“Whenever there is a gap between your habits and your goals, your habits will always win.” -James Clear
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
It was 2013, and I had just started my Master’s degree program. Immediately, I noticed the degree of difficulty had increased from the Bachelor’s degree I had just completed. In the words of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, I was no longer in Kansas. It was clear that the study habits I had applied to get through my undergraduate course would not get me through to the end of my graduate studies. I had high hopes of graduating, but my habits, if I did not change them, would be the ball and chain keeping me from completing my course. This warranted a revision of my study habits to ensure that my hopes and habits aligned because what got me here would not get me there.
Looking back on that moment, I can vividly recall how each time I had a goal, I had to confront my current habits. I compare goals and habits to lift and load. Goals are the load, while habits are the lift. Without the right set of habits, we cannot reach our goals. Today is the best day to begin a new habit no matter what’s happening currently. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio said, “Every next level of your life will demand a different you.” And it calls for an assessment of your current habits. Just as they say never make a promise you don’t intend to keep, never create a habit without the intention of it making you better. We create our habits then our habits shape us. Habits are subtle yet stubborn. They are more difficult to break than to build. Especially bad habits. It was Samuel Johnson who said, “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” But becoming a little more conscious of our triggers can help to break bad habits and build better ones in their place.
A joke is told about Miss Prim and Proper who said to her grandmother, “Grandma, you have impressed me today. Her grandmother asked, “What did I do to impress you?” Miss Prim and Proper replied, “I have noticed that you have finally formed the habit of covering your mouth with your hand when you sneeze.” Her grandmother said, “Of course, how else am I supposed to catch my teeth!” The joke relays the important principle that needs, trigger habits. With the global pandemic, we are in, the need to stop the spread of a virus has triggered sanitization habits like washing our hands.
Going back to my master’s degree, the goal to graduate became a need, thus triggering the demand for better study habits. When your goal becomes a need and not just a want, it will trigger a change of habits no matter how painful the process might be.
Here is the path that I went through to form the habits that led me to complete my degree. I believe they can help you determine which habits you need to build and which ones you need to break to develop the lift you need to reach your goals.
Perform a Habit Diagnostic Test
No cure is found without conducting a thorough diagnosis. This is the stage many of us either ignore or refuse to thoroughly investigate because of the level of honesty required. No wax allowed here! A diagnostic test is defined as an examination to identify an individual’s specific areas of strengths and weaknesses to determine a condition and suitable treatment. When it comes to vehicle maintenance and repair, running a diagnostic test provides an accurate assessment of the vehicle. It reveals flaws that are not visible on the surface, but if ignored, can cause serious problems down the road, including a breakdown. A habit diagnostic test works the same way. Assumptions are kicked to the curb. Speculations are irrelevant. Without a habit diagnostic test, flaws in my study habits would have stayed hidden and reared their ugly head at the wrong time. My goal to graduate would have been sabotaged. The diagnostic test is the feedback stage. It requires some personal time for introspection to take the journey inward and discover why we do what we do and where changes for the better can be made. I recommend doing this quarterly. The result of this will be the desire to implement better habits.
Initiate a Habit Implementation Plan (H.I.P.)
Knowing what to do and doing it are like two sides of a coin. They work in tandem to create value. They are inextricably linked. One without the other is simply fruitless. Discovering the reason why the check engine light has come on and implementing the recommended repair is equally important. Your habit diagnostic test should lead you to the feedforward stage, a word coined by Marshall Goldsmith. This is a difficult stage and it often tests our desire to achieve our goals. Remember, you are not just fighting an action, you are at war with a behavior. These habits will not go down easily. But with a daily plan, you can overcome old negative habits and replace them with habits that will support your efforts in reaching your goal(s). Without a plan, any new habits are doomed to fail. A good H.I.P. will have a what, why, when, and how. What habit do you need to implement? Why will implementing this habit help you grow into a better person? When or how often are you going to implement this new habit so it sticks? Finally, how will you keep track of your progress with the new habit you are implementing? If standards are the foundation, then the right habits are the systems necessary to successfully build the type of life you want.
Final Thought: Goals are constantly sabotaged by our bad habits. They become roadblocks to a successful life. Left undiagnosed, they can keep us locked in a repetitive cycle of disappointment and failure; reliving what we are attempting to break free from. Take some time to run a habit diagnostic test and find out whether what got you here will get you there.
Keep on Keeping On!