It's 6:30 am in Los Angeles and I'm laying in my bed after just waking up naturally to my body's own circadian rhythm. The sunlight pokes through my blinds to let me know it's another perfect day to get up and get my fitness on before I start work.
There's a large body of research about the benefits of starting the day with exercise, plus the fact that every time I do it I feel amazing afterwards mentally and physically. So why do I keep reaching for my phone on the night stand and spend the next 30 minutes checking email and scrolling through my feeds? I am my own worst enemy at times. Why can't I get into any good habits? I seem to have no trouble developing bad ones. How can I make the changes that my good intentions and intellect know I should be doing when I continue to fail?
One of the things I've been trying to work on lately is being more consistent with the things that matter most to me. Maybe you can relate? These include, personal health and wellness; quality family time; keeping promises and deadlines at work; and finding time to experiment with new creative ideas to find some more magic in my professional life.
Author James Clear offers some great advice on this in his book Atomic Habits. Clear insists that we should be focusing on small (atomic) habits that help us improve, if only 1%.
"Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous."
Using Clear's process, the reason I've been failing to establish good habits is not just about taking action, it's also because I've been focused on outcome-based results and not an identity change. Clear asks, "If you completely ignored the goal (of having 6-pack abs) and only focused on the system of consistent small increments of positive change, would you still succeed?" It turns out the answer is yes. The action part is key but it's about about a change in mindset. "Winners and losers have the same goals." The difference that often separates the two are not just the small incremental improvements, it's about becoming someone different and changing your identity.
About five years ago I started getting pretty bad headaches. The pain became so intense and more frequent that I had no choice but to start checking on the big ticket items. I got a brain scan to rule out a tumor. All good. I saw a cardiologist to check my BP, heart health and even did carotid artery scan. All good. I proceed to check my teeth...eyes...etc and finally got some answers with a food sensitivity test. Turns out, the sugar in my diet --in particular anything with refined sugar like candy, ice cream, donuts and basically anything worth eating was sending me into a migraine spiral of death.
I was compelled by unbearable pain to quit eating sugary snacks and desserts. I had addict-like withdrawals for about 2 weeks and then it over. The one thing that really helped me kick the habit was saying to myself and others, "I don't eat that (anymore)." The change in my identity was subtle but the results were profound. I became a different person..."someone who doesn't eat a lot of sugar" compared to previous goals I made to lose weight or cut back qualities, which is goal-based.
I am now trying to implement this strategy of identity-based change to become (more) of who I want to be in several areas of my life. The timing is pretty good as I sat down with another bestselling author, Seth Godin, who has become a great friend to me over the last decade.
Appropriate to this topic, and exactly on time when I need it as usual, Seth's new book is called, The Practice.
"The Practice will help you get unstuck and find the courage to make and share creative work. Godin insists that writer's block is a myth, that consistency is the key, and that experiencing the imposter syndrome is a sign that you're a well-adjusted human. Most of all, he shows you what it takes to turn your passion from a private distraction to a productive contribution, the one you've been seeking to share all along."
Seth has been practicing what he preaches since the early 1990's. With more than 7,000 consecutive blog posts written --with no end in sight, Seth explained, "That is what creative work does, it seeks to make a change. It's frustrating because all the noise around us pushes us to make average stuff for average people...to keep track of likes or Youtube subscribers...that makes other people happy. And then, money gets tight so we start a race to the bottom, which is bad because you might win...and so it's easy to get stuck..invent writer's block -- it's easy to feel like you're not appreciated. What The Practice says is there's a method to do the work you want to do. But there's no guarantees that come with it. It might not change the people you seek to change...it might not earn you a dollar. But [the process of practice] is ALWAYS the best thing you can do. "You can watch my full-length interview with Seth here: