The sun was setting, laying a brilliant hue of pink across the sky at dusk. It has been a long day of playing, walking and exploring for Mossy. It was time for rest. He scratched his bed frantically for a few minutes, circled around it clockwise three times and then four times counter-clockwise before laying down. He then heaved a great sigh and placed his weary head on his front paws looking at his guardian reading a book sitting on his couch. He has done this exact routine since he was a pup.
It has been proposed that the act of scratching the ground before rest allowed the dog to reveal any dangerous insects or unwanted surprises before laying down to rest. This action had been prevalent in Mossy’s ancestors for aeons before he was born. It was a genetic habit. Even now, laying on his comfy fabric bed that is regularly cleaned, he cannot help but scratch his bed, knowing that it does not reveal any insects or hides any surprises, before laying down. He is on autopilot.
Have you got a habit that you do that does not make sense? Is there an action you perform daily that has been ingrained in you that you cannot help but do it daily even at your inconvenience? Habits are subconscious actions you perform. They are actions you do frequently, often daily, that you cannot help yourself doing. They are unlike any other actions you perform consciously or with intent, purpose and determination for they have the power of compounded results mixed with a subtlety that can go unnoticed for a long time before their effects can be appreciated.
Understand that you do not make your destiny. You make your habits and your habits make your destiny. A simple habit of looking left, right and left again allows you to cross the road safely, just like the habit of slightly slouching when sitting at your desk gives you a neck ache over time. You do not fail or succeed overnight. Success (or failure) is a product of daily habits. You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than your current results.
When you look and analyse your life in all its aspects at present, you will see that it is the accumulation of your habits since you were young. Your physical health is a habit of how you eat, what you eat, how much exercise you do (or not do) regularly. The one healthy meal you ate last year will not be taken into account if you eat unhealthily the rest of the time. And vice versa, your health will not be ruined by that one time you ate too much at a buffet with your mates. Your financial health is a reflection of your financial habits. One great investment will not make you rich if you have a habit of spending more than you earn regularly.
Some may consider the way to success is to set goals and achieve them. Where setting goals is important to allow focus and direction, it is certainly not everything. On the contrary, results have very little to do with the set goals but everything to do with the system created. Consider this, goal setting suffers from a serious case of survivor bias. We focus so much on those winners who made it and fail to notice the others who had the same goals but did not succeed. Instead of focusing on what goals to strive for and thinking just because you have goals, it increases your chance of being more successful, you should be focusing on how did those people succeed in the first place. How did they think to allow them to do what they did to achieve the results?
When you start to consider the thoughts and actions of those who succeeded and how it influenced their success, you may begin to realise that we are referring to identity change, the transformation of that particular individual to allow her to think in a certain way, performing actions in a specific manner to yield the desired result. Ultimately, true behaviour change is identity change. We will always act consistently to the person we think we are. Most people fail to change their behaviour simply because they fail to change their self-identity. Behaviour that is incongruent with the self will not last. As our system of actions relies on our system of beliefs, it’s hard to change your habits if you never change the underlying beliefs that led to your past behaviour.
It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s very different to say I’m the type of person who is this. When your behaviour and identity are fully aligned, you are no longer pursuing behavioural change. You are simply acting like the person you already believe yourself to be. You will find whatever way you can to avoid contradicting yourself because the biggest barrier to change at any level is identity conflict.
Understand how powerful your habits are. They are not exactly benign. A bad habit can be extremely detrimental and a great habit can be empowering given time. It is only when looking back two, five or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones become strikingly apparent. Be clear of what you want to achieve and ask yourself a simple question, “Are my habits allowing me to get closer to my goals and more importantly, become the person I want to be?”
Mossy can’t help himself scratching his bed before he rests daily. Are your habits empowering you or hindering you in life?
‘Your habits matter because they help you become the type of person you wish to be. They are the channel through which you develop your deepest beliefs about yourself. You become your habits.’ – James Clear