Today’s topic can be the element that makes or breaks your success. Knowing how to develop good habits that serve you is one of the most valuable skills you can learn.

There is a reason why there are numerous books written about developing habits. We. Are. Governed. By. Our. Habits.

Bob Proctor explains this about habits:

Our paradigm controls our habits and our habits control our life

Bob Proctor

So, I Am Screwed Before I Even Start?

Contrary to what many believe, the human animal is capable of change. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that it takes work. Concerted effort is a valuable thing, but unfortunately most people “don’t feel like it”.

Luckily for us, we’re willing to do what it takes. If you’re standing at the starting point of your worthy goal (read this article to know what I’m on about), you accept that you’re going to have to do the difficult things.

If you know what it will take and you’ve made the decision to go for it anyway, you’re willing to do what it takes. This is where a small, almost unnoticed secret can change your life.

It’s something Joel Olsen has written an entire book about: The Slight Edge. The simple act of doing the small things every day.

Apply The Slight Edge To Develop Good Habits

Changing habits does not take feats of grandeur, it takes small, daily actions. First you’ll begin at unconscious incompetence. A place where you don’t even know you need a habit that will serve you. This quickly becomes apparent when the same old-same old things you’re doing don’t seem to move you forward.

From here you move to conscious incompetence. You now realise there is a habit you need that will serve you. You can now identify that habit and begin the next step in the journey…

Conscious competence. You begin to practice your habit daily. This is where the Slight Edge begins to serve you and help you.

The final step in the journey is unconscious competence. That place where the habit is established. It no longer requires your concerted effort to perform. The place where your actions are automatic and the habit truly serves you.

How Do I Begin Changing A habit?

I am so glad you asked. Habits aren’t just things that we do for no reason. They develop over time and are a result of a chain of events that go virtually unnoticed by our conscious mind.

Step 1 – Identify the STIMULUS

Have you ever heard of Pavlov’s dog? Habits function in the same way. The sequence of a habit begins with a trigger or stimulus. Something in your external environment triggers you to perform an action. If this stimulus happens enough the action becomes automatic – ie a habit.

Stimuli can be tricky buggers to identify, so a measure of mindfulness and self-awareness is needed. I wish I could tell you there is a lazy way of doing this, but unfortunately achieving our goals takes a certain amount of discipline, and getting to know yourself will take discipline. The best I can give you by way of comfort is that you wont die. It will be uncomfortable or even a struggle, but don’t be discouraged. If I may go so far as to quote the Bible:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering (struggle) produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, HOPE.

Romans 5:3-4

And hope for a better future is why we’re doing this.

Once you’ve identified a stimulus you can begin working on changing the sequence of events that lead to the habit. If the stimulus is your alarm going off and you press the snooze button, a pattern interrupt may help you trip up your habit. A pattern interrupt can be as simple as leaving your alarm in a different room. This way you have to get up to switch it off. Leaving it next to the kettle so you can make your cup of coffee immediately is also a good plan. Extend the interrupt to something that will help you with the next step.  

Step 2 – Satisfy the CRAVING

Once the stimulus is received in the brain a craving for the consequence of taking the action (aka doing the habit) is triggered. In other words, your brain looks forward to the satisfaction it gets from you performing the habit which is likely a dopamine release.

You’ve placed your alarm in the kitchen next to the kettle. Now you can make a cup of coffee. The result of which will be your morning caffeine fix (or in my case the download of my personality). Please note I am not necessarily encouraging or condoning the use of habit-forming substances (no pun intended), but a morning coffee is a fairly relatable topic, so here we are.

Other cravings could be for the dopamine release of getting a difficult task done first thing in the day. Also referred to as “eating the frog”. Or the endorphins from a quick exercise session to start your day.

It doesn’t really matter what the activity is, as long as it involves a decent payoff, especially one equal to, or better than the habit you are attempting to replace.

Step 3 – RESPONSE

Please keep in mind that the action you take has to require little effort on your side to initiate. If you’d like the habit to be a morning run, but you don’t exercise to begin with, break it down.

Begin with a walk around your garden. Then once that is too easy build it up by wandering around the block, then perhaps scale up to a jog.

Whatever you do, do not turn it into ‘work’ because then you will require a heck of a lot of self-discipline to stick to it. Willpower is a myth in most cases.

Step 4 – REWARD

This step ultimately boils down to positive reinforcement. Just as you would train your dog, ie instruction – action – reward, so you can train your mind to want good habits for the reward it brings.

The reward must be satisfying. Celebrate small victories. If you get up when your alarm goes off, take a moment to bask in the glory of your accomplishment. I know it sounds silly, but acknowledging the moment leads to a release of dopamine which is what your brain is after.

The feeling of accomplishment tends to be undervalued, but it has so much power! Think about how brave and daring kids become when you celebrate their abilities.

If yours are anything like mine, their courage explodes and they’re suddenly more willing to do things that seemed scary a moment ago.

A kids brain and a adults brain is not much different. We all thrive on acknowledgement and will do more when we feel our accomplishments mean something. What we don’t realise is, WE need to recognise our accomplishments as accomplishments, or we begin to kill our own drive.

That is why a celebration of the small things is important.

Master The Habit of Showing Up

One final tip before we close off today… Make your habit less than 2 minutes to do. The more energy it requires the less likely it is to happen.

Yes, 2 minutes isn’t a lot, but it’s a slight edge. It is enough to get you going. I’m not saying you’re ONLY allowed 2 minutes. By all means carry on once you’re going.

The only requirement is that you make an agreement with yourself that you will stick with it for at least 2 minutes. That’s it. Then you can go do something else.

This will reinforce a foundation of showing up. Showing up for yourself. Showing up for your kids. Showing up for your future. Make this a habit and the rest will begin to fall into place.

Until next time,

The SkillzTrader Team

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