“Do every day or two something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test.” — William James, Habit
Good and bad habits are tiny daily choices that accumulate. Each choice is a small wire that is woven together with hundreds of other little choices. Eventually these wires form a strong cable. Like a child that grows a tiny amount each day, our tiny choices accumulate without much notice. By the time we realize we have either a good or a bad habit, the habit has us. Most of our daily choices are made automatically without even thinking about them. To change our habits, we first need to be aware of them. Then we need to work backward from the habit to the daily practices that form it. To change the habit, we need to change those practices.
Procrastination is a good example. Putting things off until tomorrow is a popular labor saving device. However, as actor and comedian, W.C. Fields, once said, “there comes a time that you must take the bull by the tail and face the situation.” Failing to face tough situations usually makes them worse. But it’s a habit. The more often we procrastinate, the more natural it is to do the next time. The opposite is also true. If we practice doing those things that we most want to delay first, we find that it wasn’t so bad after all. And everything else that follows is all that much easier.
Our discipline and habits spring from our passion and commitment. I find that when I have the least amount of self-discipline and have the greatest trouble forming a success habit, it’s often because my heart isn’t in it. So to motivate myself, I need to find ways to increase my passion.
For years I told myself how much I hated jogging early in the morning. I would clench my teeth and go for a short run because I knew it was good for me. I complained so much about jogging that my colleagues once bought me a tee shirt complete with handy “Running Excuses” printed on it. Then I started to concentrate on all the benefits of jogging. I paid attention to the smells, sounds, and sights around me. I focused on how invigorated I felt in the shower afterward and how much more energy I had throughout the day. I talked about how much better I felt from the work out. I read articles on the benefits of aerobic exercise. I slowly extended my running distance. Eventually I came to love jogging. When I broke my collarbone in a skiing accident (I discovered the painful truth of the most dangerous statement on the ski hill —”Just follow me, Dad”), I went jogging with my shoulder bouncing painfully in an upper body brace. I either bumped my head too hard in the fall on the ski hill, or the habit has me.
Passion is a key leadership element. In a Fortune article on “America’s Most Admired Companies,” Thomas A. Stewart gives direction that applies to every leader in any social, family, or organization role. His advice also highlights a key reason these leaders are so successful. “There is one more item on our list of Things Leaders Must Do, and it’s just what your broker says Investors Must Not Do: fall in love. There are CEOs who slash and CEOs who fix and CEOs who safeguard and CEO’s who build. The great ones do all these things too, but first of all they love. Passion, commitment, ferocity – the traits of lovers are in these leaders.”