The Behavior Change Hack I Use Every Day

Habits suck.

At least the bad ones do– the ones that take up space and crowd out the good ones. When we’re talking about creating better habits, we’re also talking about getting rid of the ones that allow us to resist the habits we really want, without even thinking about it.

Habits are routines that trigger cognitive autopilot, which feels effortless. So the trillion dollar question is:

How do we make the habits we want to have feel effortless,
while the habits we want to break already feel effortless?

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Swimming in It (Part 3): Build Your Life Raft

When there is too much to do, or think, or finish (and there often is), the world won’t stop to wait for you. It won’t let you rest. It won’t let you focus. Only you can do that.

Many of the most successful people in the world maintain demanding schedules, juggle responsibilities and discover their peak performance by expertly managing their mornings. How I manage my mornings makes all the difference.

Build Your Life Raft with Routine

A morning routine accomplishes three key things:

  1. It frees you from decision-making, which preserves willpower.
  2. It gives you time to think, plan and act, before the day makes you react.
  3. It builds mindful awareness of what’s within your control and what isn’t.

Here’s my typical routine:

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The Spaces Between

What do you do when you’re not working? When you aren’t at your most “productive?”

What do you do in the spaces between the appointments on your calendar or the tasks on your list?

Dr. Jim Loehr, world-renowned performance psychologist and author of 16 books, including, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, has discovered that the highest performers manage the spaces between the work.

While coaching some of the best tennis players in the world, Dr. Loehr immersed himself in movement and behavior on the court. What made the best better than the rest? After over 100 hours of study, he couldn’t see it.

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Who are You Becoming Today?

It’s a simple question.

You’re becoming someone a little more every day. Who is it? If we are the sum of our actions, the things we do create who we are. So what’s the story of your actions?

Who are you becoming? Write it in your task list. Let it guide you one choice at a time.

Forget about what you did. Most of all, forget about what you didn’t do. Ugh. So noisy. And not helpful. You don’t want to fight those emotional battles.

The choices you make define who you are: the outputs (the actions you took), not the outcomes (the results of those actions– and the emotions that follow those results!) Every now and then, you do have control over outcomes, but less often than you think. What you always have is control of your choices– how you choose to engage with and react to the world.

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5 Reasons Habits are Magic

I have baggage around the idea of habits. “Creatures of habit” are boring, are they not? They’re the ones who make good marks for con men and assassins in the movies because they’re predictable.

Personally, I like to keep my would-be assassins guessing.

Of course, I don’t live in a movie and nothing so exciting is likely to come my way– not unless I lay the groundwork for exciting things to happen. So, although habits do not appeal to me emotionally, I know rationally they carry tremendous power. Some might say habits have all the power.

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An Experiment: Listen Better Immediately

I’ve got listening skillz. If I really concentrate, exercise self-control and call on my training of long ago when I was a counselor for troubled kids… or my consultative sales training after that… or my dog behavioral therapist training after that…

OK. I should have listening skillz. Because I was really good at all of those things.

But I don’t employ my skillz nearly as often or as well as I should. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Maybe because I’m a middle child of five. Who knows. Doesn’t matter.

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Canary in the Coal Mine

Last night, while loading the dishwasher, I couldn’t find my favorite coffee mug. I didn’t think much of it, figuring it must still be on my desk upstairs. Nevermind, I thought– it’s full anyway. I closed the door and ran the load, not thinking anything of it.

Late this morning, continuing my slow-drinking coffee ritual long past the time the coffee pot warmer automatically turns off, I poured a cup to heat up in the microwave. And there it was: yesterday’s coffee mug, dutifully awaiting my return, evidence of my autopilot cycle short-circuiting.

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Meta work is not real work.

Work about work, preparing to work, organizing before you can start, getting ready in the morning, scrolling through emails, filing, arranging your desk, scheduling meetings, thinking without producing an artifact or action item, getting your “ducks in a row“…

These kinds of activities can keep us busy– fill our days, in fact– but none of them are real work. They are what I call meta work.

At best, meta work helps your real work time to be more productive. At worst, it’s simple avoidance. It’s laziness masquerading as busy-ness. We all do it. I have fallen into meta work traps, too. While I’m still mildly prone to them, years of working on startups and my own businesses have made me acutely aware of how important (and really how easy) it is to choose actions that 1.) have no roadblocks or dependencies and 2.) directly contribute to my objectives.

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Create Artifacts of Your Effort

Do you make task lists just to check off items? Have you (like me) added things to your list that you already did, just so you could check them off? That’s because we like completion. The culmination triggers a dopamine hit in your brain.

When we waste time cycling on things– starting loops that never stop, meetings without resolution, thinking without action– we don’t give ourselves that completion.

Artifacts remind us that we made progress and help ensure we don’t repeat the work or thought process again without resolution. A mentor of mine once said, “Never have a meeting that doesn’t produce an artifact.” Otherwise, you’re doomed to revisit old topics, forget key strategy items and simply waste time on low priority stuff, especially when multiple people are involved.

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I broke my own rule. Then I broke it again.

I broke it many times, in fact.

I stopped writing every day and skipped some blog posts. Big deal, I don’t get much traffic, right? Wrong. Writing isn’t really about other people– it’s about me. It’s about sharpening my skills and perspective so that I can raise my own level of effectiveness. I’m at my best when I start the day creating something.

For several days, I neglected to do that. I opted out of being the type of person who I wanted to be– one who leads by example, for example– and fell into being the type of person I don’t want to be, but whose default habits make it true.

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