How To Create Good Habits (and Eliminate Bad Ones) for Life

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TDW1O9CWJJ All of us know too well that we should eat a healthy diet and to exercise, to check our smartphones and our email much less often, save more money and invest it better, take vacations and to rest more often, reduce stress, take walks and all the rest of the old "self-help canon."

The trouble is, we're slaves to habit and armed with excuses. Patience is rare and time is short. We're too damned tired. The rent is too damned high. I need my TV time and beer and late-night pizza, discipline be damned.

And yet we know, successful people make success a habit. Bastards.

What does that mean, in practice, anyway, "success?"

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Before I ever ventured into self-help territory, reading up on what makes those top performers so successful, I was  lazy. Procrastination was an art form born out of escapism, lack of discipline and overarching sense of purpose except "living beautifully." Attribute it to Artist's License, if you will.

That's why my first book took me seven years to write. Frankly, I drifted by in life on brains alone until I hit a wall. Becoming a New Yorker makes you quickly realize that all your brains are bested quickly by another's hard work ethic.

Then came the Great Recession, a cool quarter million in high-interest student loans, plus a realization that The Law was not for me.  After being unemployed for months and having to move back home with my Mom, I'd had enough of taking my own nonsense and decided to shape up. I'd reached a low and couldn't stand myself, my crappy habits, lack of focus, purpose, and my general malaise.

That's when I took upon myself to change, to see how all the true successes had arrived at where they were today. Since then, I've read at least ten thousand articles on habits, finding meaning, productivity and health, as well as how true wealth is made.

The more I read, the more I started to believe that discipline - a daily regimen created on a series of good habits over years - is really where success is built. It may be day by day and brick by brick, most boring, least exciting repetition, but it works!

This stood against the way I'd seen the world, the greatest works of art developed in great fits of inspiration. In practice, all the greatest artists had the same routines they built successfully for years. From then on, I decided that according to a Russian saying, "the slower you go, the farther you'll get." That's been my guiding philosophy since then.

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All of us like to mythologize successful athletes and entrepreneurs for their achievements. How do they do it? What's their special sauce? What magic superpower does this one or that one have?

The answer, my friend, lies in the paradox of boring details. Whether it's eating less or exercising more, taking walks or saving away money for retirement, good habits are not genetic and don't attach themselves magically to successful people.

Neither are they forged from superhuman willpower or iron discipline only a few of us have. Building good habits (a few easy examples you can start today can be found here) lies in following a system consistently, day in and day out, in taking small steps and not expecting too much from yourself. It's built on using reverse psychology on yourself, as well as turning around your own laziness and procrastination in your favor.

 

Here are the most common methods successful people use to create and sustain good habits and get rid of bad ones:

1) Find a unifying purpose in life.

Know that everything is connected and has meaning in life. Meditate on this each morning and remind yourself throughout the day.

 

2) Eliminate distractions.

Take a digital or actual Sabbath each week when you remove devices from your life. Power down the phone at 7 PM and don't check it until late next morning. NEVER check your phone first thing in the morning to enable focus and calm to think and plan for your day. Avoid becoming a slave to other people's emails by checking email only at set times during the day (and never right when you sit down at your computer).

 

3) Value your time above all else.

Get rid of things and people in your life that suck your time away without adding value. People will suddenly start to find your time valuable.

 

4) Learn to say no with confidence to eating and drinking things that are bad for you, to people that want to monopolize your time and to other "temptations" that arise out of your planned routine.

 

5) Take small steps every day (go for 1% improvement) rather than go for big wins - these don't stick.

NEVER expect overnight success with your goals - this never works.

 

6) Acknowledge you're human and make mistakes and are not optimized like a machine.

Allow yourself to slip up and take breaks periodically from your routine.

 

7) NEVER be guided by guilt.

You're an adult and doing things because they maximize your pleasure and minimize pain, as well as stick to your values.

As a wise man I met (a renowned marriage counselor) once said, guilt is S-H-I-T.

Acquire good habits because you love yourself, want to live a better life for yourself and your family and have a lot more to give to the world before you move on.

Guilt will never get you half as far as self-love.

8) NEVER compare yourself to anyone else or their path or plight.

All you care about is achieving your own potential in life.

 

9) Make it easy for yourself to create good habits. Set the right conditions.

Get organized and prepare everything you need ahead of time to be successful in your goals. Believe in the system you're using. Follow through from start to finish.

 

10) Be patient with yourself and expect there will be ups and down and you'll want to quit.

Be patient with others involved. They're also human and going through their own difficulties.

 

11) Make yourself accountable to others for failing to get rid of bad habits and for failing to stick with good ones.

Pay a fine for breaking a good habit to your spouse or partner in virtue. Take on goals together with others trying to do the same (spouse or friend or another partner in your goal). Hold each other accountable. As for regular feedback from someone who isn't afraid to tell you the truth.

 

12) Eliminate the lifestyle factors that perpetuate your bad habits.

If it's your smartphone, leave it in another room during dinner or while in the bathroom. Turn it off. Check emails only twice a day at 10:30 AM and 3 PM. If you smoke or drink too much, stop hanging with other people you smoke or drink too much with. Eliminate negative people from your life that are jealous or envious or don't want you to succeed or are otherwise stumbling blocks to you.

 

13) Learn from everyone.

Learn both what to do and what NOT to do. Every person's experience that you meet is a data point in your own narrative of personal optimization and improvement.

 

14) Measure your progress in the most specific terms possible.

Measure time saved, money saved, pounds lost, productivity gained, etc. Make it as concrete as possible and it will become real and tangible progress for you.

 

15) Automate. Reduce the number of decisions you have to make each day as much as possible to make it easier to reach your goals.

Set your alarm earlier by 5 minutes each day until you get up earlier by an hour. Set reminders each morning to meditate for 10 minutes before breakfast. Keep track of your steps taken each day for a month by using a pedometer app. Prepare your lunch for the next day the night before, before you go to bed. Take out the trash and wash dishes before you brush your teeth. Prepare what you're going to wear the night before. Keep pushing yourself until the habit becomes ingrained and you do it on auto-pilot regularly, just as mindlessly as you brush your teeth twice a day.

 

16) Outsource what you can't do yourself.

Get a coach. Buy apps to help you plan, wake up on time, keep to your goals, measure progress. Don't try to do everything yourself. You will fail.

 

17) Reward yourself for small wins and big wins, alike.

Celebrate incremental progress. This is one of the best motivators to keep going until you reach your goal.

 

18) NEVER take on more than one habit at a time.

Perfect one and the next one will be easier. But never double up. You'll fail in both.

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Good habits are hard to form sometimes, but never impossible. No bad habit is easy to break, but it's always eminently doable, with just the right mix of determination, accountability, help from your friends and family, plus taking small, digestible steps.

We're all rooting for your success, as always!

**And, as ever, if you have any questions at all, please do get in touch!**

Are there other important strategies you’ve used to start good habits and get rid of bad ones? Please share them with the Community in Comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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Yuri Kruman is a Healthcare Product Manager, published author, blogger at BlueprintToThrive.com and health tech entrepreneur based in New York.

*The views expressed herein are his own*