“Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”
How often has this happened to you? …
You want to do more with your life – get into great shape, pursue a hobby you’re passionate about, start your own business, or work toward a new career, etc. You start building a positive habit that will take you in that direction – exercise, waking up early, writing, meditation, an evening routine, studying, etc.
You begin with a lot of determination (for a week maybe). Then something makes you skip your habit for a couple of days: a new project at work, unexpected household events, illness, family coming to visit, and so on.
Those “busy” days keep popping up, and so you skip more often. Before long, you abandon your new habit altogether.
It’s frustrating isn’t it? Trying again and again to build positive habits, but not being able to?
Sometimes you feel that you simply don’t have it in you to do anything anymore. You are just too busy, too old, and just plain exhausted.
But what if that’s not true? What if the only things holding you back are a few limiting beliefs? And I’m not talking about negative beliefs.
We hold numerous beliefs about what works, about the correct way to do things, and about what we need to do to be successful. And on the surface, many of these beliefs sound quite positive and motivational, and they are in some situations. However, in many other situations, they turn into motivational myths that completely cripple our progress and prevent us from building positive habits. Let me explain…
Myth #1: All you need to do is work really, really hard to be successful.
This belief is single-handedly responsible for at least half of all the personal failures people have discussed with me over the years. This might sound ridiculous, but it’s true!
After all, everyone agrees that success requires hard work, regardless of whether you want to run a marathon or build a successful business. In the book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of diligent practice to master a domain. Simply put, hard work is something you just can’t avoid, even if you work smart.
However, you also likely have other job responsibilities, household chores, and family responsibilities. Where do you find the time and energy to work hard on new positive habits every day? For instance, you might be trying to build a habit of exercising for 30 minutes every day. But what about those days when you don’t have 30 minutes? You skip, and then you keep on skipping.
The good news is that hard work is NOT the most important element in success, at least not initially, when you are just beginning to build a habit. The only thing that matters initially is to actually do the habit every day for a very short time. Therefore, rather than try to exercise for 30 minutes a day, start with as little as two minutes a day.
You may be wondering – two minutes a day will clearly not help you achieve any results at all, so what’s the point?
The point is simply to become accustomed to an everyday routine. A habit is something that you do without willpower, something that comes to you naturally. Doing it every day trains a part of your brain – the cingulate gyrus – to ingrain this activity and make it as natural as brushing your teeth every morning.
Within a couple of weeks, your brain will get used to the process of doing the activity every day at a specific time or place. That’s when you can increase the time by two to five minutes every week. Taking it slow allows you to make gradual adaptations to your everyday routine to accommodate your new habit.
Within a few weeks, you will reach your 30-minute target, and it will have become a habit for life that doesn’t feel like a burden.
Just remember, hard work is important, but that’s the second step toward change.
The first step is consistency. Once you become consistent with a small habit, only then should you begin to work harder at it. (Marc and Angel build small, life-changing habits with students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
Myth #2: You must have a hard deadline, and if you don’t hit it you will fail.
Are you trying to build new habits to reach certain goals by a set deadline? Something like, “I have to lose 10 pounds in one month,” or, “I have to become a published author within a year.”
You might believe that you can’t get anything done without setting deadlines. But what if I told you that deadlines are actually holding you back in many cases? This happens in two ways:
First, a deadline will draw your attention toward your goal, the result that you seek. You will constantly evaluate how well you did every day by checking your weight or critically judging the quality of your writing.
What you haven’t taken into account is that during the first few weeks, you might not gain any visible results at all. You might struggle to run even for half a mile or write anything meaningful. That’s all part of the natural skill development process that everyone goes through. This lack of visible progress can really discourage you. You might feel that you just don’t have what it takes, and you may be motivated to abandon your goal altogether.
Deadlines also cause people to underestimate the amount of time required to get a job done. Look around and you will see this happening in all walks of life. People often miss deadlines at the workplace or end up putting in extra hours at the last minute. If you set deadlines that are not practical, you are building up unrealistic expectations that will soon demotivate you.
It’s important to understand that deadlines have a time and a place, but they aren’t universally beneficial. For instance, do hard deadlines truly matter for building long-term, life-changing habits? No, they don’t. Even if you take 10 years to become a published author or set up your own business, imagine the impact that will have on the rest of your life. What’s the big hurry? Take it slow and steady… small, consistent steps forward every day.
Especially during the first few weeks, forget about setting rigid deadlines and just focus on what’s important – building the foundation for your positive habit or routine. If you need a better approach to stay motivated, focus on your “big why.” Why do you want to build this habit/project/etc.? What rewards will you gain? How will it make you happier and more fulfilled? Write this down, remember it, and let it be your inspiration!
Myth #3: You have to be bigger and better than you are right now.
Goals are important. All journeys of change must begin with a goal. You also must have determination in order to achieve those goals. However, what do you think happens when you are too determined? You begin to nurture another belief: who you are right now is not good enough.
Years ago, I had become too embroiled in my efforts to meditate. As my interest in meditation grew, I began to increasingly say to myself, “I am not good enough,” and, “I have to be better at this.” I began to notice various imperfections within myself that needed to be “fixed.”
Ironically, my over-the-top efforts to meditate for extensive periods of time had opened the doors to self-criticism and stress. Thankfully, I realized that my obsession toward meditation had made me forget one of the basic goals of meditation – self-acceptance.
So the bottom line is this: you have to accept yourself as you are, and then commit to personal growth. If you think you are absolutely “perfect” already, you will not make any positive efforts to grow. But constantly criticizing yourself is just as counterproductive as doing nothing, because you will never be able to build new positive habits when you’re obsessively focused on your flaws.
Follow the middle path. Change your mantra from, “I have to be better,” to, “I will do my absolute best today.” The second mantra is far more effective because it actually prompts you to take positive action every day while simultaneously accepting the reality that every effort may not be perfect.
Remember: You already are good enough; you just need more practice.
Myth #4: You must be willing to sacrifice everything to be successful.
You’ve heard this story a million times: successful people work for hours without taking breaks, eating, or sleeping.
You might have heard how Eric Clapton used to practice the guitar for 18 hours a day, or how Bill Gates sometimes slept on the floor of his office to save the time it would take him to go home, or how Edison worked for days without a break while inventing the light bulb. The underlying message: you need to sacrifice even your basic physiological needs if you wish to succeed.
These stories inspire admiration in today’s corporate-influenced culture. But they make you overlook a critical question: Did these people work at superhuman levels every day? No!
Many people try to find more time for their positive habits and projects by skipping breakfast, sleeping less than even six hours, or hardly taking any breaks at work. Such drastic measures are scientifically known to be sure-fire ways of reducing your productivity. They diminish your energy, IQ, decision-making ability, willpower and more.
Sooner or later, sacrificing adequate food or sleep will become too troublesome to sustain, and you will end up quitting too soon.
Rather than try to gain time through over-the-top sacrifices, why not spend less time on things that matter less? Spend less time on social media, less time watching TV, or fewer evenings at the pub.
Myth #5: You can (and should) completely transform yourself all at once.
Do you have a future image of yourself as a transformed person? Someone who is healthier, happier, more confident, incredibly productive, always able to balance work and life, and so on.
Most of us do to a certain extent. Every now and then, we become motivated to do something to become that person. The most common example of this is during New Year celebrations when we make resolutions with a remarkable amount of optimism. Anything seems possible in the New Year!
You kick off with tremendous motivation: “Yes, this time, it’s going to be different!” But you know how it usually goes. Resolutions just remain… well, resolutions and wishes for some other time.
Your over-enthusiasm is actually the cause of your failure. When you try to build six new habits at a time, or even two, you will become overwhelmed and most likely fail at every habit.
Why? Because making changes requires willpower. In the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy Baumeister, one of the foremost authorities in this domain, explains how we have a limited quantity of willpower in the same way that we have a limited amount of physical energy during a day. Trying to build two new habits at the same time divides your available willpower between those two pursuits, making it more difficult for you to do either of them.
Successful transformation begins with building a single habit, preferably the simplest one first. Don’t begin the second habit until you have been consistently doing the first one for at least a month. Let your first victory pave the way for your second.
You may have failed at building positive habits and changes into your life multiple times in the past. That doesn’t mean you are too busy, undisciplined, or lazy. You were only harboring some beliefs that were holding you back. Once you free yourself from the deceptive grip of these beliefs, you’ll see the difference.
For the first few weeks, forget about how long or how well you are doing, and just do it! Forget about deadlines, sacrifices, self-transformation, or any other motivational myths. The only thing you need to do is work on your positive habit for two to five minutes every day. That’s it!
It’s time to get back into the game. Take the first step today!
Which point above resonated the most with you?
Have any of these myths held you back in the past?
I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights with the community.
Author Bio: Peter Banerjea is Co-Founder of SuccessIsWhat, a success coaching firm. He’s on a mission to help people achieve their goals faster by conquering time and building super-productive habits. Get his latest free e-book: “The Fool-proof Guide to Building Life-Changing Habits in a Breeze”.
Photo by: Chris Frank
Excellent post! Great perspective! When I saw title in my email inbox, I knew I had to take a moment and read it, and I’m glad I did.
For me, myth #1 is what I’ve being working on correcting in my life – it’s actually why I’m enrolled in M&A’s Getting to Happy course. Marc’s lesson on creating tiny rituals has been a real game-changer for me. I’ve made significant progress on a business idea and with my fitness regimen simply by building tiny rituals that work for me daily.
Also, I totally agree with the idea of focusing less on the things that matter less. Well put!
Peter Banerjea says
Hey Chelsea, glad you loved the post! Great to see that you are using the approach of building tiny rituals. It makes all the difference!
Angel Chernoff says
Chelsea, it’s inspiring to hear about the progress you’ve made by implementing the tiny rituals covered in Getting Back to Happy. Keep going! And ping us anytime if you need one-on-one assistance with anything.
Oscar Frank says
Building small, sensible habits, one at a time. That makes sense to me. Thanks for the reminder. Too often I overwhelm myself by trying to make 10 changes at once, and I always end up back at square one.
Thanks for another incredible email/post! This blog’s insights are always worth my time.
The first point is very interesting. I think I’m just starting to realize the value of consistency. Small, incremental improvements, day after day make a huge difference in a surprisingly short time.
Peter Banerjea says
Hi Barb, yes- consistency is the key. If you stick to it, you will slowly improve and achieve your goals!
I agree with what the others have said in the replies before mine. I always try to bite off more than I can chew. But one bite of the elephant at a time? That’s how you eat an elephant. I’ve got a couple figurative elephants in my life right now, and now that I’m armed with this article and M&A’s incredible 1,000 Things book as inspiration, I’m starting small today and I’m determined to take a small bite every day from here on out.
Pamina Mullins says
Excellent post Marc and Angel! All your points are very relevant. You really have distilled many of the most prevalent reasons success (or our sometimes distorted definition of it) stays out of reach. As you say in #4 the messages delivered by “today’s corporate-influenced culture” are often in conflict with the way our minds work.
I am really so happy for reading this – sometimes I leave everything for the last minute and then try to do it all at once.
Every week, I can’t wait for your emails to arrive in my inbox – what you share is always helpful!
I agree so much with #4, I used to think the more I worked the more I would accomplish to be successful, but it’s just the opposite – the more you balance the more you achieve internally and externally. With age has comes perspective, and #1 is a great reminder to take things as they come and build on them. Thanks for great advice and insight every article on http://www.marcandangel.com
I just responded yesterday on a blog and the author was saying people have success in life just by trying harder.
I was the one who disagreed.
Then today I read this…WOW!
We need to be free from our past and out dated beliefs.
Change is a lifelong process where we learn to think and act in new ways.
Angel Chernoff says
Synergy… I just love when life delivers the message we need right when we need it. 😉
I did not realize until recently that I had become “addicted” to the internet. I would spend most of my day online, then wonder why I hadn’t accomplished anything. The wake up call was when I started having problems with my internet service. Since the internet was down, I started doing other things, and noticed how much I was getting done. In today’s world the internet, social media and telephone/texting, is very useful and sometimes necessary, but can be overused. What freedom can be found by disconnecting for a while.
Angel Chernoff says
Disconnecting always helps Marc and I reconnect to what matter most. 🙂
Amanda LaRose says
I love this post! This was an excellent “flip of the coin” perspective on many success mantras, which I agree can be debilitating and the very reason why we lose our way.
There was great advice and guidance here to overcome the obstacles that one faces which are salient and attainable.
Kudos to you once again, and thank you for your dedication to what you do. I, for one, have received great inspiration from the two of you!!!
Nice post, one of your best I think.
Amazing article! Seriously one of the best on this website. The overarching message is too many people are trying to sprint when they haven’t even learned to crawl effectively yet.
Taking it one step at a time to build momentum to do bigger and better things is key.
Keep up the amazing work, you two!
Leanne Sowul says
I really like the idea of starting a habit in a very small, daily increment. It’s the “Well-begun is half-done” philosophy, and that always works for me.
I also needed reminding of using “the big why” to help motivate me to get a project done, instead of a deadline. Deadlines can be useful, but they’re not as useful as feeding the drive that stimulates the work.
Myth #3: “You have to be bigger and better than you are right now” resonated with me the most. After struggling with my weight all my life, I’ve finally come to a place where I am telling myself that I am enough. I am living a healthy lifestyle and the already 15 pounds I’ve lost is only a small demonstration of that. My blood pressure is lower, my cholesterol levels are lower, my clothes fit better. I will not give the scale any more power over how I feel about myself. It will be a long road, but I am enough now and will continue to be enough as I continue living healthy.
Thank you for your insight. I love your articles!
Giving outside of “us” power is a dead end life. I am reminded of allowing myself to not depend on the outcome but the PROCESS of change, enlighten and not always the end result. It is tooo daunting to live in 3 months from now when….. will happen . One step, one choice at a time makes a habit .
Thank you for sharing to remind me of I am good enough right now.
Such an awesome post! Love it .
“Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”
Thank you for one more awakening post and email.
I really like the goal of “I will do my absolute best today”. It offers me freedom from the negative things I tell myself and still hold the bar high in a way that inspires me.
Very timely and useful! I NEEDED to read this right now.
Jennifer Haston says
Tiny Tweaks=BIG CHANGE! I love this! you guys are so right when you say.. “they did not work at superhuman levels every day”.. I actually just did a post about this on my own blog.. “progress not perfection”. great callouts!
[email protected] says
Thanks for another great post! I’m trying to survive in a very demanding occupation right now, while raising three children, enjoying some time with my husband, and having a little time to pursue my own interests. I’m so thankful that we’ve made financial semi-independence a goal, so we can more fully engage in life as opposed to work. While everyone else at the office is chasing better titles and buying fancier cars, we’re cutting back, paying off debt, and building up assets that will decrease our dependence on standard employment. Success isn’t just about killing yourself to get to the top. Our happiness requires hard work, but we’re making sure to not forgo the good stuff along the way.
It’s really helpful ….
I agree myth #4 – amazing article! I did not realize this above points I’m addicted to social network. I spent more time using social network. I would like to change my attitude towards life. I will do within this year. I get my life back from worse things.
Well written article, really sets things in perspective.
Other sites will put these unrealistic perspectives on success over your head, making it impossible to accomplish.
So it is nice to see such article from you guys, that more should read, that it is possible to achieve success without working 24/7 and giving up anything else you are doing right now.