Your word is your bond.
Growing up, this was one of the most frequent quotes I’ve heard.
The idea of staying true to the word you give to other people was important, otherwise, you risk damaging your reputation.
Yet somehow, nobody ever taught us the first side of that coin, which is that promises you give to yourself are equally, if not more, important.
This is so crucial that I am baffled by how it’s not a separate skill we teach people throughout our formal education.
What Does This Mean?
Somehow, anything we do for other people holds more weight compared to the things we are supposed to do for ourselves.
When I say this, I am referring to habits we want to establish in our lives and habits we want to break.
How many times have you said: “Starting tomorrow, I will [insert positive behavior].”
Or, and this one is my favorite: “From now (or tomorrow) on, I will never, ever, do [insert negative behavior] again.”
If we’re not resolute, we find a way to rationalize doing it again and postponing positive behavior for some undefined tomorrow.
You might ask yourself, “Is this because I am weak?” Well, it’s not, it’s due to the nature of habits and the way motivation in humans work.
We keep doing this because:
A: There’s no urgency (usually, the stakes aren’t high enough – few things tend to be a matter of life and death).
B: There are no immediate consequences (other than the time wasted, which we perceive we have plenty of).
What’s the Solution, Then?
The starting point needs to be a habit that will have an impact on everything you do, the so-called KEYSTONE habit.
This has to be something so consistent that you no longer have to convince yourself to do it. For some, like me, it’s waking up early. For others, it’s the gym, yoga, or meditation.
It’s a habit that will serve as your anchor for other positive behaviors you want in your life.
Once you have this in place, it will be easy to stack other habits on top of this.
As I said, for me, it was always waking up at 5 AM, and before you roll your eyes at the 5 AM thing, don’t, let me first explain.
Out of every habit I’ve tried, and I’ve been experimenting with them over ten years obsessively, the habit of waking up early was the main habit that helped me build consistent productive days.
It allowed me to take control from the early morning and design it according to my preference, which, in return, helped me have incredibly productive days.
One of the other mistakes we tend to make, too, is that when we get the urge to better ourselves, an example would be New Year’s resolutions, we often want to start doing ten things and we also want to stop doing, like, five, and we just dive in thinking, unlike the years before, now, it will pan out and we will establish and break all of these habits.
Instead of complicating everything and trying to do more things at the same time, today, make a pact with yourself – decide on ONE KEYSTONE HABIT that you will implement.
That means you’ll set aside a certain amount of time to work on your health, relationships, your business, or whatever you believe will yield the highest return on investment.
Once you have the keystone habit defined, the next step is your approach to establishing this keystone habit. I suggest you follow the steps below:
1. Choose the Keystone Habit and Minimize It
If you believe that going to the gym is your keystone habit or doing sales calls for your business, don’t start by doing it six days a week, two hours each day. This will only lead to exhaustion, and to prevent that, start by doing it two times a week for an hour. Later when you’re comfortable, then you increase the intensity.
2. Have a Gradual Approach
This ties into the previous point. Instead of diving into the approach where if you want to wake up earlier, you go straight to the desired hour, reduce your waking hour by 15 minutes until you reach it.
3. Get Accountability
Try to find someone you know who is already successfully doing the habit you want to implement. Ask them to keep you in check, at least until the behavior becomes slightly more automatic. Whenever you stay on track, text the person. Whenever you feel like you’re falling off track, tell it to them, and accept feedback.
4. Don’t Reward Yourself With the Same Habit
Instead of having a cheat day for the new habit you are trying to form, like healthy eating, reward yourself with another habit you’re consistent with. If you said you wanted to stay away from going out so you can save money and have been keeping up with it, treat yourself with a date to the movies as a reward for being true to your word with a healthy diet.
5. Follow the Golden Rule: Be Consistent
There will be times where life stuff comes first and you won’t be able to do the hour, or you’ll be sick and you won’t be able to do it. In these moments, even one minute will suffice, just to keep the consistency going. When I tried establishing the habit of reading before sleep, there were nights where I couldn’t keep my eyes open, but I made myself read just a page. And it made me so proud, if I’m honest.
Now, once you get a hang of all of this, you need to have the right motivation.
Ask yourself why is it that you need to do it now? And what will happen if you don’t? If you look at a year from now, what will be the consequences of not starting a positive action or not stopping the negative one?
As I previously said, we (unlike our ancestors) live in the world where the stakes aren’t a matter of life and death, it’s just a matter of how high of a standard you want to set for yourself in life.
Do you want to stay within mediocrity (and live a vanilla kind of life), or you want to give it a go and create a life worth living?
Once you’re done, my suggestion is to find someone whose opinion you respect and share it with them. Social pressure, especially from people we value, tends to do the trick, especially in the early days of establishing or breaking a new habit.
Yes, I know, you’re a grown-up, you can do it alone.
However, that’s not the point.
The point is to do it right and to be as efficient and effective as possible.
The best way to do this is to start small, with something that you normally break your word on. Something you know would make a massive difference in your life but somehow still eludes you, whatever habit you decide to be your keystone habit.
Then you go from there.
A day at a time, while focusing on the progress you’re making. Your goal is to do better than you did yesterday, even if you’re better by just one percent.
The good thing about this is that it’s transferable.
This means that habits, the positive ones, work hand-in-hand. Establishing one strong habit helps you tie another freshly started one.
Plus, if you take a look at your life, you will already see that you have several positive habits that can help you with the new ones you want to start.
By Zdravko Cvijetic