I’m reading a great book right now: Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. The book combines (mild) insights from neuroscience, psychology, and sociology to teach us why we form habits – and how to change them.
The greatest insight I’ve uncovered from the book is the idea that we really aren’t defined by our education, job title, debts, records – accomplishments or failures. Instead, these are merely the results of our habits. Who we are is someone else entirely. If we cultivate who we are closely with our habits, we can turn our intentions into accomplishments. But if we don’t, this doesn’t make us losers or failures like society would have us believe. Instead, it just means we need to work more closely on our habits.
Think of dating: If you go on a date with someone you like, you want to talk about your great job. You want to show off your 20-pound weight loss. If he’s lucky, maybe someday he’ll get to see your beautiful condo, furnished with the best of everything. You want to impress him with all of these external, extrinsic factors you believe make you a “catch.” But, in truth, nearly everything society prizes is the result of habitual behaviors repeated over time that lead to success. Habitual behaviors – not our morals or beliefs or intentions or personalities.
My point here is this: Sometimes, I think we fail at weight loss, getting a promotion, or even in our relationships because we take everything so personally. We tend to think there’s something wrong with us, that we’re somehow inadequate, odd, misplaced, or bound for failure. In reality, our failures are indications that we just need to tweak a behavior or two. A 20-pound weight gain is 190 extra calories each day for a year – that’s it. Being $16,000 in credit card debt (the American household average) is spending $4.38 too much everyday for ten years. Like Darren Hardy, a self-made millionaire by age 24, said in his book The Compound Effect, “Success – or failure – is the compound result of little behaviors repeated everyday.”
So stop beating yourself up – whether it’s health, financial, or something else entirely, know that it’s not you. It’s likely something small that you’re doing (or not doing). Choose one goal. Start today. Start small – maybe one latte less, perhaps one ten-minute walk more. Track your progress in a little notebook you carry everywhere. And watch.
It turns your life around. As Duhigg says in Power of Habit: “Sarah was 34 years old…50 pounds overweight…$10,000 in debt…never held down a job for longer than a year. [...] After three years, she was a healthy weight, out of debt, and had a master’s degree and a job for two years. The difference? She gradually changed her habits.” She didn’t need a lobotomy or stomach-stapling surgery. She was never a bad person. She just needed a tweak here and there, that’s all.
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