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Are successful habits always healthy?

Updated: 2 days ago

If you’ve been in a city centre in the last six months, you’ve probably seen an advert for James Clear’s now-famous book, Atomic Habits. Or, you’ve seen Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit in a bookshop as you wait for the train. As a society, we’ve become somewhat collectively obsessed with the idea of optimising our lives through routine – but what many people don’t realise is that all of your daily activities are a subconscious form of habit, regardless of whether you plan them or not. 


There’s plenty of good habit books out there (including the ones mentioned above), so this newsletter isn’t a short-form attempt to rival them. Instead, I wanted to offer my take on the impact of habits from a high-performance perspective – both good and bad.


What habits are in your life already?


Unless you live your life in a completely spur-of-the-moment way, you’ve already got some habits in your life. As an example, a lot of us will reach for our phones when we get up, or have a certain order that we get ready in. Maybe when 11 o’clock comes around you automatically grab a coffee, or you check your emails whilst you wait for your dinner to cook.


Whilst there’s the big building blocks that make up your day – going to work at a certain time, picking up the kids, walking the dog – there’s also a hundred micro habits that you don’t even really realise you’re doing. Without making a conscious choice, each of your daily activities queues another. 


From a work perspective, it can often feel like we don’t have much choice about our routine. It’s pretty hard to curate a day that runs exactly as you want it to (consistent workflow, regular lunch break, time away from your desk perhaps) when other people are involved and you’ve got a calendar that is open for meetings at any time. You’re just riding the wave of what comes along in the day, crashing towards 5pm and then recovering in the evening. 


But what if you could (as James Clear helpfully says) make your routine 1% better every day?



Why consistency is key


I recently posted on LinkedIn that I’d let my habit of ‘faking my commute’ slip. Since I work for myself, I try to make an effort to leave the house in the morning, to get my brain awake and ready for the day. Recently, I haven’t been doing it. 


For the last four years, I’ve also been slowly bringing an abandoned allotment back to life. Doing so gives me a sense of pride and purpose, and it’s great for relaxing. I haven’t been doing that, either.


Suddenly, it feels like really hard work to get those activities back into my routine again. But before, they slotted in easily. So what’s changed?


The answer is consistency. Consistency builds momentum. You feel like you’re just ticking off one small thing per day, rather than having to make huge changes every time. You feel a sense of pride and accomplishment that makes you go on to do the same thing again. It stops feeling like such a chore.


The same goes for work. If you keep on top of your emails, you don’t have to wade through hundreds on a Friday afternoon. If you regularly take holiday, you don’t have to then take two weeks off to lie down and recover from the six months prior. If you make an effort to check in with a network contact once a month, you don’t lose that connection with them.


Equally, it’s easy to let habits go when you think your life is going smoothly. You’ve got the results you wanted, so you’re no longer working towards something. You let the building blocks you’ve put in place slip – and the habit house comes tumbling down.


Not all successful habits are good for you


Habits have a good reputation for making you more efficient, happier and helping you achieve your goals – but it’s important to recognise when things go too far. Not all habits are positive. In fact, some are really bad. 


Workaholism is an easy habit to get into. You work hard, you get paid a lot, you work hard, you get paid more…you get the picture. It’s a hard cycle to get out of, especially if you don’t feel like you have any choice, or perhaps don’t notice it’s an issue until it’s too late. 


From the outside, working a lot is a ‘successful’ habit. You’ve managed to get to a place in your career where you’re in demand, and can get paid well. You might be a business owner, a senior manager, or work for a well-known brand. The majority of people will think, therefore, that you’re at the top of your game. Only you know that it’s causing you huge stress and taking time away from the things you actually want to be doing, like spending time with friends and family.


The reason I say this is to point out that not everyone needs to have the same habits to be happy or successful. You’ve got to work out what it is that you want (not what you think you want because others say so or have it) and then use your daily habits to take you marginally closer to that goal. Traditional success is not the only thing worth chasing.


Take care,

James


Got feedback about this blog, or simply want to share your thoughts? I want to hear it. Let me know by replying to this email. 



 

Ready to talk about your habits and goals?


Get in touch. Let's work out how we can get you on a sustainable path towards where you want to be. 



07855 315 753


in: James Pickles. Connect with me for thoughts on:


➡️ Aforementioned allotment

➡️ My fake commute in the rain and why it’s important

➡️ Why too many yeses impact quality and quantity

➡️ The generation myth

➡️ Getting heckled at a local networking event

➡️ Understanding the fourth leg of the stool


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