By Dr. Amy Shah November 26, 2013
I was surprised when I realized that the same steps that I’d used to get into medical school are the same steps I’m now taking to improve my health. Whether you’re trying to better your health, career, or yourself—there are some recurring secrets and habits that successful people use, and I thought it would be helpful to list them here.
1. They use small habits to get big results.
I love this quote by Seth Godin: “Your audacious life goals are fabulous. We’re proud of you for having them. But it’s possible that those goals are designed to distract you from the thing that’s really frightening you—the shift in daily habits that would mean a re-invention of how you see yourself.”
The “shift in daily habits” is the hard part. But it’s also key in creating a better version of yourself.
Before Jerry Seinfeld got so famous, he used a daily ritual of writing a little bit of material every day to refine his material. When completed that, he would write a big “X” on his calendar. He continued to do it everyday because he didn’t want to break the chain.
2. They hold themselves accountable.
Writing down the reason you want to make a change in your life creates accountability. Next write down when, where, and how you will complete it.
3. They don’t rely solely on willpower.
A well-established body of research tells us that willpower is a finite resource. In the face of multiple stressful stimuli, our willpower wears out. Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University, says, “Making decisions uses the very same willpower that you use to say no to doughnuts, drugs, or illicit sex.”
So when it comes to changing your dietary habits, for example, rely less on willpower—instead change your path so you’re not tempted by sugary treats multiple times a day.
4. They take it slow.
Once the habit is ingrained, you can try to tackle new habits, but wait at least three weeks before you even consider that. New studies show for a habit to be automatic it may actually take much longer than 30 days. A study led by Phillippa Lally, PhD, a psychologist at University College London, found that it actually took people 66 days (9.5 weeks) for a behavior to become automatic.
5. They use cues.
In Charles Duhigg’s best–selling book, The Power of Habit, he refers to the three steps of the “Habit Loop” as: cue, routine, reward. An example of a cue: placing your clothes on the floor so when you wake up in the morning you’re easily “cued” to start your habit of exercise.
6. They practice introspection.
This can be in the form of meditation or any form of self-examination. For example, the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, says that his meditation practice helped develop the core values of his brand. Also, many people credit Apple’s sleek design to Steve Jobs’ zen philosophy and meditation practice.
8. They share their habits with like-minded people.
Napoleon Hill coined this relationship “a mastermind.” It’s a meeting with people who share similars goals. Some successful people like Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie credit mastermind groups as a key factor in their success.
9. They visualize how they will overcome small hurdles.
You will have naysayers. You will have challenges. How will you solve them? Visualize the problem and mentally rehearse how you will solve it.
10. They reward themselves.
Don’t just reward yourself for completing a “30-day challenge” (or something similar), because after the challenge is over, you will inevitably fail. The whole premise of this is life transformation is that there is no end goal. Instead celebrate the small wins.
11. They know that failing is not final.
Expect to fail along the way. If you never fail, the habit was too easy. Just get back to it and don’t self-loathe. For motivation, remember the words of Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
12. They enjoy the process.
We can get so stuck on an end goal that we make ourselves miserable getting there. That’s a set up for failure. Enjoy the process of improving yourself. As Warren Buffet once said, “We enjoy the process far more than the proceeds.”
13. They express gratitude.
Express gratitude with even just one sentence a day. Define why you are grateful, what you have accomplished, and the hard work you’ve put in.
The key to changing yourself is not to create someone new or become a “super person” but to actually become a better version of yourself.