How do they do it?
Richard Branson currently owns over 400 companies. Arianna Huffington became one of the most influences voices in media . Steve Jobs founded the world’s largest company with only a handful of products. Angela Merkel has topped the Forbes 100 most powerful women list. Over 2 billion people are signed up to Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. Muhammad Ali is considered as the greatest sportsman that ever lived (not just by me).
How do super-achievers attain such status in the world?
The reality they’ve created for themselves is directly proportional to their personality makeup. The key personality traits super-achievers forged for themselves were by developing the specific habits and rituals that defines all great leaders.
These are habits that are practiced daily every morning. Super-achievers are obsessive about performing their morning rituals before they start their workday.
Barack Obama hits the cardio and weights gym. Steve Jobs practiced Zen meditation. Arianna Huffington starts the day with yoga and meditation. Howard Schultz loves to take his three dogs out for walks before he starts his day.
A habit is a behaviour pattern that is performed automatically without having to think about it. All habits take some effort.
A simple and near-effortless habit that you are likely to have is brushing your teeth at morning and night. The more complex habits of super-achievers require conscious attention.
Let’s not pretend habits are easy to achieve.
The 21 days or 30 days for habit formation is a myth. According to research carried out by University College London, it takes 66 days to take a new habit to the level of ‘automaticity’.
Developing the Habits
Here are suggested steps to develop the correct habits of a super-achiever.
1. Have a clear and concise vision
What is the outcome that you desire? What are the other consequential outcomes that will result of forming this new habit?
2. The Real Purpose
What is the real purpose behind that vision? In other words, what is your big why? Not knowing the ‘why’ of a habit significantly increases the probability of failure.
3. Facing your Fears
What are your biggest fears about this habit? Consider these important questions:
- What are the consequences of not developing this habit?
- What is the worst thing that can happen in forming this new habit?
- What is the best thing that can happen forming this new habit?
- What’s the most likely thing to happen when you form this new habit?
4. Decision Time
Now, take the single most important step in character formation. Decide. If you opt for forming this new habit, then it means you have a) cut off all other options and b) you will take immediate massive actions to begin the new habit.
5. Enjoy the Habit in Your Mind First
Every morning before you even jump out of bed, take a few moments to visualize your new habit and make a conscious decision that today you will take appropriate and massive action in moulding your new habit.
6. Rinse and Repeat for 66 Days
Repeat step 5 for 65 more days. By the end of this time, you will have achieved automaticity.
Reasons for Failing
So why do people fail so miserably in forming new habits?
There are several reasons why leaders cannot integrate new habits into their daily practice.
- They are not committed to forming the new habit.
- Their new chosen habit is not aligned to who they are.
- They break the 66-days habit formation cycle.
- They allow life to get in the way rather than take full responsibility.
- Their brain rewiring needed to accommodate the new habit is unsupported.
The human mind prefers predictability and certainty. As a result, it resists change. In order to develop the neural pathways for the new habit, there needs to be pleasure associated with the associated behaviour.
Dopamine (neurotransmitter) is secreted in the basal ganglia of the brain. It sets the threshold for initiating actions. If dopamine activity is high less impetus is required to evoke a given behaviour.
High levels of dopamine lead to high levels of motor activity (muscular action) and impulsive behaviour. Lower levels of dopamine lead to lower levels of action.
When any given action is leads to an increase in dopamine activity, the brain circuitry adapts such that the same dopamine activity is easier to evoke when similar actions take place in the future. Thus dopamine acts as a teaching signal and a reward system.
How does dopamine influence habit formation?
When you perform a new habit, do something that is pleasurable to you. Keep it simple and easy to perform. One of the most powerful ways is to reflect and journal how doing the new set of actions felt for you. Write down why you are grateful for taking this new action and relate it to your desired future outcome.
As a result of the new behaviour and the written gratitude your brain will perceive the action to be pleasurable through the association of the released dopamine. The more you practice the journaling of your gratitude, the more dopamine will be released.
One way to accelerate your learning much further is to do this before you journal. Do a high intensity physical workout for 20-30 minutes. A number of studies have shown that noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine are released with exercise.
Norepinephrine (also known as ‘noradrenaline’) increases arousal and alertness, promotes vigilance, enhances formation and retrieval of memory, and focuses attention. Serotonin affects mood and social behaviour and is often called the ‘happy hormone’.
In conclusion, you are the sum of all your decisions. If you wish to become a super-achiever, then you must adopt habits that serve your goal. The neuroplastic nature of your brain means that it will reorganize itself in accordance to your environment, thinking, attitude and behaviour.
By consciously deciding and by taking massive action on a daily basis (weekends included), you will increase the probability of reaching the higher echelons of a super-achiever. Initial changes are temporary. You must keep the momentum of change for at least 66 days before the new habit becomes ‘effortless’.