Habits and success

Building great habits that lead to success is like building something with Lego – start small and keep stacking and building!

There is a misconception about success: IT DOES NOT HAPPEN OVERNIGHT. Even today’s seemingly overnight successes worked away for years building habits that eventually landed them in a place of success. It may look like overnight success, but do your own research, it is not. Every successful athlete spends time each day practicing his or her craft. It is daily practice, practice, practice, that makes you better at any activity. A great little book called “Mastery” by George Leonard will provide some pointers about that.

Why do so many of us resist building habits that support a better life? We all may have different reasons (aka excuses) but the bottom line is that new habits are difficult to build. The better way to build a new habit is to start small as a big change in your normal routines is going to create a lot of resistance (aka stress). 

But small habits seem so useless at first. A new habit of making your bed every day does not really provide a lot of instant gratification. Sure, it is nice to look at but that may just be one glance in the morning and one glance at night. So, we don’t start. 

But what if that nicely made bed then shows how crappy the rest of your room looks and you decide to hang up and put away all those clothes that are lying on the floor and now you make your bed and put away your clothes every day. You then notice how you have piles of stuff on your night tables or dresser or the floor and you now start putting that stuff where it belongs, dirty glasses, cups in the kitchen to be cleaned, and garbage in the trash. Well, it’s been only a month but your bedroom looks pretty good all of the time. Perhaps a new lick of paint on the walls? And some nicer artwork? Doesn’t have to be expensive to look good! And cleaning the bedroom takes almost no time because all your surfaces are clear so all it takes is a swipe of the microfibre cloth and a quick zoom with the broom or the vacoom! 

The payoff of starting with one small habit that takes almost no time, i.e. making your bed, can help you stack additional new habits on top and over the space of a month or so, you now have a totally cool routine for keeping your bedroom looking good. This is how habits are built. One day at a time. 

But wait, even small new habits daily suffer from setbacks. When you forget to do this new thing of making your bed one day, immediately forgive yourself but make your bed the next day. Keep your failures short – don’t let them run on for days on end. Then you end up starting all over again.

What happens if it seems very difficult to make your bed? By the way, I am using making your bed as a metaphor for any habit. Two things you can do: simplify the process, and get your timing right. 

Simplify the process: perhaps your bed is difficult to make?

  • Is one side up against a wall, making it difficult to tuck sheets and blankets in? Straightening your bedding may be good enough for you. 
  • Do you have complicated bedding? Sheets, and multiple covers, lots of pillows? Perhaps ditch some of the pillows and switch to a duvet – that is only one thing to straighten out. 
  • Are you pulling all your sheets and blankets off the bed and restart the process? Perhaps that is not necessary on a daily basis.
  • Are you going for perfection or that designer look? Either be willing to spend the time to get it right every morning or go for a less perfect but still decent look

Is your timing off?

  • Are there pets on your bed who get in the way? Get them out of the room first.
  • You share your bed with a person and you get up before they do. Hmmmm, you could try a rule that whoever gets out last makes the bed. I will leave it at that. 
  • Is your current morning routine stopping you? Once you hit the shower, you’re on automatic and you keep forgetting. Find a place in that current routine where making the bed fits well. As soon as you get out of your bed? When you come back to your bedroom from your shower? Stack it in between other activities that are already part of your routine. 
  • If you don’t have a morning routine, find an activity you do every morning (getting out of bed is one of those) and tack your bed making onto it. 

Of course I have to talk a little about coaching. Coaching is supporting clients with building new habits for their life. The new habits are bigger than making their beds in the morning but we start small too. My clients want to build new habits that are complex, like how to delegate effectively, or communicate more effectively, or to be more able to say no to things that don’t benefit them, or how to figure out what they  want out of life (that is a complex habit!). What we call “competencies” in coaching are habits that we craft (figure out how to make them part of our current routines)  and build (by adding on to them) and practice until we are good at them.  Having a coach to support that and support you is a great way to build solid, sustainable habits. 


Photo by Semevent