Aristotle once said “We are what we repeatedly do.” Excellence in something is not a one-time act, it’s a habit. If we want to excel in our craft, we need to create healthy habits to support it.
Brian Johnson of Optimize is a philosopher and online mentor. He created his Master Classes to help optimize our lives and live in what is called Arete. Arete is the expression of the highest version of ourselves moment to moment to moment. In his Habits 101 class, Brian gives us the tools we need in a concise and efficient manner.
The two most important elements of the class are identifying and installing our Keystone habit (we’ll get to that in a moment), and building the master habit of habit building. If we can get really good at creating habits, we can efficiently and masterfully optimize each and every day.
Brian starts each class with his 10 big ideas. The hour class then breaks up these big ideas and discusses them further in-depth. Here are his big ideas for developing habits and making them stick:
- Use Willpower Wisely- Willpower is such an incredible concept, Brian has a whole Master class dedicated to improving it. But in this short segment, we touch base on using it wisely. Willpower is finite, you deplete it as you use it. So, how do you keep from wasting willpower? You can boost your WP with breathing or meditation. Creating bright lines, absolutes with no wiggle room, work well in moments of drained willpower. “I will never drink again” is actually easier to adhere to than “I’m going to drink less”. And finally, self-compassion. Shaming yourself is the best way to destroy willpower. We can also recharge your willpower by installing habits that run on auto-pilot. Use the willpower to establish new healthy habits, or in moments you are challenged the most.
- Fundies- The fundamentals to optimizing your life in every way. No matter what habit you are trying to establish, the fundamentals of eating, sleeping, and moving will help you out. Within the universal fundamentals, there are unique practices we can do every day to help with our goals. How can your eating habits, exercising routine, and sleep patterns best benefit you?
- Keystone Habit- The Keystone is the center stone of an archway which hold the arch in place. Without it, the arch will crumble and fall. A Keystone habit maintains stability in our lives and holds us together. Which habits do you want to install? Which of these is your Keystone habit? How excited are you about the change your habit will bring? How big of an impact will it have on your life? And how committed are you to the change it promises? The one you are the most passionate, most committed to, and will have the strongest impact on you is your Keystone habit.
- Kryptonite Habit- Which things or activities are pulling you down? What activity is the ONE THING diffusing the most energy? When I took this class the first time, I was reminded of an old tradition when I was younger called the Key Log ceremony. When loggers used to utilize rivers to send large amounts of timber down to the mills, it was not uncommon for the logs to get backed-up. In order to maintain flow, a crew member would identify the Key Log, the one log which was ultimately causing the back-up. They would then (carefully) release that log and watch the rest of the logs sweep right by. If your life is at a standstill, hold your own Key Log ceremony. Choose a stick to represent the thing holding you back. Then send it down the river, or burn it in a fire and let the negativity go.
- What’s Your Why- How exactly will you benefit from your habit? An interesting study showed those who see the immediate benefits of an activity are more likely to continue than those who see the distant future benefits, even if those benefits in the future are more reinforcing than the immediate rewards. So look at the immediate benefits to keep you going in the moment. But also look at the long-term results from developing your healthy habit. Know WHY this habit is important. Finding your WHY makes it stick.
- Do It Daily- It’s easier to commit to something 100% than 50%, or 99%. It’s easier to commit to doing your habit everyday than it is every once in a while. Do your habit DAILY. Never miss a day. If you do miss a day, absolutely do not miss it a second day. Missing two days is suicide for your new habit. Do it whether you feel like it or not, don’t give it a chance to skip out on you.
- Make It Easy- the best way to maintain a new habit is to make it EASY. Break an ambitious behavior down into manageable steps. Start small and easy, then train your habit daily. Make it too small to fail. Brian Johnson does 100 burpees (or more) every day. He didn’t wake up one day and start pounding out 100 though. He couldn’t even manage 30 every day at first. He started simple, a low number he could easily accomplish and added 1 every day. Incrementally increasing his count made his habit manageable. Turn your habit into a game. What can you do today to make it an easy win? If your goal is to write 1000 words (or more) a day, start small. Write 100 words, but do it consistently. Increase your word count slowly until you can EASILY bust out 1000 words every single day.
- If-Then-Trigger-Cues- Turn yourself into your own personal animal trainer! I incorporate a lot of “if-then” behavior chains in my life. When I’m at the grocery store, I use conservation as a bright line to help boost my willpower in choosing healthy foods. “If this food has palm oil in it, then I will put it back on the shelf.” I use it for my writing, too. “If it is Thursday, then I will go to writing co-works.” It doesn’t leave space for wiggle room.
Using a cue system to start your habit helps MAKE IT EASY. If working out was a goal, you can place your sneakers in a spot where you will never miss them. This will trigger you to put them on, which cues the if-then “if I put on my sneakers, then I will go for a run/do a workout”.
I’m working on a habit of creating a chain reaction for my writing routine. When my hubby starts cleaning dishes and runs the dishwasher, I will get on the stationary rower and row 500 meters. When I row 500 meters, I will start my writing time. If I am writing, my phone is turned off. If I hit my daily word count, then I get to read /turn on my phone/watch a show on Netflix (right now I’m watching Queer Eye). It’s my reinforcement for behavior chain of healthy habits for me.
- Embrace the Process- You will not be able to snap your fingers and instantly develop your desired habit. There is a process, and phases to the process.
The first stage, the behavior is UNBEARABLE. You will think you can’t do it, that it’s stupid, and wonder why you even thought it was a good idea? This is normal, as the habit is new and different and changes the comfortability of your life. KEEP GOING.
The next phase is UNCOMFORTABLE- you see the benefits but you don’t always feel like doing it. KEEP GOING, because the next and final phase is
UNSTOPPABLE- my husband has a habit of doing at least 30 minutes of art every single day. He has been doing this habit for five years. Every day. For FIVE YEARS. You couldn’t pay him to skip a day of art. I myself am on a writing streak of at least 350 words minimum for 450 days straight. It is a low minimum, for the difficult days, but I tell you, I do NOT miss a day of writing. I am not going to mess my streak up. Especially with my hubby who has over 5 years under his belt.
- Get Your Mind Right- This is Brian’s most important idea. Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” If you don’t think you can change your life, or write your book, you can’t and you won’t. Period. Adopt a learning mindset. Think like an experimenter or researcher. They don’t get upset when an experiment fails. It’s just data, and they learn from it. When you play a video game and lose a big battle, you don’t give up. You start over and try again. Develop grit in your life- the intense passion and intense persistence. When you are clear on what you want, you become determined to succeed. We persist.
Which idea resonates the most with you?
I’ve mentioned Brian Johnson before and how he can improve your writing habit, life, or passion. Check him out and see for yourself at optimize.me. Or join the North Sound Writers for our Development classes each month and explore all the ways to optimize your life.