Achieving the Impossible with Simple Habits and Discipline
Have you ever been overwhelmed by the idea of becoming truly great at programming, and accomplishing some of the things that the people you look up to do? I’ve spent some time really deconstructing how best to take myself from zero to hero and I’d love to discuss what I’ve discovered over the years.
Why do you think the majority of people fail at new year’s resolutions? There are several answers to that question, but I’ll give you the ones that are important to our discussion.
- The goals are enormous and EASY to fail at.
- When messing up, it is usually very self deprecating / painful.
- There are no habits or process in place to achieve those goals.
- No progress gets tracked
Whether it’s eating better, working out more, being more empathetic to others, memorizing people’s names, or quickly learning a new programming language - all can be achieved by utilizing the power of habit and discipline.
Over the past few years I’ve been reading many books, listening to podcasts from successful entrepreneurs, and doing personal study around this and other related topics. What I’ve discovered is just how important it is to monitor habit and discipline as a way to continually improve in life.
If you monitor human nature you can discover some interesting things. * If we “achieve” a huge goal, it often leaves us with a feeling of emptiness. * We push hard to be 100% productive and work tirelessly, but become extremely unproductive and sick of work. * When overcoming huge challenges, we feel really good about ourselves.
So that leads me to my favorite sayings, which I live by:
“If you aren’t growing, you’re dying.”
“If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”
I guess all I really wanted to say up to this point now is that, we really have to rethink our definition of success. It is never acheived. It is only strived for. Once you stop reaching for something, that is when you lose. It doesn’t matter where you are now, or where you will be in the future.
The only factor is the journey, and what we learn along the way. So in order to truly make strides, stop focusing on that elusive target in the distance and begin looking at how you can work hard TODAY, every day, and find happiness in that.
Okay enough of that, let’s actually talk about getting shit done!
Discipline is the answer
Discipline is the KEY to success. But, discipline is hard! Well, not really… Actually, discipline is hard without habits. Discipline is learned. You teach it to yourself through your habits. Let’s explore that.
It might seem like you will need a boatload of motivation and willpower to achieve greatness and to sustain the discipline required to overcome your biggest goals but that just isn’t the case.
The secret that high achievers know is that willpower and motivation are NOT reliable. They are an emotion, and like all other emotions they depend on many things that are usually outside of our control. Even when we are mostly in control of those emotions, the intensity of them comes in waves.
But guess what? Habits convey discipline. That said, forming a new habit can be a brutal experience all in it’s own. If you have ever tried forming new habits or even getting rid of BAD habits, then you know I cannot get away with suggesting that lightly.
It can take a consistent effort of up to 30 days to solidify a new habit in our life. Many times, if you falter in that period, your time frame can reset itself and you are back to square one. I don’t know many people (including myself) that has the willpower to pull off forming big changes like that consistently.
So what is the trick?
Small and hard to fail. Barely noticeable really. That’s what I’m talking about here.
This is going to feel and sound really weird but the power behind it is ginormous. Please bare with me and you will not regret it.
When I say micro-habit, I really mean MICRO habit. Want to work out or go to the gym every day? Do one pushup. That’s your goal. You do ONE pushup and you win.
Want to go to the gym though? Okay, you start by putting on gym shorts and walking out the front door. You win. Maybe you don’t make it to the gym. But just put on the clothes and walk out the door.
Sound stupid? Yep, it does. Give it a shot though, because this concept will change your life forever.
The idea is that once you are in the position and you have done one pushup, you are going to say to yourself, “Why stop there, maybe I’ll do 5 more.” The great thing about this also, is that even if you are nasty sick, you can do one pushup. Anyone can put on their shorts and walk out the front door.
How does it work?
With micro habits you don’t experience the pain of failure, and you are constantly winning. The power comes into play when you start compounding all of these micro habits. Over time, you slowly add more and more.
The point is to make it so incredibly easy that it’s harder to NOT do it eventually. It needs to be locked into your routine in such a way that you don’t even think about it, you just DO it. It’s like driving a car. You don’t even think about all of the steps involved, it just happens.
Once something is habit, you don’t have to think about it. I always used to forget to brush my teeth, so last month I made the habit of “pick up my toothbrush every time I go to the bathroom”
Guess what, I brush my teeth every day (multiple times) and I don’t even think about it any more.
Eventually, those simple habits are going to become very trivial to you and you will need to ramp up to keep interested. One way to keep improving is to bump up the challenge level. You should always be looking for ways to take yourself out of your comfort zone.
There is REAL research to prove that we derive happiness from diversity and challenge. You never want to get a feeling of comfort, as much as it may sound good in theory.
Creating challenging experiences for yourself is an extremely exhilarating experience. I won’t get into challenges and comfort zone within the scope of this article, but hopefully I can plant a seed for you to think about it.
Need a suggestion? Write code every day
Well this is a programming blog after all, are you surprised? I suggested this in a chat recently, and received pushback on the basis of “having a life.”
Look I get it, people have other things to do. So do I. Coding every day doesn’t mean coding ALL day. Anyone can take an hour a day to hone their most important skill, or work on an exciting personal project / portfolio.
John Resig, the creator of JQuery (now a big part of Khan Academy) wrote an amazing article about this which I recommend you open in a new tab and read after finishing this post.
Recap of my recent habits
Alright, just so you don’t feel I’m blowing some hot smoke at you I’d like to share some of my personal successes that I’ve had over the past couple of months by utilizing these methods. Hopefully this can give you ideas of your own!
- Brush teeth every day
- Workout every morning
- Wake up consistently at 5am
- Meditate daily
- Hot & Cold alternating Shower (my showers are much shorter and pump me up)
- Writing for at least 1 hour every morning after my meditation
- Consciously learning something new every day, generally before bed.
- Coding at least a little bit each day.
- Listen to audiobooks daily (usually get through 4-5 books and multiple podcasts a month)
This is a huge topic, and entire books have been written about it but I believe I’ve summed up some of the most important takeaways. Don’t stop here. Life should be a constant journey of self improvement.
I’d love it if you shared your experiences with forming new habits, and let me know if this helps you out by leaving a comment below!
Finally, I’ll leave you with this: