The Power of Habits
We began this chapter with the HRVWE success codes, a suggested best current set of life purposes, habits, attributes, goals, skills, and priorities for maximizing our personal foresight. Whatever ideas, feelings or behaviors you find most useful for success, to the extent that they are generally useful, you can build them into habits. The great advantage of habits is that they take on their own momentum in your life. They work unconsciously, requiring less will power on your part to make them happen. Do you think a morning coffee is a good way to start the day? After you’ve done it a few times, it becomes a habit. It wants to keep going, on its own.
Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, 2014, is a bestselling introduction to the emerging science of habit formation and change, in business and in life. It is a great place get you started on the search for what we can call “healthy habits”, positive routines that keep you healthy, strong, growing, motivated, and best able to employ the Five E’s and Eight Skills to manage and lead yourself and others.
There are two major steps that will help you in this arena: 1. Diagnosing your present habits, and 2. Swapping out bad habits for better ones. Many people never make it to Step 1, a strong awareness of their present habits, both bad and good. That’s your place to start, and reading Duhigg’s book while reflecting on your life so far will help. Looking back through your Actualizer, a powerful productivity tool we’ll discuss shortly, is another great way to understand and document your current habits.
Among the many collections of habits we could discuss, let’s just mention a few for starters. Sutherland and Sutherland’s Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, 2014, is a general introduction to scrum, a set of lean and agile project and software development tools and habits that empowers small teams to be more productive. It is more of an overview book to this powerful set of workflow habits. If you are impressed with the technique, as many are, read its appendix for the execution details. A raft of other books with names like “scrum”, “agile” and “lean” also go into the daily techniques, which are still evolving.
One powerful set of healthy habits revolves around maximizing your personal energy, the real resource you care about, even more than things like “time”. Many of us are near maxed out on the time we can allocate to our projects, but we are far from optimum on our energy, our attitude, our focus, our teams, and on our application of the Eight Skills to our current projects.
To improve your energy, healthy habits like getting up from from your desk for a five to ten minute break every hour or so, and drinking a liter or more of water a day (pour out what you must drink beforehand if you are bad at hydration) are quite helpful. You can take your breaks informally, as most people do or on strict schedules, via methods like Pomodoro Technique with its cute tomato timer. Alternating chair sitting with sitting on a stability ball (Black Mountain makes a nice one for $25), or at a standing desk (Ikea’s Bekant is a nice one for $490) to vary your sitting posture every few hours, is another great habit.
Loeher and Schwartz’s classic, The Power of Full Engagement (2005), which explains the theory and evidence behind high-intensity interval training, and Schwartz’s Be Excellent at Anything (2011), are two reasonably evidence-based books on energy and stress management. For more on time management, read Eric Barker’s brief How the Most Successful People Manage Their Time, Time.com, 9.2014.
One of the great things about habits is that they free up mental energy for other tasks. Many successful and driven people (Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Barak Obama) wore (and wear) nearly the same thing (or they choose from a small number of things) every day. President Obama, describing why he wears only blue or gray suits, referred to research that shows that the simple act of making decisions degrades our will to make additional decisions. Willpower, it turns out, is a finite daily resource. But even though it is finite, it can also be expanded or shrunk, like all other biology-based resources, by your healthy habits.
Many elderly people have very well developed habits. Many of the most energetic and long-lived individuals usually have a time-tested set of rituals that structure their days. If you have habits, you should also have holidays. Time to renew, relax, and recreate. It’s best to keep at least day a week (usually a weekend day) entirely unstructured. Look to others to find time-tested habits, and try them out for yourself.
In choosing and in sticking to your healthy habits, remember that in personal foresight and action, our greatest limitations are always self-imposed. As we age, we find it too easy to say, out loud or in our minds, “I can’t. I don’t. I won’t.” So ask yourself how your preconceptions and emotions block your achievable visions and self improvement, and choose friends of high character who will support your journey to excellence in learning, seeing, doing, and reviewing. Develop healthy habits that challenge you in all steps of your Do loop, and keep simplifying and tuning them.
Self-knowledge and self-improvement are an endless journey of personal foresight. The journey to better self-foresight is as powerful, deep subtle, surprising, and endless your journey to understand the world. As Vera Nazarian says, it is only by going far in both directions that we truly know the universe.