“You cannot change your future, but, you can change your habits, and surely your habits will change your future.” – Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, July 2015.
There is a lot of noise around building great habits. And for good reason.
Your habits are the MOST PRECIOUS TOOL you possess that can literally change your future.
They’re like your personal remote control to your influence OWN FUTURE LIFE.
So, why DO your habits change your future?
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1. Your Habits Form Your Identity
We all have much more control over our own lives than we may think.
To name just a few things:
- relationships, and
- reputation and how others perceive us and interact with us.
They all depend on who we are. Or rather, on WHO WE DECIDE TO BE.
And one reason why it is so HARD TO CHANGE HABITS is that long-term habits have become an inherent part of our identity.
So, You may WANT to be fit. But do you see yourself as a sporty person or a couch potato?
You may WANT to eat healthily. But do you still see yourself as a fun-loving person which socializes by eating and drinking everything?
Or maybe, deep down, you still think you are the type of person that will feel depressed forever without your daily chocolate dose (I feel ya’!)?
You think you CANNOT LIVE without it because it’s become part of your identity: “I am a chocolate aficionado“.
What about your work? Do you often tell yourself that you are a PROCRASTINATOR-in-chief?
You CRAVE becoming a better version of yourself. But are you TRUSTING yourself enough? Or are your doubts getting in the way and CONFIRMING your CURRENT, SELF-MADE IDENTITY?
That’s where habits play a major role.
Because YOUR CURRENT HABITS send a signal to your brain about WHO YOU ARE or about who you are BECOMING.
If you build the habit of running every day… even for just 5 or 10 minutes… suddenly you BECOME a runner.
That’s also why it CAN BE SO HARD sometimes to change your habits. Because, by doing so, you are also changing your identity. And there may be some inner resistance to it.
Two books really helped me understand this relationship between HABITS and IDENTITY:
- Atomic Habits*, by James Clear. In this book, I had a few “aha” moments when reading Chapter 2 on “How habits shape your identity and vice-versa”.
- Kyra Robinet’s Well-Designed Life: 10 Lessons in Brain Science & Design Thinking for a Mindful, Healthy, & Purposeful Life*. In this book, the author taught me to see and feel the tension between my “future self” and my “past self”.
They’re highly interesting books – easy to read OR listen to.
Books have not always been my forte, however.
2. Habits Persist In The Long Run, While Goals Vanish
Has it ever occurred to you that BOTH winners AND losers often share the exact, same goal?
How often have you been setting goals and failed to attain them? How did you feel about it? Did it erode your trust in yourself?
In his book, Atomic Habits*, James Clear rightly states that…
“You do not rise to the level of your goals, you FALL to the level of your systems.”
According to him, setting goals can negatively impact you. You’re often making your happiness depend on whether or not you achieve them.
They also tend to produce a YO-YO effect. You work hard to achieve your goal, and then… you STOP.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that you should never set goals again. As Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said…
“You have to dream before your dreams can come true”
So, in my opinion, you DO NEED TO KNOW in which direction you are headed. And that’s what I believe goals are made for.
Let me clarify this. I believe that…
GOALS ARE NOT MEANT TO BE ACHIEVED. Goals are here to guide you.
“A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at.” –Bruce Lee
How To Use Goals…
I believe that GOALS can help you FILTER OUT the right habits for you.
Now, take just a few seconds to write down 3 of your goals from the top of your head. Ready?
As an example, I wrote:
- Develop spiritually (e.g. via meditation, yoga)
- Reach financial freedom
- Become fit and healthy again
As you can see, those goals are rather broad but they still give me a good idea of where I want to go.
What if I were to transform these into smaller, MEASURABLE goals as many experts recommend:
- Finish a 30-day meditation and yoga quest,
- Earn and save up 7,500€ in 6 months to make an early payment for my mortgage, and
- Eat “Wildfit” for an entire year.
Even though sometimes I get lucky and a goal can kickstart a good habit, there’s a good chance of me quitting in the process or getting back to my previous behaviour after I’ve reached my goals.
Is this what I want?
Well, if I JUST want to see what it FEELS like to act a certain way, but am NOT SURE YET whether I want to keep the corresponding HABIT in the future, then pursuing a goal is totally fine!
But If I know I want to make progress exponentially in this area, I’d better work on putting small daily or weekly habits in place.
Use Habits For The (Long-Term) Win
Once I’m sure about which habits will most probably lead me to the FUTURE I want, I focus on those. Which in my case would likely look like this:
- Meditate and do yoga every morning for at least 5 minutes each,
- Enter every single expense into Spendee, my money-tracking app, and
- Eat a huge bowl of green salad with most meals, whenever possible.
Those small habits will help me set a trend and SLOWLY CHANGE MY IDENTITY.
Yoga And Meditation
With JUST 5 minutes, I become the person that meditates and does yoga EVERY DAY.
Even if it is JUST for 5 minutes.
It STILL modifies the story I’m telling myself and others, often leading to MORE and MORE progress in the desired direction.
And as a matter of fact, your MEDITATION practice really benefits from consistency. Every time you stop meditating for a while, it takes time to train your “muscle” again and feel the same bliss you did when you fell off the cliff.
When I type in every single expense I become AWARE of how much I am spending and on what.
It slows my buying decision, as I suddenly go: “hey, that’s a bit expensive, how come? Is it really necessary?”.
Those little moments add up. You end up saving a bit, every time. You may not reach the goal you had set in 6 months, but you most likely will keep the habit much longer. Which, in turn, will save you more money overall!
When you are trying to change your eating habits, going “cold turkey”, if I may say, can TOTALLY BACKFIRE.
We all know about the yo-yo effect, and how periodic diets can lead to a disaster.
There are several reasons for this, but mainly:
- your BODY rebels, as it doesn’t like brutal changes and is rather the “habit animal”, and
- your MIND plays dirty tricks on you, as eating healthy is definitely NOT PART of your IDENTITY yet. Remember? You are the fun-loving all-eater 🙂
But by eating a huge bowl of salad to ACCOMPANY every meal, you give your body and mind time to adapt. Your intestinal flora starts to change, slowly. And you become the person that eats tons of salads.
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3. Even Your Smallest Habits Compound Exponentially
The last reason why your habits WILL SURELY CHANGE YOUR FUTURE is that even the smallest habits ADD UP, exponentially.
Unfortunately, this is certainly true for bad habits such as smoking or watching too much TV.
You don’t get cancer from just one cigarette. But one every day? Or one after each meal?
Your brain doesn’t become mashed potato after watching just one movie. But hours and hours of series, day in and out?
Negative thinking also will lead you to a darker future over time.
If “nothing is ever possible”, because of this or that, you will end up not even trying to do stuff. You’ll train your brain to be a pessimist who fears any sort of change.
The Power Of (Small) Habits
On the flip-side, by putting in place small habits progressively, you may end up OVER-ACHIEVING your initial goals in the long run. SEAMLESSLY.
On the one hand, the small habits you decide to put in place may be more impactful than you think and change you drastically. PHYSICALLY, MENTALLY or FINANCIALLY.
For instance, this ONE salad for each meal may drastically increase the number of nutrients, vitamins and fibres you take in, thereby making you much healthier over time.
Those 5 minutes of yoga wake up your muscles and stretch your tissue, making you stronger and healthier every day.
On the other hand, the positive habits you put in place often trigger a snowball effect.
This holds especially true when you are able to identify “KEYSTONE” habits, as explains Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business*. Those are small habits that will end up indirectly modifying other areas of your life.
This is how I had identified which habits to put in place as part of my New Year’s Resolutions over the last few years.
I encourage you to take your time to identify which habits will most CHANGE YOUR FUTURE for the better, with the LEAST effort. Think about how these habits will affect other areas of your life.
Here are a few examples…
Let Us Dream Together About Your FUTURE
A Bit Of Yoga, Anyone?
Starting with only 5 minutes of yoga every day. After 1-2 weeks you start to like it, and you decide to do a little more every day. Your posture improves, you stand and sit right. You start liking your body more. It feels healthier, prettier, worthier.
This, in turn, makes you more self-confident. And yes, studies DO show that standing straight makes you more self-confident and happier.
People around you notice, and they act differently with you. You respect yourself more, so, suddenly, they do, too.
Because your body has become worthier, you start thinking differently about the food you eat. Does it do your body good?
Slowly, you eat more salad, more veggies. Your vitality level rises. You have fewer headaches and feel less stressed.
You focus better. Your tasks, at work, seem easier. You even have energy left coming back home, to play with your kids or spend more quality time with your partner…
Need I go on?
Trading TV for walks and audiobooks
Imagine cutting down on your daily 4 hours of TV (national average in the U.S. in 2017). From now on, you decide to follow recommendations to stay under 2 hours daily TV max.
During the 2 “gained” hours of your time, you go for a walk and listen to audiobooks. Taking it slowly with maybe a few stops the first times, you easily reach 10,000 steps a day after one or two weeks.
You feel rejuvenated. You’re less stressed and even start noticing that your weight went down a little.
Plus the fresh air, in addition to the mental exercise of listening to audiobooks, really keeps your brain fit.
With 2 hours of listening audiobooks per day, assuming an average length of about 7 hours for each audiobook, you’d be listening to about 2 audiobooks/week, or about 104 BOOKS PER YEAR.
Maybe a little less, because you sometimes walk with friends or family, or take advantage of your walk to call someone dear to you.
As a result, you feel like your relationships improved. You feel happier, overall.
Looking back on that ONE year, you realise how much you learned about yourself. You’ve made tremendous progress, reading tons about habits, financial freedom, philosophy… You have almost 100 NEW INSIGHTS.
Of course, you were not able to implement all of the very valuable advice you’ve received via books.
But your direction got clearer, and you now know where to find the tools you need when you decide to improve a certain area of your life.
You feel MORE MOTIVATED than ever.
You could take on ANY GOAL. Even better, you can put in place any HABIT you want.
Everything is possible.
BEFORE YOU GO
How did you find this post and did it bring you the value you were looking for?
I’d be eager to hear your thought on the subject, as I myself am constantly learning and hope to improve any aspect I can.
Over the years, I’ve had both bad and good habits. Some felt like a curse, while others like a blessing.
I’m happy to say that the proportion of good habits gets a little bit higher over time.
I hope I can help you achieve the same.