding and choosing a passion to focus on, but I don’t believe people need passion. “Everyone needs to find their passion” is romanticized reality, and I bet we get it from the movies. Why don’t superheroes ever realize they’d rather do some encaustic painting? Oh that’s right, they were born to save the world.
Do you have several interests, but lack a clear “best choice?” That’s reality and it’s ok.
Pick something that you like, and run with it. “Running with it” is more important than what you choose.
The fear of picking the wrong path is overblown because the alternative of not choosing anything is worse. Plus, changing an area of your life makes you better at changing yourself in general. The real regret in life is not making progress in areas that you care about as you look for a perfect path.
The most harmful habit I can think of right now is indecisiveness (i.e. perfectionism disorder). People think that if they can’t pick the perfect goal, then they need to keep looking. Nooooo no. No. Nope.
If you can’t find the perfect goal, don’t keep looking. Keep living. (Tweet this neat quote)
Pick something appealing and decide to do it. It does NOT have to give you butterflies or raise the hair on your arms! Action progresses the plot in your life story, and most often, taking action towards an interest (not passively musing) is how people find a path that electrifies them. Indecisiveness is a mistake.
Once You Have A Vision, Think About Habits
Habits are free in the sense that they don’t use up much willpower, a limited resource. When you go to the gym, it’s either from habit or a pep-talk in the mirror with the Rocky Theme Song playing in the background, or something in-between. The difference is that, while I love the Rocky series, you can’t rely on such a motivational tactic to always get you going.
Who spread the rumor that motivation was the key to succeeding, anyways?
You show me a motivated person, and I’ll show you several dozen more people who are disciplined with good habits, and better at what they do. Every successful person is either disciplined or lucky, with discipline being a far more common reason.
Jerry Seinfeld wrote jokes daily for years. Tiger Woods has practiced golf extensively since age three. Normal, buff guys you see in the gym are always at the gym. Do you think they need to get motivated to go anymore? No, now it’s weird to these guys if they don’t write jokes, play golf, or go to the gym, respectively.
“David T. Neal, Wendy Wood, and Jeffrey M. Quinn from Duke University ran a diary study using students as well as the general community. They found that 45% of participants’ behavior “tended to be repeated in the same location almost every day.” In other words, 45% of the behavior was due to habit, not active decision-making. (source)” – From my article on Pick The Brain
Workaholics and lazy people have the same brain condition – strong neural pathways – that tell them to do opposite things. The brain always wants to repeat the same patterns over and over again.
Did you know that Neil Patel from Quicksprout (who is very successful in terms of wealth, accomplishments, and expertise) likes to work more than take vacations? He has said (I think in a comment) that vacation stresses him out more than working! Knowing how the brain works, it isn’t surprising at all. He has developed a strong habit of working and creating value, so when he isn’t doing it, his brain tells him to get back to it.
Picture a man getting up in the morning and completing 50 push-ups, every morning. He doesn’t need motivation. It isn’t a decision anymore for him, it’s a habit. Other people look at him in astonishment as if he’s superhuman, he shrugs and says “it’s second nature.” At one point though, he had a vision, committed to it, and formed the right habits to make it happen.
Starting out, you will need to use some willpower, because you don’t have the habit yet. When your willpower runs out and you don’t feel like putting the work in, use the concept of the one push-up challenge to baby-step your way there. Even so, depending on willpower alone will fail you. You need a strategy to maximize your willpower.
Here are a few ideas and strategies for common visions…
The Vision: Being in shape, physically strong, and in good health
The Habit: Frequent exercise
1. Go to the gym every day or more often than not. I’m doing this right now – I go five times a week. If I fail at some point, I will change it to seven days a week. Daily habits are always easier to establish than X days per week, because you can throw your calendar away. If it’s another day, you’re going to the gym. Simple.
Decide to go, and place the expectation there. Don’t try to get jazzed up about it, because it isn’t always easy to get jazzed up. Starting out, I didn’t decide what I was going to do at the gym – I just had to go. This is an important detail, because it takes much less willpower to put on clothes and drive somewhere than to do that and expect a massive workout.
I’m finding that a good way to start a habit is to calmly place an expectation for the new behavior, and act as if it’s always been that way. Make it normal, not this new exciting thing you’re trying out. It sounds crazy, but I think it puts the brain’s natural defenses to sleep.
After two weeks, it already seems weird not to go to the gym (and I’m seeing great results already). I like this better than a home gym plan because it’s very clear – if you get in your car in gym clothes, you’re going to work out. But at home, the lines can blur between working out and doing something else. Distractions are easier to find at home, in other words, and the clear commitment to exercise is harder for the brain to identify.
2. Create a rule. Every time you pass under a doorway, you do ten pushups. My friend and I did this with a pull-up bar over Christmas at his place and it was AWESOME. We got pretty strong over Christmas break, having to do two pull-ups every time we passed through the doorway. Of course, this eventually made us “plan trips” to the room, but that’s part of the fun. And if you do it with a friend, you can laugh together when you forget your toothbrush back in the room and your arms are sore already.
Do it with sit-ups or jumping jacks. Or every time you go down/up the stairs, do a mini stair exercise. These things are easy to build into habits. I prefer #1 to this one, but if you’re intimidated by that, this is a great one to start with.
Making a rule is another trick to bypass having to use up your willpower reserves. You don’t have to get motivated when you believe it’s required. Mindset plays a critical role in personal growth, and that’s why these “tricks” are so useful.
The Vision: Losing weight, having more energy, and feeling good
The Habit: Eat Healthy Food
1. Make a list and only buy what is on the list. The grocery store is where the battle is won. If you’re going to the gym every day, there’s probably a grocery store nearby, meaning you don’t have to worry about forgetting to write peaches on the list. It’s a bit extreme, but depending on the changes you want to make, it could prove to be the right solution.
2. If you want to keep your grocery trip options open, make a list of what you’re not allowed to buy. This is a great idea because you likely have problem foods. After a while, you’ll look at that box of cookies and instantly rule them out out of habit if nothing else. How do I know? As a health nut, I am already like this with many foods, and it keeps me eating well.
Both #1 and #2 in this list use the rule trick to bypass willpower. We all know of people who willingly believe lies. Why shouldn’t you be able to convince yourself that you absolutely are not allowed to buy anything on this bad list, even if you wanted to? If you can’t manage to do that, you’ll use up willpower, so start small and eliminate a single problem food at first for a month or two, and then another. And remember, it’s not too small to cut out one thing if it actually works. What you can’t afford is to continually waste time by failing to change and abusing your motivation.
3. Like in the gym scenario, create the expectation to cook your own meals. A lot of people do it, and it’s more work, but it’s also better quality food for a cheaper price. Setting an expectation for optional tasks is a skill. You expect to go to work on time because you’ll get fired otherwise. It’s hard to explain how, because it involves some imagination, but you can transfer that importance to cooking your own meals to make the expectation stick.
The Vision: Writing a novel and Improving your writing skills
The Habit: Write Frequently
1. Set a word count per day. In Stephen King’s book, On Writing, he says that new writers can start the habit off by writing 1,000 words per day. If that’s too much, adjust down. It sounds better to claim your goal is 5,000 words per day, but if you start falling short, your discouragement will drop the total to zero.
2. Set a time. Right when you wake up? At 9:45PM? Setting a daily time is the perfect trigger to allow a habit to form. Otherwise, what is it that will make you write? What if you never get the urge all day? What if you’ve got a lot of other stuff to do? If you want to keep your schedule flexible, at least set a deadline.
“If I haven’t written anything by 10PM, I have to start then.”
3. Determine your place of writing. If you designate a room for writing, and you write every time you enter the room, you will have a powerful trigger for your habit. Attaching actions to your environment is not only smart, but it will happen for better or worse anyways. How many people enter the room where their computer is and go to it (checking Facebook, probably) without thinking? I do all the time.
The same advice can apply to reading – word count or chapters read per day, set reading time, or determining your reading spot.
Apply These And Results Will Follow
ALL of these principles can be applied to almost ALL visions. They work according to a basic formula of creating a trigger and action relationship. Every time you enter X situation (trigger), you will instinctively do Y behavior (habit).
- New day? Go to the gym.
- You just walked under the doorway? 10 push-ups. (it would be fun to enforce this rule on others)
- Going to the store? Make a not-to-buy list.
- 6:30 AM? Time to write 1000 words.
Decide what Y (your new behavior) is going to be for you, and work backwards to figure out what to make X (the trigger for that new behavior).
Go slowly and work on one habit at a time (maybe two if they’re small).