“Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.” – Jim Rohn
I’ve come to believe that one of the hardest things about developing and sustaining any kind of habit is the fact that most habits require some kind of delayed gratification. It doesn't matter whether it’s taking an hour to work out instead of sit on the couch, making breakfast instead of picking something up at the drive-thru or making a commitment to save a certain amount each month instead of spending it. When it comes to creating habits, often the biggest stumbling block lies in the fact that we have to go without something nice now in order to have something better later on.
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Countless studies have shown that, while human beings embrace the idea of delayed gratification in theory, we are not actually very good at putting it into practice. Those people who can push through the discomfort that comes at the start of creating a new habit and master the art of delayed gratification tend to be consistently more successful in all areas of life because, instead of procrastinating, they have developed a habit of taking action which makes them more productive.
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Research has shown that this ability is a learned behaviour which means that, in theory, anyone can train themselves to be more successful.
So, how can we do that? Here are three suggestions:
Condition Yourself For Success
While there’s nothing wrong with setting an ambitious goal, sometimes we set the bar so high that we can’t help but fall at the first fence. In the same way that we can build muscle strength by lifting small weights numerous times so delayed gratification is a habit that can be strengthened over time. To create a habit of success try starting with a simple goal and focus on doing one small thing every day.
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For example, if your goal is to take more exercise, commit to walking for just 5 minutes each day; if you’re trying to save more, commit to putting a dollar a day in a jar. Making your goal simple and putting your focus on consistency will strengthen your ability to delay gratification and condition you for ongoing success.
Find Your 1%
When British cycling coach, Dave Brailsford, was asked how he took the UK cycling team from mediocrity to consecutive Tour de France victories in just three years, he attributed his success to the “aggregation of marginal gains”. Simply put, the team looked for ways they could make 1% improvements in multiple areas and the sum of those small changes added up to massive improvements in their overall performance.
Too often, we focus on making one significant change in our life, instead, Brailsford's method suggests that we should focus instead on ways that we can be just 1% better in a number of areas. How could you be 1% better at managing your money, managing your time, exercising, doing your job, being a better partner/parent/friend? Commit to the habit of looking for ways to make small improvements and then implement the changes necessary to bring those improvements to reality.
The Two Minute Rule
In David Allen’s book “How to Get Things Done”, he suggests that any task that you can do in less than two minutes should be done right away rather than being added to your “to do” list of things you’ll tackle later. This is a habit. I’ve been trying to implement over the past few weeks and it’s actually working really well for me. I thought that taking little “sidesteps” during my day to get extra things done would slow me down but I found that keeping those things off my to-do list coupled with the sense of accomplishment that comes from getting something taken care of quickly has actually made me more productive.
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Plus, the risk of forgetting those small tasks is totally eliminated which drastically reduces my stress levels! This concept can be adapted for larger projects too. I often make the mistake of putting things off until I have a good chunk of time available to tackle them but I’ve realized that it’s a lot easier to carve six 15 minute chunks out of my day than it is to find 90 minutes of uninterrupted space. I still have more on my to-do list than I'd like but it's getting smaller!
Whether your goals are big or small, achieving them is a lot easier when you’ve conditioned yourself for success by making success a habit. Any bodybuilder will tell you that, if you want to be able to lift 200lbs, you don’t start at 195lbs. You start with what you’re capable of lifting right now and you increase that a little at a time until you reach your goal. Success comes from creating a habit of consistently doing what needs to be done in order to achieve your objective.
What new habits do you need to create in order to move you closer to your goals? How can you begin conditioning yourself for success and take a step forward today?