Abolish your bad habits once and for all

My daily workout regimen is supposed to be a High Intensity Interval Training circuit repeated 3 times and lasting a total of 40 minutes (plus cool-down). But near the end of the second circuit, I usually think I’m going to die. And there are some days when I just stop at the end of the second circuit instead of going all the way through the third.

I hate that I do that.

And that’s not the only bad habit I have. Like most people, I have a few other bad habits (I love coffee! And those Lik-M-Stik things. And I spend a little too much time on Facebook). I’ve been doing a lot of reading about willpower and discipline (and, in fact, consider one book on Willpower to be one of the 10 business books that changed my life).

So it was driving me crazy about why I quit my workout at 2 circuits instead of three and I sat down and started thinking about why I fall into bad habits even when I don’t want to. What I developed was a handy little framework to help me:

THE 4-STEP FRAMEWORK THAT LEAD TO BAD HABITS

I realized that there are 4 steps between me and any bad habit that I don’t want to do.

  1. Trigger: The thing that sets off habit
  2. Desire: This is the mental/physical/emotional condition that increases the need for that bad habit
  3. Opportunity: This is when everything lines up so you can do that bad habit
  4. Justification: This is when you listen to the little devil on your shoulder as it whispers all the reasons why you should do that bad habit you normally avoid

In my experience (and I haven’t done enough observation to notice anything different), I will usually do my bad habit if those 4 things line up in that order.

So while I’m working out, my muscles start burning and I’m nearing the end of the second circuit — that’s the Trigger for me. And then the Desire grows as the second circuit nears its conclusion and my muscles burn even more and start to get shaky. Then the Opportunity presents itself when my circuit ends. And then there’s the Justification, when I think “Well, I just completed two really hard circuits. That’s good enough!” Almost without realizing it, I’ve put my workout gear away and am headed to the shower… soaking in my own regret.

Or here’s another one that I know I’m not the only one who faces this: You’re sitting there watching TV — your passive position in front of the entertainment is your Trigger for a snack. Then, as you watch TV, your Desire grows. You see a commercial for something delicious. Your stomach growls. Your fingers get fidgety. Your mouth salivates. Then you realize that there is a bag of (whatever you love) in the cupboard — the Opportunity. And then there’s the Justification: “well I had a rough day plus I walked up two flights of stairs!” Next thing you know, you’re jamming a cake and a half down your gullet.

TRY IT FOR YOURSELF

Can you think of a bad habit that you suffer from? Follow it through those four steps of Trigger, Desire, Opportunity, and Justification and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

It could be a bad habit. It could be the breaking of a good habit or discipline. Those two things are pretty closely tied together. Think of the one that bugs you the most and see if you can identify the Trigger, Desire, Opportunity, and Justification. (i’ve found that there are multiples of each — try to list all of them or as many as you can possibly think of).

HOW TO BREAK THAT BAD HABIT

Once you’ve identified a bad habit as well as the Triggers, Desires, Opportunities, and Justifications, you next need to figure out how to counter each one with something specific — like a thought or a replacement activity or something that breaks the 4-step pattern.

Here’s what I do to break the bad habit of quitting my workout 2/3rds of the way through:

  1. Countering the Triggers: There’s not much I can do about the burning legs but one thing I do is count down my circuits and the ten exercises in each circuit. So instead of thinking that I’m doing ten exercises in one circuit and then ten exercises in another, I tell myself “1 down, 29 to go; 2 down, 28 to go, 3 down, 27 to go”. It’s a small thing but it reframes my workout to remind myself that a complete set is 3 circuits of 10 exercises.
  2. Countering the Desires: Again, I can’t do much about the burning muscles but as I near the end of my second circuit, I’ve started to remind myself about how much I’m enjoying my workout even though it’s hard, and about how good I’ll feel when I have fully completed all three circuits.
  3. Countering the Opportunity: On the last exercise of the second circuit, this is usually when, exhausted, I put my weights down in their starting position near the wall. But if I give myself that opportunity to quit, it’s too easy to quit so I put my weights down right in front of me where I’ll have to pick them up again. This helps to eliminate the opportunity.
  4. Countering the Justifications: There are so many justifications that go through my mind so I can’t write all of the countering ideas here. But one of the biggest is how long the workout is and I sometimes justify my shorter workout with “I’m busy today!”. So booking off the full amount of time has helped there. Another justification is “I’ve done enough” but again that is countered with my “1 down, 29 to go” counting.

Now look at your bad habits and see if you can might counter the Triggers, Desires, Opportunities, and Justifications.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is very much like weeding in the garden: If you try to break a bad habit by trying not to do it once, it will just happen again… very much like snapping off the leaves of a weed. What you really need to do is get in there and address the roots and that’s the only way to break those bad habits.

30 days of focus: Introduction

I’ve been thinking a lot about focus lately. And if you’ve been reading my blog over the past few months, you may have noticed the thread of focus/determination/self-discipline weaving through a lot of my posts.

Part of the reason stems from the new level that I’ve reached in my business. I’m at the point where I don’t need to do any marketing to get new clients for the next few years. I just show up and write and all is good. And although I recognize that this is an enviable place to be in business, and it’s taken some focus to get here, I’ve also come to realize that I miss the hungry drive of my early business efforts.

Waaaay back when I started my business, I HAD to focus to write so I could make enough money to eat and pay the bills. And there is still SOME focus in my day-to-day business today (I’m not eating bonbons in bed) but I don’t have as much riding on the results as when I was first starting out and it’s had a noticeable impact in what I do.

I’ve found it too easy to show up and do the minimum of what is required. I’ve found it too easy to make excuses for not doing things or for letting things drop. Not only is client work being affected but so are joint ventures and personal projects like my book, home renovations, and my fitness. Even habits like what I eat or when I get out of bed in the morning — all of which are tied to focus — are impacted. There are times when I’m very busy (sometimes to the point of burnout) but I realize that I’m not necessarily busy with the right things at the right time. And my business is shifting (away from freelance writing for financial and real estate clients and toward work that is published under my own name), so some of this focusing problem is from my changing goals. And I’m wired to get excited about new things for a while until the project shifts from “new” to that middle, slogging dip, and then I lose interest.

So there are a lot of things that are keeping me from focusing to achieve my goals. I’m often unfocused or I’m focused on the wrong things or I quickly lose focus.

I want the focus of my early business and the success of today. (Yes, I want my cake and I want to eat it, too).

These thoughts about focus had been simmering on low for a while, not fully formed, until I started following the Olympics this year. I realized (possibly for the first time) that the athletes competing were just regular people who happened to have A LOT of focus. That focus inspired them to make sacrifices and overcome setbacks so they could compete.

It shone a mirror on me as I wondered what I could achieve if I not only regained the focus I lost but also achieved the level of focus that helped people get to the Olympics.

I’ve tried to regain my focus lately in a few different ways. For example, you might have noticed that I’ve started trying to write 10,000 words at least one day each week. Some success on that front reminded me of how good it felt to focus on something, work hard, and achieve what I was focused on.

And now I’m ready to take it to the next level. I need to get educated about focus, break some bad habits, adopt some good habits, and figure out what the right things are to focus on. I need to rewire my brain to focus sharply on the right things at the right time and to stay with it until completion. I need to sharpen my focus so that setbacks and obstacles and distractions don’t stop me in my tracks.

To that end, I’m starting a 30 days of focus challenge. It’s a personal challenge in which I’m “focusing on focus” (and the determination, self-discipline, drive, productivity, etc. that are all related to focus). I’ll be blogging exclusively about focus for the entire month, including tips and skills and ideas about focus, along with updates of what I’m working on and how it’s going.

I’m going to list the work I want to do in the month and post daily updates about my progress. (Warning: It won’t be very exciting to read). If you feel like participating, I’d love to have some company on this journey toward greater productivity. Here’s a list of what I want to achieve this month. Feel free to post your own list in the comments section below.

30 DAYS OF FOCUS TASK LIST

The following list is the list of professional and personal goals I’d like to achieve this month.

  1. Restart a client’s ebook about neighborhood-specific real estate investing
  2. Complete the above ebook
  3. Restart a client’s ebook about virtual wholesaling
  4. Complete the above ebook
  5. Restart a client’s ebook about a specific technology for real estate investing
  6. Complete the above ebook
  7. Restart a client’s direct marketing copy
  8. Finish the first draft of my book
  9. Complete a business plan for a client
  10. Complete a joint venture project for GraphiteInvesting.com
  11. Publish 25 articles on an internet magazine that I contribute to
  12. Catch up on overdue content to be published on a joint venture real estate blog
  13. Complete all of the September content for the above joint venture real estate blog
  14. Complete an email sequence and free report for one of my joint ventures — FreeVideoSqueezePage.com
  15. Restart regular emails at FreeVideoSqueezePage
  16. Complete all of the September content for my mortgage loan client (approx. 2000 words)
  17. Complete all of the September content for my credit repair client (approx. 5000 words)
  18. Complete all of the September content for my real estate investing client (approx. 12000 words)
  19. Schedule daily episodes through the end of the year at HowToInvest.TV
  20. Complete all of the September content for an investing website that I contribute to
  21. Fix a broken website (which used to earn some money but broke down at the beginning of summer) so it starts to earn money again.
  22. Finish bathroom renovation
  23. Restart my workout routine (3 sets of circuit training with 20 lb weights, 3 times per week)

That’s everything right now… but there might be more added as the month goes on.

So my goal is: Learn to focus better and focus on completing these tasks.

My 30 days of focus starts NOW!

5 success principles I’m adopting for 2012

Happy New Year!

I’m a huge goal-setter — I love to list goals, break ’em down into smaller objectives, and rock them out each day and week and month and year. To help me aim for the right things and make better goals, I’ve listed 5 success principles that I want to apply to my life this year. (Some are new for me, some have been in place for a while now). I hope they inspire you, too:

  1. Do the hardest thing first: This is something I really tried to adopt in the last half of 2011 and it made such a HUGE difference to my productivity and how much I enjoyed what I do. I want to make this an even more intentional habit this year.
  2. Persevere without quitting: I always have a million projects on the go — many for clients, many for myself, and many for family and friends. I love being busy but there’s a drawback: It’s easy to get distracted when a project starts to slog. I need to learn to push through in these times. (Confession: This is a HUGE failure of mine… it’s not that I don’t finish things; it’s just that I stop for a while when they going gets really tough and that makes it hard to pick it up again later).
  3. Find a balance: I love to work and I work hard. But sometimes I work too much. There was a while when 7 days a week for months at a time was the norm… and then I’d burn out. I can’t do that. My productivity and my profitability plummet. I find I’m at my best when I take one day off each week. (Obviously I can take more if I want but I need to make sure I take at least one day! That’s a practice I’ve started to become strict about in the past couple of months and that day to recharge really helps my ability to produce good, consistent work.
  4. Add value to every relationship: This is a new one for me. I have clients who I sometimes wonder if they’re just clients because it would be too much trouble to find someone else to write for them. Obviously I don’t want that! I want someone to be my client because they find my contribution to their business to be so invaluable that they would fight tooth and nail to keep me. (I said “every relationship” instead of “every client relationship” because I think this is probably a good thing to do with my friends and family as well).
  5. Go further. There are two components to this fifth success principle. The first “Go further” component is related to accomplishment — I like to think that I work hard but then I hear about people who somehow manage to accomplish so much more than seems humanly possible. They somehow find the time to start several businesses all at once PLUS become champion shot putters… in between the time that they earn a degree and run 2 non-profits. I want that (but I want to do it while achieving the balance of #3). The second component of “Go further” is related to effort — I want to look back on everything I do and see that I went to the limit on my work and then pushed beyond. Did I go further and add something extra to each client project? Did I go further and add something extra to my blog post? Did I go further and add somethign extra to each chapter in my book? I want to be able to answer “yes” every time!

In the comments below, please tell me the success principles that are inspiring you for 2012!

[Image credit: Gareth du Plessis]