If you have ever met me, you know that I am a fan of habits. Ever since I started teaching Leadership skills to high school students, I have studied the powerful role that habits play in our daily lives. From the most mundane things, like brushing our teeth, to the more high impact things, like eating healthy, our habits are what push us in the direction of success or of failure.
Some people will read this and dismiss it immediately. They believe that they have absolutely no control over their habits. That is very definitely untrue. Habits are just things that we did over and over with such regularity that we committed them so firmly to memory that we do them almost unconsciously now. Did you understand that? WE committed those things to habit by consciously doing them over and over. You can create your own habits and you can break your undesirable habits. You are in control, not your habits.
The second Leadership book that I ever read is “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Dr. Stephen R. Covey. I still own the original copy that I bought and it is faded and dog-eared and has notes scribbled in the margins. It is a well used book. I revisit it often, because I still find new tidbits of wisdom every single time I delve into it. I can’t even count how many times I have read through it. It is a must-read for anyone serious about making significant changes in their life.
Covey’s habits were distilled out after years of conversations with successful people. My list of 5 are things might even fall in sub-lists under his. I think that mine are a little more specific than Dr. Covey’s. Here’s my list
1. Plan Your Days – Get yourself a calendar or planner that you can list out the appointments you have and the list of tasks that you have to complete. You can do this old school with an actual paper calendar or there are any number of digital products to help you with this. I plan at the beginning of each year, at the beginning of each month , at the beginning of each week and at the beginning of each day. Sounds like a lot, I know. The yearly one takes me about an hour in late December or early January. I look back at what I did wrong in the past year, I look forward to what I want to do right in the upcoming year, and then I write it down. At the beginning of each month it probably takes me about 15 minutes to look at what is coming up in the next 30 days and make sure I am prepared or to schedule tasks that will make sure I am prepared. The beginning of each week is 5-10 minutes and I usually do that on Sunday, and then I look at my planner daily, each morning. I keep a constant list of tasks I need to achieve to reach the goals I set for myself. I schedule the things that are important to me first, so I make sure that they get done. I schedule the highest impact tasks, so I make sure I get the most out of my day. The coolest part about this? By spending the time to do the planning, I end up freeing up time for myself and have more time for the things that I enjoy.
A while back I received a message from a former student who I still keep in touch with and she remembered one thing I used to teach them in Leadership class – don’t prioritize your schedule, schedule your priorities…..meaning, make sure that the things you need to do for you are scheduled into your weekly plan first. This includes things like family time. Don’t let that escape you. The richness of your relationships and amount of time you devote to those that you love is far more gratifying than the time you spend at meetings or at the office. Even if you love your job.
Don’t wait on this. Get started today.
2. Exercise – This is not a lesson I learned early in life. Actually, let me say that this is not a lesson I brought with me from my earlier life. I was pretty active as a kid. As we get older we forget this. No matter how old you are today -16 or 60, decide that this is going to be a habit in your life. You don’t have run marathons or lift weights. Studies show that even 20-30 minutes a day of walking can have an enormous impact on your health. I know that it has enormous impact on my state of mind. When I walk with regularity, I feel better, I am in a better mood, and I have more energy. When I don’t do it, I feel down and am yawning at 2 pm every day. This is a habit you can make work for you the whole of your life.
3. Maintain your network – Like it our not, you have been building a network since you were old enough to interact with people. Sometimes people come an go from your network, sometimes they stay forever. Your network is the group of people you can turn to when you need something. I suggest that you actively build your network regularly. Go to events where there are people you want to interact with. Impress people so that they remember you, and then it is essential to maintain your network. It has never been easier to do this. Used t be that all you could do was to mail cards and notes or call on the phone. Now you can send an e-mail, or Facebook message or a tweet. It only takes seconds to wish someone a happy birthday, thank them for something they have done, or congratulate them on something that they have accomplished. Don’t miss these great opportunities to show people you are thinking about them. First thing every morning I look at the Facebook birthday list and send a couple quick birthday greetings.
4. Learn something every day – Our minds our one of greatest assets. You have to continually work your mind to keep it sharp throughout your life. With today’s technology, this is easier than ever. I prefer the old method of actually reading books and usually have 2-3 books going on at the same time. Reading is not the only method to do this. Use a search engine and search for articles on things that interest you. If I see something on TV or catch it on a headline somewhere, I do a quick search to see what I can find. If I can’t find anything of interest on a certain day (that does not happen often) I search for famous quotes. Sometimes I find a quote and don’t know who the person who said it was, so I search that. I have younger friends who do the same thing, only they search YouTube for how-to videos on things that they want to learn. Make it a habit to learn something every single day of the rest of your life. Most times this takes 5-10 minutes. Certainly you can find that in your day.
5. Think positively and show gratitude – I have a lot to be thankful for and one way I like to show that I am thankful is to send people a quick note of gratitude for something they have done. Again, this is achieved so quickly with digital technology. For bigger things, a card or token of your appreciation delivered to them is a larger show of your gratitude. I find that by making sure I thank people daily, it allows me to look for positive things that happened in the last 24 hours and that makes me think about good things instead of bad. Our minds are very powerful and when we look for the positive all of the time, that makes us a positive person by default – meaning we thing about positive things first.
Each and every one of us has numerous habits in our lives. We can let them control us and what we do, or we can actively seek to create new, positive habits that better showcase who we are, and that fill our lives with positive things. Don’t let your habits control you.