Building healthy habits

When you woke up this morning, you put one foot down before the other. It’s very likely you have a preferred foot. Do you get out of bed left foot first or right foot? Like many people you probably don’t think about it. Just like how you don’t think about which direction you brush your teeth or which side of the bed to sleep in at night.

Many of the things we do each day run on autopilot. Our habits eventually become so ingrained that we don’t even realise we are doing them. Life just seems so much easier that way. Productive people take advantage of this to build habits that sustain their goals. Bestselling fiction writers are people who have the habit of writing a few hundred words each day. Virtuoso musicians are people who have the habit of practising for two hours each day. Five hundred words do not make a decent novel but multiply those words by the number of days in a year and you have a trilogy. Similarly, two hours on the violin won’t make you a professional but do that over ten years and there is no piece you can’t tackle.

Good habits are easy to form if you are aware of a few things:

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Do productive people behave differently?

Some people have a natural flair for task management and organisation. Others had the good luck of starting their careers in organisations where supportive bosses showed them how to become more productive. Regardless, how you started your personal productivity journey, it is interesting to know that while productive people come from all walks of life and have different personalities, they all tend to have behaviours that make them more productive than others. Productive people tend to:

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Get it now, deal with consequences later

Bad habits persist because of two reasons:

  1. They offer an immediate reward.
  2. Their consequences are often in the vague future.

People who smoke cigarettes struggle to quit because the act of smoking a cigarette makes them feel good. Also, the long-term health effects of smoking aren’t immediate. No one would smoke if the first puff of a cigarette would get them hospitalised immediately for lung cancer. Despite the best efforts of Health Ministries around the world, knowing cigarettes can kill you hasn’t been enough to stop people smoking.

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One small step for productivity

At some point, a lot of people have tried to build a new habit such as exercising more often, eating healthier food or reading more books. They had good intentions. They wanted to improve themselves and by so doing change their lives. After a few days of going to the gym or eating vegetables for lunch, they gradually slipped back into their old lifestyles. They might feel guilty about this but eventually convince themselves they gave it their best shot. Maybe they just aren’t the reading type. What went wrong? Instead of taking small steps, the people in our example wanted to take a giant leap.

Building a new habit isn’t easy. When you start to build a new habit, you are making a commitment to change the trajectory of your life. Naturally, you will face resistance. Old habits die hard. If you eat six chocolate bars and a cake each day, your mind will rebel if you switch to a vegetable only healthy diet the next day. You have spent years reinforcing your old habits. You will need patience to discard them in favour of a new one.

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Are you setting yourself up for change or failure?
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