We don’t create our future. We create our habits. Our habits create our future.
Abraham Maslow wrote, “What one can be, one must be!”
He believed that for us to be anything other than our greatest selves would render our existence devoid of happiness. He termed this “self-actualization” or becoming actually what you can be potentially.
Most of us go through life at the mercy of our feelings. We feel a certain way, so it compels us to act a certain way, and then we identify ourselves through those feelings and actions.
If you truly desire to be your highest self, you need to reverse that order; you need to identify who you want to be, take actions that are line with that outcome, and then the ensuing feelings will be defined by those actions.
If you are sitting around thinking, “I’m tired” and then do nothing save for fill your time with high-calorie, low-nutritional content sensory food like social media, your ensuing feelings based on those actions will be and should be less than uplifting and empowering.
But, if you wake in the morning and you want to be a runner. You strap on your shoes and go running. Or, if you want to be a writer, you break out your laptop and start writing. You have created your identity of who you want to be, taken action to be that person, and now your feelings will be of confidence and self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy, what is that?
Albert Bandura describes it as one’s confidence in their ability to succeed in a specific situation or accomplish a specific task. The importance of this cannot be understated with regard to self-actualization.
If we desire to be our optimal selves, expressing our highest selves, moment to moment and have the confidence to identify who we want to be and then take the actions to be that person, we need to have intense trust in ourselves.
Badura states we develop this self-efficacy 4 ways: through mastery experiences, vicarious learning, social persuasion and physiological factors.
Mastery experiences are best described as recent frequent successes. This fuels our self-confidence in a way that strengthens our belief that we can accomplish more challenges, not just in the domain we have recently mastered but globally, or on a macro level.
Let’s dive right into 5 obligatory steps to form good habits:
Step 1: Decide what is one good habit, if started today, would have the greatest impact on your life in 5 years.
Conversely, what is one bad habit, if eliminated today, would have the greatest impact on your life 5 years from now?
There is a belief that states, “first eliminate the poison.” A floret of broccoli (good habit) really isn’t helping anything if you’re washing it down with a soda and a large fry (bad habit). I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from a particular course of action regarding the choice to eliminate a bad habit or integrate a good habit. But, you need to have a healthy relationship with reality. Your actions need to be in line with your goals.
You need to think long term. You need to eliminate bad habits and you need to install good habits. So make your decision and let’s jump to step 2.
Step 2: Start small, ridiculously small.
Start so small you can’t fail.
If you wake up in the morning and are completely unmotivated thinking you need to get on the treadmill for 45 minutes, you may just roll over and hit the snooze. Instead, resolve to do just a single mile and a really awesome phenomenon happens: you look forward to getting your run on and when one mile approaches, you’ll probably do 2!
If it’s a habit you’re trying to eliminate such as smoking, resolve to eliminate 1 cigarette a day. This is the mastery experience Bandura speaks of that raises our self-efficacy (confidence) and not just in this domain of exercise (the micro level), but it also emboldens us globally on a macro level to attempt other tasks/challenges.
Maslow says, “everything registers,” meaning every time you say you are going to do something and don’t, it erodes your confidence subconsciously. On the other hand, every time you do what you set out to do, it inflates your confidence. Set yourself up to be able to accomplish the tasks you desire and you effectively increase your comfort zone to attempt new and more challenging things.
Our growth lies outside our comfort zones and the more confidence we can garner from these mastery experiences, the more likely will be to push it.
Step 3: Consistency over intensity
The ability to sustain your activity is directly related to your compliance on step 2 (start small).
Too many of us attempt to reverse years of poor diet, poor health or bad living in a short, unrealistic period of time. This will surely result in failure, erode self-efficacy/confidence in yourself that will dissuade you from attempting future challenges.
Again, start ridiculously small, sustain and progressively increase or decrease (if eliminating), on the way to your desired outcome. If a day arrives and you don’t feel like doing what is on the agenda, remember these 2 points:
successful people do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, whether they feel like it or not
successful people do what unsuccessful people don’t want to do.
Even if you are going to do 5 jumping jacks or 10 burpees, it’s infinitely better to do it half baked than not at all.
Keep up the momentum and be sure you are doing what you set out to do!
Step 4: Have routines, rituals, and cues
Your mind creates habits in a way to wind down and save energy so it can run on auto pilot.
We are going to use this to our benefit. What do I mean by rituals? First, and this may be step 4.5, you want to match your activity to your energy level.
When I get home from work, I’m spent. The last thing I wanna do is work out. Reading at this point or trying to do any deep cognitive task is met with failure as well. I wake daily at 4 am and have my morning lined out in advance. I have a routine I follow every day: wake up at 4 am, drink coffee while reading email, listen to a self-help book while I make lunch, do 15 minutes of HIIT or tabata, 10-15 minutes of yoga, and meditate for 5-10 minutes. Then, into the shower and off to work by 7.
I don’t decide, “ok, it’s time to work out.” I put on my Pumas. I don’t decide, “ok, it’s time to do a vinyasa.” I roll out my mat. If I’m going to write, I open my surface. These are the soft starts that build momentum. The small bite to swallow that eventually consumes the elephant.
Step 5: Prepare for the “Kapowees”
Identify “barriers” to the process up front that are known as “Kapowees”.
By identifying Kapowees in advance you can take steps to abate their impact. These are problem/solution statement like, “If I don’t feel like running than I’m just gonna put my sneakers on” or “If I feel like a triple cheeseburger than I’m going to just get a single.” Remember, you may not be able or even need to completely eliminate your Kapowee, but you do want to lessen the impact it is going to have on your process. And never, ever beat yourself up over a fail. Just start from where you are and move forward. Self-blame and regret are progress suicide. Be compassionate with yourself in a way you would be to a dear friend.
BONUS: There is the corollary of habits that I call the “habit cascade.” A cascade is a term used in biology to describe a series of events that’s orchestrated from a single event.
Our habits, good or bad, will also result in a cascade of other events or actions. Let’s look at a bad habit such as drinking for example. In and of itself, alcohol is bad. Drinking alcohol itself, if in a vacuum, will prevent you from ever reaching your highest self.
Here’s an example of a potential cascade that has, in this instance, a massively detrimental effect. Let’s say you settle back with a nice single barrel bourbon after work. Chances are, speaking of probability, you are not going to work out, so you have a greater likelihood of eating something unhealthy you might not have normally eaten. You’re not going to be at your best to read and learn something new. You may even end up on the wrong end of a discussion, that otherwise would not have occurred, had we successfully abstained from the aged drink.
Now, let’s look at the positive effect of the habit cascade and how we can use it to our advantage. You wake in the morning and get in your run and maybe even an interval workout. This positive accomplishment gives you the confidence to move forward with other endeavors, challenges and tasks. You have the mindset to feed your body food based on good, healthy decisions, not drunken, lust of the mouth. Your mind is primed, due to the increased blood flow and endorphins, to absorb what you read and even contemplate the big ideas imparted. You get to work fueled confidently by your morning successes, but you are also physically, emotionally and mentally on top of your game. This is how our habits create our future well beyond just influencing singular events.
Remember to start small, focus on consistency, create routines and rituals, be alright with having a bad day, do even a little rather than completely skipping a day completely, and progressively increase your actions at a sustainable rate. Here’s to building the lasting habits that allow to become the self-actualized person you are capable of being!