Fully 95 percent of what you do, or don’t do, is determined by your habits. Your actions are determined by your habits of belief (the way you are programmed as a result of your lifetime of experience) and your habits of behavior (what you are accustomed to doing or not doing).
The biggest obstacle to success is that people have negative habits, sometimes unconsciously, that hold them back, year after year, from realizing their full potential. The good news is that all habits, first of thought and then of behavior, are learned. Because your habits are learned, they can be unlearned and replaced with new, positive, constructive habits that enable you to get going, keep going, and do great work that gets you paid more and promoted faster.
Habits are developed by taking in new information that’s either positive or negative for us and then repeating actions based on that information until actions become automatic. Once the habit is locked in, you respond automatically, neither questioning nor explaining to yourself what you have decided to do.
The worst habits of all are based on your self-limiting beliefs. These are areas where you believe yourself to be limited in some way even though it may not be true. But as a result, you act as if it was true, and it then becomes true for you. As the old saying goes: “You are not what you believe you are, but what you believe, you are.” (Excerpt is from one of my favorites “Just Shut Up and Do It” by Brian Tracy).
The starting point of greater success is for you to take some time to challenge the automatic assumptions you make that may be holding you back from success. Some people believe they are lacking in intelligence because they didn’t get good grades in school. Then they find out that some of the most successful people in the most complex industries also did poorly in school. Even by knowing this fact, most of them continue living with the old mentality.
Some people are unsuccessful because they do not believe they are creative, self-disciplined, good time managers, punctual, or capable of learning and applying new things. They say, “That’s just the way I am.” They actually think this is a reason for not growing and improving. The fact is that most self-limiting beliefs are not true. They are based on information that you have taken in. Sometimes they come from the opinions or criticisms of others; sometimes, from something as simple as reading your horoscope.
The worst of all self-limiting beliefs is the fear of failure. This is the fear of loss, poverty, mistakes, or not achieving a goal that you have set for yourself. People who are preoccupied with the fear of failure continually look for reasons why something cannot be done, why it’s a bad idea, or why they may lose their time and money. The fear of failure, like all fears, paralyzes behavior and clouds thinking.
The Helplessness of the Elephant
“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” – John Dryden
At one time, Indian elephants were the “battle tanks” of the Maharajas. Not only did they carry boxes of bowmen and spear throwers on their backs, but they were also violent and aggressive, attacking the enemy and impaling them on their sharpened tusks. They were so terrifying and fearless that enemy armies would run away when they were confronted by these elephants.
Today, these same elephants are beasts of burden. They calmly and peacefully plow the fields, haul logs, do what their masters tell them to do, and then stand around quietly in their corrals, waiting for the next day and more work. They have completely lost their ferocity and their ability to strike fear into the heart of the enemy. How did this happen?
When the elephant was a baby, the owner would take the little elephant away from its mother and tie its leg with a strong rope to a post driven deep into the ground. The baby elephant would struggle and try to get away to get back to its mother, crying and bleating and protesting—but to no avail. The rope around its leg was too strong, and the post was driven too deep. Eventually, the baby elephant would give up struggling.
Each day, the owner would take the baby elephant away and tie it to a post for several hours. In almost no time at all, the baby elephant would accept that when it was tied to a post, it was helpless. The baby elephant developed the greatest malaise of the modern world, what psychologists call learned helplessness.
When the elephant grew up into a five-ton beast, the largest land animal in the world, all the owner had to do was tie a rope the size of a dog leash around the elephant’s leg, and it would immediately become passive and stop moving or struggling. The owner could then tie the other end of this rope to a tent post driven a few inches into the ground. The elephant, capable of breaking through fences and knocking down houses, would simply stand and wait quietly until the owner came back to take him to work.
The Root of Helplessness
Just like elephants, the same thing happens to us in our childhood. At an early age, our parents begin to tell us “No!” or “Stop that” or “Get away from there!” or “Don’t touch that!” Sometimes the parent would back up these words with some kind of physical punishment. The growing child would soon start to feel small, incompetent, incapable, weak, and afraid to try anything new or different.
Most people have had these childhood experiences. When you grow up, whenever you are confronted with something new, different, unexpected, or unsure, your natural reaction is the same: “I can’t! I can’t! I can’t!” This fear of failure then holds you back from trying new things, taking risks, moving out of your comfort zone, and thinking outside the box. Instead of thinking of all the ways you could benefit and grow from trying or doing something different, you only think of the possible downside and the negative things that might happen. Like the elephant, you become passive. This is the state of mind of fully 80 percent of the population.
Here’s a question for you: Would you like to be happy, healthy, popular, thin, and rich?
Most people say, “What a dumb question! Of course, I would like to be happy, healthy, popular, thin, and rich.”
You think you do, but in your heart of hearts, you probably don’t believe that it’s possible for you. How can you tell? By looking at what you are doing. If you sincerely want to achieve these great goals, you would be out there working on them all day, every day, and nothing could stop you from achieving them.
It is not what you say, wish, hope, or intend that matters; it is only what you do. Your actions on an hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute basis tell you and everyone around you who you really are and what you really want.
You are who you are and where you are today because of all of your previous choices up until now. You cannot change the past, but you can change the future. And you can accomplish more and different things in the future by making better choices in the present.
The secret to creating a wonderful future for yourself is to develop new habits that are consistent with the person you want to be and the things you want to accomplish. The truth is that bad habits are easy to form but hard to live with. Good habits are hard to form but easy to live with.
The wonderful discovery is that once you develop a new, positive, life-enhancing habit, it soon becomes automatic and easy. It even becomes harder to revert to a negative habit than to practice a better one because of the feelings of happiness and personal satisfaction that the new habit gives you.
New Habit Development Formula
How do you develop a new, positive habit? The same way that you developed an old negative habit. Through practice and repetition. Here is the formula:
- Develop one habit at a time. Start with something simple, a success habit of top people, like punctuality.
- Make a decision that you are going to be punctual from now on. Decisiveness is extremely powerful in new habit pattern development. The reason that most people are performing at a low level is because they never decided to perform at a higher one.
- Create a positive affirmation that is phrased as if you already had your new habit. Say something like “I am punctual for every meeting and appointment.” Repeat this over and over, like a mantra, until it is accepted by your subconscious mind as a command. Once your subconscious mind accepts these new instructions, you find yourself becoming more punctual and actually enjoying the experience. Vince Lombardi, the football coach, was famous for what they called Lombardi time. Lombardi time was defined as “fifteen minutes before the scheduled time.” If the bus was scheduled to leave at 9:00 a.m., all the players were trained to be there at 8:45 a.m. If you weren’t there, the bus would leave without you. Start practicing Lombardi time in every area of your life. Make a decision not just to be on time, but to be ten to fifteen minutes early for every appointment.
- Visualize yourself as if you already had the habit of punctuality. Create a clear mental picture of yourself behaving exactly as you would like to in the future. Remember: all improvements in personal performance begin with an improvement in your mental pictures.
- Act as if you already had the habit that you desire. Ask “How would I behave if I were one of the most punctual people around?” Behave the way you think other punctual people behave. Pretend that you are already the person you intend to be.
- Create the feelings of pride, happiness, and self-control that you would have when you are always punctual. These emotions of pride, self-confidence, and self-respect drive the habit and behavior deeper into your subconscious mind, making your new habit automatic, faster, and easier.
Here is a great discovery: the development and practice of any positive habit strengthens and reinforces all your other positive habits at the same time. Any weakness in a particular discipline will weaken all your other positive habits as well.