Programming Ourselves for Success 2


Well, let’s see…

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post, and the first thing I’m thinking is, that’s not good: I need to get into a habit of posting at least once a week, or more. Hmmmm….habits…..that’s as good a topic as any…yeah, let’s go with that.

Among the many things my dad taught me, his ideas on habit making, or in some cases, habit breaking, are the ones that stuck. It basically works in the following manner: If I ever want to improve a particular part of my life — whether it be playing music, voice acting, writing, saving money, being a better parent, being a better husband, living healthier, or anything — the path to greatness lies in my acquiring better habits. Dad said this all the time, and I believed him. It is true whether we like it or not — in fact, whether we believe it or not.

Habits can be physical, mental, and even emotional in nature. For example, the manner in which you wash your hair — a common physical routine — is an example of a habit. (Try this a few times; you’ll astonish yourself with just how adept you are at repeating the exact same moves every single time.) Or, when thrust into similar situations, if we find ourselves gravitating toward the same ideas and concepts, then we are experiencing the effects of a mental habit. If we discover that we always react (or overreact) the same way in social situations, it could be an emotional habit revealing itself.

Habits, by their very nature, are often hidden from our awareness. But this poses a distinct problem: how do we know we have them? And how do we know if they are good or bad? Sometimes we find out about our own habits, embarrassingly, by the not-so-tongue-bitten friend who delights in reminding us how often we say “ummm”, or the ever popular “ya know”, or “know what I’m sayin”, and other such verbal stammers. Sometimes we remind ourselves again and again just how bad our habits are, as in the case of the person who is constantly looking for his keys when it’s time to leave: he is destined to live his life perpetually five minutes late to everything — unless he creates a new habit. Nonetheless, I have come to believe that the truest answers to these questions are provided to us in a manner that is easily seen, heard, felt, and ultimately understood: our lives.

Look at your life right now. What do you find? Aside from innate physical differences from human to human, what you will eventually find is that the things around you; or the positions you currently hold; or the relationships you’re in, are in large part a result of your own habits. Man that hurts, doesn’t it? It hurts if you’re broke. It hurts if you don’t like where you are. It hurts if you don’t have what you want — or worse: you don’t have what you think you deserve. I get it. I’ve felt it many times, and for all the reasons listed above plus some.

But there is good news: Dad’s old advice about habit-building works just as well today as it did decades ago. Plus, acquiring new, positive habits will have long-lasting effects that require little maintenance later. In other words, once built, we can let a habit work its magic in our lives — and it really is magic. But to begin this process is not necessarily the most fun, because it usually means undergoing a painful examination of the areas in our lives where we are just plain wrong…and if you’re like me — you hate being told you’re wrong. And this is only the beginning: obviously, whatever is wrong has to be made right. And, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, there’s undoubtedly some bad habits in there somewhere that you’ll have to first undo, and then replace with good habits…habits that are more conducive to success.

In some areas of my life, I believe I found (and subsequently adopted) some better habits. For example: I know how to practice playing the drums. Notice I didn’t say that I know when to practice. I also didn’t say that I knew how long to practice. Another thing I didn’t say was exactly what to practice. No. I said, I know how to practice. This ‘practice habit’ — a mindset focused on achieving excellence — is something I developed very early in life, and because of it, I was not a “popular” guy: I didn’t attend all the cool parties on the weekend; I didn’t hang out with buddies after school; I didn’t participate in sports…man, I barely did my other homework (bad habit). And at first, practicing wasn’t exactly fun. In fact, I remember throwing my sticks across the room many times out of sheer frustration. But it definitely paid off: nowadays I actually crave difficult practice sessions because I know precisely how it will turn out: I’ll get exactly what I want. Never fails.

It’s kind of like my buddy who was diagnosed with a stomach ulcer as a young boy and was told he had to drink foul-smelling buttermilk to relieve his pain, as this was the only remedy for ulcers in those years, and the after-effects of buttermilk in his stomach included a temporary relief of pain and a good night’s sleep. Can you guess what happened as a result? The guy now craves buttermilk and drinks it to this day, even though the ulcer has long since been cured with modern medicine. My feelings about grueling practice sessions mirror my buddy’s feelings toward buttermilk: We both know how well it works. We made ourselves understand. Sure…it really sucked in the beginning — no doubt — but think about it: if you could ensure success by doing some simple thing over and over, wouldn’t you do it?

Today, I am trying to inject as many good habits into all the other areas of my life that need improvement — it isn’t always a barrel of laughs, but at least I know how it’ll turn out!

You in?

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-Tom


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