Habits, The life-changing power of habits and how I use them to transform my life

January 17, 2017 — Leave a comment

Foreword by Jeffrey Hodges

In yoga philosophy the concept of habits is vital to understanding ourselves. Yoga uses the term ‘samskara’ to describe and explain human habits. It is suggested that every thought, emotion or physical action creates an impression or imprint–a samskara–in the deeper structure of our mind, and these samskaras create tendencies to repeat that thought, emotion or action. Imagine one of the old vinyl records; each time the needle of behaviour runs over the record it scratches a groove in the record. The more a particular behaviour is undertaken the deeper the mental groove becomes, and hence easier to repeat again next time.

Obviously we want to encourage positive physical, emotional, and mental habits and discourage those that limit us or cause us to do destructive things, however any automatic behaviour, whether good or ill, is to a certain extent still limiting our capacity to act with conscious awareness in the moment. But good habits are better than bad ones, and if you can identify and replace a limiting habit of thought, emoting or acting early in 2017, what a great start to the year!

– Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc. M.Sc.(Hons) B.Ed., Director, Sportsmind Institute

Introduction

It’s 7:42 AM and I’ve slept in again. I feel tired because I stayed up until 2:30 AM last night working on chipping away at a never-ending task list. I grab whatever clothes comes easiest to hand in my half-awake stake, hastily pull them on, and run into the office, forgetting to have breakfast along the way.

Some of the thoughts that run through my mind as I arrive at the office in an adrenalin-fuelled panic include:

  • What do I need to do today?
  • Who do I need to talk to?
  • What client emailed me last night requesting individual attention?
  • Which team members do I need to loop in today for x project?
  • How many emails are there in my inbox again? Why can’t I get on top of my inbox? What’s wrong with me?

“Shoot!” I curse at myself. I just checked my calendar and realised that I have a morning meeting in 3 minutes that I haven’t prepared for, and a lunch meeting soon-after that I committed to weeks ago. There goes my entire day alongside any hope of being productive with “my time”.

Oh wait! These are also teammates that need to run ideas and proposals by me, and emergency fires that have popped up out of nowhere that all scream for my attention. My business partners are impatient and grumpy about some issue or other and they need a sounding board, someone to offload to, or to escalate a task delivery time.

Before I know it, it’s 7 PM and I have yet to have lunch. I’m starving and the chocolate sitting on the Junior Developer’s desk entices me with its demonic allure. “Something is better than nothing…” I think to myself as I hastily devour it to satiate the hunger. Bye-bye eating healthy and well.

I feel like I’ve been at everyone else’s beck and call all day that I haven’t had the chance to look at one single thing on my task list. So to rectify this I stay late at the office when everyone else is gone, but all I can do is stare at the computer screen as my hand sits lifelessly on top of my mouse. I realise that I am physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and have 1% of battery life left in me. It’s times like this that I wish I could instantly transport into my bed because the thought of finding my way back home abhors me.

Does this sound familiar to you too?

When I reflect on what my life was like a few years ago, words and phrases that spring to my mind include “stress”, “anxiety”, “struggling-to-stay-afloat”, “drowning”, and “overwhelmed”. I’d tell myself that I couldn’t afford to be weak, and that I needed to hold it together. So I would put on a happy face, and I’d muster what energy I could to keep pushing. Unfortunately, the constancy of this mode cumulated in a few things: Burning out, exhaustion, anxiety attacks, and finally sitting across the lunch table from one of my business partners–after the 3rd doctor appointment that week to try to find out what’s wrong with me (tip: exhaustion)–and verbalising, “I’m not doing too well. I’m tired.”

I should have known that I was burning out and barely holding it together. After all I was spending my evenings sitting for 3-4 hours on my bedroom in front of the heater during Melbourne winters, doing nothing but staring into space. Or that it wasn’t normal that I would be rational and calm during an end-of-day debrief with an overseas teammate yet have my face wet with tears, or that both my hands would shake when I tried to explain what I was going through with my closest confidants.

Today, that feeling of being rushed, anxious, and stressed is now replaced by a sense of flow. I wake up earlier (5:30 AM), my pace of work is less frantic, and oddly enough, I’m the most productive I have ever been in my life. The franticness has been replaced with a calmness, and the stress has been replaced with a stillness. I feel even-keel in my approach, and I walk into the office knowing exactly what needs to be done every day, every week and every month. It’s a feeling that is both incredible and powerful.

So what’s the secret? The truth is that there is no real big complicated secret. I take simple tools and apply them over and over and over again. And the best part is that anyone can do it. So get your pen and papers out because  I will be sharing with everyone something that completely turned my life around, and a tool that had a profound impact on my life.

Habits

To achieve long-lasting and sustainable change requires constancy in the little things we do each and every day. This is why habits is the tool of choice I use in achieving my goals. The trick however, lies in the implementation of habits, and the tools you use to hold yourself accountable.

“The Checklist” + Downloadable templates

To implement your habits I use a tool I call a “The Checklist”. As the name implies, it’s a checklist that contains every single habit that must be completed every day, every week and every month, for you to live and perform at peak performance knowing that “everything you need to conceivably think about, is covered”.

In putting together this tool, I use the template (available as a free download below) and any word processing program such as Microsoft Word; a program readily accessible to everyone.

When putting together my habits list, I use the following questions as a guideline to ensure that everything I need to think about during the month is given due attention, and then broken down into manageable chunks so that the habits are spread evenly over the week.

  1. What needs to be covered every single week for me to go to sleep at night knowing that “every facet of my life is covered”?
  2. How can I break all these things down into days of the week (5 days), so that I know that at the end of the week, it’s looked after?
  3. What do I need to do every single day to ensure my life keeps rolling?
  4. What do I need to look at every single month to ensure that every aspect of my life admin is taken care of?

I provide for free below my downloadable checklist templates in addition to my own personal examples that can be used as a reference guide for when you fill out your own checklist:

  1. Free Download: BLANK Daily/Weekly/Monthly Habits Checklist
  2. Free Download: Daily/Weekly/Monthly Personal Habits Checklist
  3. Free Download: Daily/Weekly/Monthly Work Habits Checklist

Use “The Checklist” every day

How you choose to refer to your own “The Checklist” is up to you (for example, printing or referring to it electronically), but the critical factor in its implementation is that it must be used every single day.

I find it easiest to print my checklists in batches of five-at-a-time, and inserting them into a clipboard. This clipboard sits on my desk. As I complete the items, I tick off the checklist items.

When it’s online and I have to open it up in a browser, I don’t look at it for a variety of reasons (too many clicks, page takes too long to load, Internet isn’t working today, browser clutter etc.). By printing the checklists and having them on a clipboard in front of me, it’s always there, always easily accessible, and I’ll always look at it.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter how you refer to your checklists. If you are the type of person who wants it on an iPad, or a bookmark, or in your computer as a file placed on your desktop, that’s ultimately your decision. Just don’t forget to use it every day.

Important note #1, How to get results right away. Fast.

When I started using these tools, I saw results straight away. This is attributable to two things:

Execute step-by-step, line-by-line. The reason why I got results straight away is I tend to execute things exactly as I’m told. If I receive a set of instructions I will execute it down to the tee, line by line, step by step.

Trust in the process. Don’t skip the questions. Answer the question that is being asked, answer them in the order they are asked, and trust in the process.

Important note #2, Don’t over complicate

The art of thinking simply is really quite difficult.

People have a tendency to over complicate. I believe that if you want long lasting change, and you want something which is sustainable, the tool, and the application of the tool, must be as simple as possible.

The following questions provide a good litmus test to determine if a tool or the application of the tool passes the simple test:

  1. If you give this checklist to someone else would they be able to replicate what you do? If yes, great. If it’s no, then it’s too complicated.
  2. Do you spend more than 5 minutes trying to understand the tool every time I look at it? If yes, then it’s too complicated. If no, great.
  3. Do you spend more time managing the tool, rather than getting the results that I seek? If yes, then it’s too complicated. If no, great.

Important note #3, Make it sustainable

At university, I hired a personal trainer to assist in the establishment of my fitness regime. What started out as 3 workouts per week turned into 5, an obscene amount of food ingestion requirements, and a monster cocktail of protein shakes and supplements that would make anyone think I was self-medicating. Any results I achieved were negated as I would burn out after 3 months. I would then take a 3 month break, and then “get back into the swing of things” again, and so the cycle would repeat. Any results that I gained were quickly lost, and the time, effort and money spent went down the drain.

My biggest learning from this experience is that anything that I do with my life now has to be integrated in a way which feels both “natural” and doesn’t require an incredible amount of effort (to the exclusion of everything else), so that it becomes sustainable over the long term.

Important note #4, Consistent application is King

The perfect tool will be rendered useless if not used consistently. I’d even go so far to say that an imperfect tool, used consistently, will still garner you results.

When I first introduced this too to the Team Managers at WeTeachMe–The Go-To Place For Australia’s Best And Most Popular Classes–the biggest difficulty was ensuring that the Team Managers referred to it daily. However once this was done (it took roughly 1 month), I was able to “leave” the teams confident that as long as the Team Managers keep its application consistent, then I can sleep well at night as it ensures that the teams chug along like a well-oiled machine without much thinking involved.

Important note #5, The importance of establishing a direct link between your habits and the end-game

It was 2016 and I was at a retreat with Lydia Lassila–an Australian Olympic freestyle skier gold medalist who competed in the 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympic Games–, Jeffrey Hodges–a sports psychologist who works exclusively with elite athletes and sports clubs to enhance individual and team performance (and author to the foreword in this article)–, and a smattering of entrepreneurs who wanted to take some time out of their insane lives to take a breather, and learn. It was at this retreat that I learned the important secret of linking your daily habits to the end-goal. The decision to fly Jeff in to facilitate our learning seminars set the scene for a light-bulb moment in my life.

One of the sessions Jeff ran for us was the importance of habits, and the key takeout I walked away with was the understanding that “habits are one of the tools the you use to achieve your end goal”. The realisation for me was as follows: A lot of people set habits like working out more or working out five times a week, eat healthy, waking up at seven o’clock every morning, but people lack the overarching reason why they set these habits. The second part of the questions should be: What is your end-game? Understand what your end-game is, and then establish the habits that you need to set that will take you to that goal.

When I returned back to the office, I set in concrete that my end-game in 2016 for WeTeachMe–The Go-To-Place For Australia’s Best And Most Popular Classes–was to remove myself from the role of Success Team Manager, Sales Team Manager, Corporate Events Team Manager, and On-boarding Team Manager. I rooted this goal in the understanding that this was important because as my company grows, it is important that I remove myself in operational roles so that I am no longer the bottleneck.

The next step was asking myself what are the habits that I need to start practicing on a daily basis, so that I reach my end-game. To illustrate, some of the habits were as follows:

  • Daily: Delegate at least three tasks to someone so that I can practice the art of delegation. This was important so I could work more on the business rather than in the business. This one I found very difficult to do at first.
  • Daily: Delete 5 items of my to-do list so that I can remove the unnecessary fluff in my life. This was important because I found that I was busy but often questioned whether I was working on the things that mattered most. This was a lot easier to implement than the above.
  • Daily: Celebrate a win from one of the teammates that align with the company values. This was important so that the team started enforcing the company culture rather than the management enforcing the company culture. This was a lot of fun to do and created a great work environment.
  • Daily: Create or review two process documents. This was important to ensure that the business continued to be systemised and optimised so that I could remove myself eventually. This is an ongoing habit that I practice every single day, and encourage my Team Managers to practice every single day.

Making the link requires a little bit more thought, but I have found it empowering to knowing my end-game first, and then creating my habits surrounding that.

The benefits #1, No more decision-fatigue, Come to the office with your cup full

I use to wake up in the morning and feel anxious. I was anxious because I would overwhelm myself with the perceived number of tasks that needed to be completed, people I needed to talk to, and which fired needed to be extinguished. Then when eventually started working, there would be 50 emails in my inbox in addition to meetings that I had committed to. Mentally, I was fatigued, depleted and exhausted before the day had begun due to the minutiae of the day and the micro-decisions that I was making before starting.

This had to change, and I wanted to be able to leave home every morning and have that energy well full so that I can tackle on the most important matters in the office, and to reduce the decision-fatigue, I would need to reduce the number of decisions I needed to make during the day.

“The Checklist” achieves this for me and gives me the ability to just sit down and get on with it. “The Checklist” tells me every single day, the things that I needed to do every single week, things that I needed to do every single month, and I know that if I do all these things consistently all the time, then at the end of the year it will be a perfect well-oiled machine that has achieved everything that it needs to achieve without me even needing to think about it.

The benefits #2, Your capacity as a person increases 10x

I use to have anxiety managing 2 teams. Now I manage 4, on top of extra workloads, and with no sweat off my back. It’s like tapping into a secret grail of never-ending energy. For myself, increasing my capacity increased my ability to work on the projects that excited me. The reduction of stress also means I think with greater clarity, and generally a nicer person to be around.

Free download, “The Checklist” templates

I provide for FREE below downloadable checklist templates (and my own personal examples) that can be used as a guide when you fill out your own checklist

  1. Free Download: BLANK Daily/Weekly/Monthly Habits Checklist
  2. Free Download: Daily/Weekly/Monthly Personal Habits Checklist
  3. Free Download: Daily/Weekly/Monthly Work Habits Checklist

Learnings #1, Optimise to 80% and leave the remaining 20% for things you cannot predict

If you imagine your bandwidth as 100 points, what I had done with my first implementation of “The Checklist” was optimise my days to 95 points.

When fires came about (as they inevitably do), assuming that the fire requires 20 points, I found myself not having enough bandwidth to manage my day + the fires. Que stressed, tired and exhaustion.

After repeated occurrences, I learned that I needed to optimise my days to 80, leaving the extra 20 points to deal with life’s unforeseeable events and fires.

This was a very hard lesson learned last year but in the wise words of one of my business partners, “Sometimes you need to feel the pain, to find a better way.”

Learnings #2, Have 2 versions of the checklist. One for when you’re unstoppable, and one where you’re not feeling so great.

I realized how important it is to keep my cup full and my energy full. I realize if I don’t have my energy level full then I can’t produce, and I can’t be effective. (Read: I’ll just sit there and stare at the computer screen.)

Every week I rate my energy level out of 10, and if I’m below a 6, I’ll do an abridged version of “The Checklist”. Being OK with doing this took a bit of work, but my mental health thanks me.

Learning #3, The tool will be constantly tweaked. What works today won’t work tomorrow.

“The Checklist” is a tool that grows with you. I constantly tweak mine. Some of the tweaks I do include reordering where the habits appear, because I think that they should be on natural flow to the things that you go through

What I know for sure is that you can only set habit based on the information that you know at the time. When you learn more information (through experience, through learning, through mentors), then you have more information to set better habits and create better checklists. Sometimes you will realize that some habits that worked really well for you last month don’t serve a purpose anymore. Give yourself permission to change, add, edit and remove things.

I tell my Team Managers at WeTeachMe–The Go-To-Place For Australia’s Best And Most Popular Classes–to review their checklists regularly so that it still works for them. The simple test I use is, “If you are not using it every single day it means the tool is not working for you and you need to change it.”

Summary + now it’s your turn

1. When WeTeachMe–The Go-To-Place For Australia’s Best And Most Popular Classes–first started, I had a yearning to upskill myself and learn the tools that I would need to get to where I wanted to get to. I remember going to business seminars, conferences, and startup events. What I realized was that in a room of a thousand people only maybe two or three will actually implement the tools that were taught; most opting instead to talk, attend the next conference, read the next book and be an “armchair entrepreneur”. I eventually decided to ban myself from startup events because I needed to start executing. Please don’t be an armchair entrepreneur. Make the decision to execute.

2. In regard to setting habits, the key take-away is that you have to be smart about setting your habits habits. To be smart, find out what your end-game is first (the overarching goal), and then set the supporting habits underneath that will take you there.

3. Then execute it every day. Hold yourself to the highest standards of consistency.

4. Finally, habits are going to change as you learn more and as you grow more. What works for you today won’t work for you tomorrow.

Why I share my personal playbook + what success looks like to me

Our success is not solely due to our own efforts, but to the cumulative efforts of all those that have come before us, who have made what we personally achieve possible. Therefore I believe that as we go through life and learn, it is important that we also give back. I consider myself incredibly fortunate and lucky to be surrounded by people who have been generous with their time, generous with sharing their own experiences and wisdom, and generous with mentoring me through life’s intricate nuances, and my way of honouring this is to share the lessons that I have learned along the way, just the same way those before me, shared with me.

A lot of these tools are tools that I created or adopted for my business WeTeachMe–The Go-To-Place For Australia’s Best And Most Popular Classes; which in 2016 became the biggest school in Australia. Whilst I initially started these tools for my business, I quickly discovered that it could be applied across every facet of my life. The impact has been life changing in so many levels. I would love it if readers walk away from this article being able to immediately implement their habits, and to start seeing the results immediately (because they do happen!). I want to hear the stories of how this tool has impacted your life, and moving forward, I look forward to seeing you explore how much more you can achieve with the subsequent articles in this collection.

Call to action

My goal is to help 1,000,000 people. My wish is to have these articles shared 1,000,000 times through the various social networks. For this reason, I provide this collection online for free and all I ask of you is this: If any of these articles have helped you in any way, please take a moment to share on social media, email to someone you think will find benefit, or print and leave it on the desk of someone whom you believe has the motivation, but lacks the tools to take themselves to the next level.

New articles will be released every fortnight. Don’t want to miss out on any new articles? Subscribe via email using the form at the bottom of this post and I’ll have the articles delivered straight to your inbox. Alternatively, I can also be followed on my various social media accounts: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Thank-you to those mentioned in this article

My learning (and by extension, this article) would not have been possible without your generosity, your time and your sharing.

Lydia Lassila. Lydia Lassila is an Australian Olympic freestyle skier gold medalist who competed in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, and the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. She is the 2010 Olympic champion and the 2014 bronze medalist. On 20 October 2010, Lassila was awarded the prestigious ‘The Don’ award by the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, which recognised her ability to inspire as well as her achievements during 2010, including her gold medal performance at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Jeffrey Hodges. Jeffrey Hodges is a performance consultant and educator who has worked extensively with students, teachers, corporate teams, and now specialises in working with top coaches, elite athletes and sports clubs to enhance individual and team performance. He is the author of the widely acclaimed “Sportsmind” and “Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings” books and Sportsmind audio programs; creator of the Sportsmind Mental Mastery performance enhancement workshops; Sportsmind Champion Performance personal success coaching systems; Sportsmind High Achievement and Peak Performance phone coaching systems; Coaching Excellence professional development program for sports coaches; and Director of the Sportsmind Institute for Human Performance Research.

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