This article originally appeared in Inc. If you like this article,
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Life coaches and business leaders from Tony Robbins to Steve Jobs have all extolled the importance of positive habits for achieving your wildest dreams. We all know how important it is to form the right habits if we want to grow our revenues, get to our target weight, gain a better work-life balance and otherwise move our lives toward our own definitions of success.
Imagine how surprised I was to learn that -- according to James Clear, habits expert and upcoming author of a new book on the science of habit formation -- my most ingrained habits could be killing my chances of success.
Clear is best known for his writings on the power of habits in reaching our human potential. To help his readers develop better habits, he uses the latest scientific research to illustrate how we can all live better, more fulfilling lives.
When I sat down with him to talk about the power of habits, he told me something that blew my mind: My expert habits may be exactly what's killing my creativity and odds of success.
When I asked him why, he said only one word: "fundamentals."
"In the beginning, as you practice something, putting in repetitions is the most important thing," Clear explained about forming the right habits to help you achieve success. "But at some point, as you continue to repeat, what happens is that progress becomes assumed -- so, you think you're putting in time and getting better, but in fact you're only reinforcing habits, not improving them."
This reminded me of my days training as a competitive figure skater, where forming the right (or wrong) habits could literally mean the difference between landing on my feet or on my head. As I got better and more comfortable with certain skills (read: lackadaisical), I'd occasionally experience a terrible regression in those skills, and my uber-strict coach would take me back to the fundamentals every time.
Clear's warning left me wondering: Was this same regression happening in my daily business habits, too?
Clear reminded me that "as people gain experience, they lose touch with the fundamentals -- but the fundamentals are what always produce the biggest gains." We get trapped in the nuances of our habits that produce maybe ten percent of the difference in our desired outcome. Going back to the fundamentals would produce 90 percent of the difference.
As an example, he noted that there are people who spend lots of time on the right gym clothes, nutritional supplements, and shoes when starting a workout program--when 90 percent of the upside gain would come from the habit of simply showing up to the gym in the first place.
I asked him how I can help keep myself focused on the fundamentals instead of drifting to the edges of my daily habits. Clear said, "Every time you master something new and climb to a new level of expertise, spend some time reminding yourself about the fundamentals of your daily tasks."
If you develop a new habit to actively correct any daily rituals that are out of sync with the fundamentals, you can ensure that your habits aren't reinforcing the wrong techniques or methodologies. While you may not fall on your head like me if you develop the wrong habits, there's certainly a grave risk to your business (and life) if you inadvertently let your long-term habits drift you off-course.
To that end, in all of my businesses, I constantly check and re-check my strategies to ensure I'm forming the right systems, processes and habits. One of my favorite questions to ask is: If I were starting this over today, how would I do it? The answer is usually slightly different from the systems I've been setting up, which is a nice reminder to put myself back on track.
While one or two habits may not seem like much, Clear reminded me, "Your life today is essentially the sum of your habits. How in shape or out of shape you are? A result of your habits. How happy or unhappy you are? A result of your habits. How successful or unsuccessful you are? A result of your habits."
I can personally attest to the fact that if you transform your habits, you'll transform your life. It's as simple, though never as easy, as that.