Self-trust grows when you master your habits. Goethe said, “As soon as you learn to trust yourself, you will know how to live.” This famous philosopher with an astronomical IQ counseled Napoleon, wrote about “selling your soul to the devil,” and laid down a path for us to learn how to live our lives.
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For decades, seminar attendees have related to and recalled the method I use to teach habit building. One of the 10 Achievement Factors in my balanced mastery series is the behavioral training effect. On average, it takes 28 days to build a habit. This means the emotional or motivational toll is lessened and you have energy to focus on other personal and business items. Habits save energy.
Great achievers have learned that instead of skipping a session when you don’t have time or motivation, do a small (almost insignificant) portion of the activity. It feels out-of-place and foolish — especially when a cynical colleague or skeptical family member is watching. The benefit to you is this will keep the “habit strength” from fading and allow your brain to catalogue the activity as worth mastering.
The Behavioral Training Effect
I learned of this principle while researching high achievers for a book, Professional Balance. In it, I documented 10 consistent behaviors and beliefs among this group who sustained their achievements without burning out or giving up. The achievement factor on habits shocked me — a former believer in the “no pain, no gain” foolishness. These well-balanced high achievers learned that doing a little bit on an important habit helped them thrive from strategic additions to their lives.
Example A — Jogging
You’ve decided to get back into jogging or start for the first time. Your goal is a mile. You’re hitting the pavement three days a week and making good improvement. As the economy opens, and closes, and opens, you’re booking appointments that tempt you to miss your jogging days. Instead of completely skipping you put on your shoes and jog two or three houses up the road, turn around and jog back home. This did little for your goal, but lots for your habit.
Example B — Reading
You’re convinced that “leaders are readers” and decided to commit to completing a book each and every month. You notice that on some days your seven-pages-a-day habit simply will not work. The temptation is to skip one day and double up the next — wrong. You found that just the thought of doubling up caused you mental anguish. The behavioral training effect suggests reading a page; a paragraph; even a single line to keep the habit. This is smart habit protection.
Example C — Marketing calls
Like many, you detest calling people, chit-chatting and finally, slipping in a sales pitch. When you set a beefy goal of 10 calls per day other higher priority emergencies suddenly appear. A colleague might call it wimpy, yet you decide on a goal of two calls-per-day until your brain releases the emotional fear. In time, you’ll increase the number without dreading the activity. That’s a great habit.
When I watch clients struggle with this idea I suggest making an early decision on whether your activity will be a results session or a habit building session. If it is a results session, get up, get started and do it. When you’ve decided to reinforce and strengthen a habit, learn to release the guilt of not completing a full session. Your brain will remember the abbreviated activity as a fully completed session and add it to your list of life-enhancing routines.
Go ahead, play one note on the piano; read one line in the book; drink one sip of water — your brain records the complete activity. With habits come trust. You begin to see the consistency in your life. Others see it too. And Goethe knew quite well that with trust comes clarity in your life.
Rick Griggs is a former Intel Corp. training manager and inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool. He runs the 10-month Leadership Mastery Academy. email@example.com or 970-690-7327.