Habits don't exist: How successful entrepreneurs progress towards their goals

Most entrepreneurs have a bad habit holding them back or a good habit they are trying to build. All habits are underpinned by a single skill that can be trained and strengthened like a muscle. This skill makes habits unnecessary. This skill is discipline.
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Habits don't exist.

Not in the way you're used to hearing about them. There is no need to spend time or effort building elaborate habits or hacking your way to achievement. Every habit is underpinned by a single skill that you can develop, which makes habit formation easy.

That skill is discipline.

The one thing

His palms began to sweat after the second time it happened. This interview meant everything. This was his dream job. He couldn't mess this one up.

Geoff Woods was interviewing to become the vice president of The One Thing, a company that would come out of the book of the same name by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

Woods prepared for the interview by making a 3-step plan to get the company off the ground. And Keller kept interrupting to ask a question:

"Do you need to do number 2 if you do number 1?" He asked. Woods continued to explain his plan, detailing why both were needed.

Eventually, Keller reached over and tore the paper in half, leaving only the first aspect of the plan.

He said (paraphrased) "This is the one thing, such that by doing it, everything else becomes easier or unnecessary."

This is the backbone behind The One Thing. Finding the point of highest leverage that allows you to achieve your highest goals, stay focused on what matters, and accomplish your life's work.

When applied to life, The One Thing gives you clear, simple instructions: Develop this habit, break that habit, stay consistent, rinse and repeat.

But when applied to itself, The One Thing isn't about habit formation. It's about the one skill that underlies habit formation.

If you need to build or quit a habit in order to achieve your goals, the one thing that makes this easier or unnecessary is discipline.

Habits are a construction of our imagination. An idea that we are bound to a certain set of actions based on repetition and environment. These are crutches. They undoubtedly make it harder to break or form a habit. But not impossible.

Discipline is a strict adherence to the contracts you make with yourself under all circumstances.

It requires you to break through the facade of lies and excuses that you tell yourself. It requires you to be accountable to yourself. It requires you to do.

Do or do not, there is no try

I tried for months to quit, but every day ended up the same way. After the pandemic hit, my habits started to slip away. First it was my daily meditation routine and breathwork. Then my focused work time became fragmented. I downloaded a mobile game and started checking my phone incessantly.  I began watching YouTube videos while working. My reading habit was slowly replaced with TV shows. I got political, and let the fear infect my mind.

Before I realized what was happening, I had a deep deep within me any time I wasn't compulsively scrolling YouTube or playing a game. I couldn't focus for more than 30 minutes unless I had a deadline approaching. And I was miserable.

I felt like "Guy" from the movie Free Guy, trapped in a repeating loop yet wanting so much more from life:

Wake up, coffee, waste the day away with YouTube videos and games, waiting for something to happen, dinner, bed. Repeat. I was a non-player character (NPC). I existed to get punched in the face, robbed, lied to, cheated. Such is the experience for many who dive head first into the online business world. There are players and NPCs in this game. Most people begin as an NPC and never level up to become a player.

In the film, Guy, steals a pair of magic glasses that allows him to see inside the matrix. He sees the game as it's being played, which gives him all the advantages that the players have over the NPCs.

I put on the glasses when my depression and anxiety became unbearable. A whole new world open up before me. I was able to see that I was acting like a child.

I wasn't a slave to any habit. I wasn't helpless. I knew what I wanted and I knew exactly what it took to get it.

And as the wise sage Yoda once said, "do or do not, there is no try."

So I changed. Overnight.

I began writing, meditating, breathwork, focus. I curtailed my addiction to YouTube, gaming, distractions, and negativity. Just like that.

If you were to follow the advice of the productivity and habit gurus, it would take you a year or two to get this far. "Only one habit at a time," they say. "It's too hard to develop multiple habits at the same time."

I don't buy it. I wasted enough time on these habits, I'm not going to waste any more. And neither should you.

The habits niche builds crutches for people too weak to stand on their own two feet. It creates an excuse to take it easy, hold back, underperform.

You can start or stop any habit immediately if you really want to. You can change your life in an instant. You simply do or do not.

Your ability to control your habits is a reflection of your discipline. Undisciplined people tell themselves they are working on becoming successful.  Disciplined people do what it takes to achieve success.

The paradoxes of discipline.

Discipline can't be boiled down to a checklist or a step by step plan.

You either do or you do not. However, there are two counter-intuitive ideas that will aid you in maintaining discipline. Let's work backwards from discipline to an actionable plan.

First, is the Stockdale Paradox, an idea that Jim Collins pioneers in his book, Good to Great. The paradox is that you must simultaneously acknowledge the harsh reality of your situation while also remaining optimistic that you can succeed.

This is the perfect companion to discipline.

As humans, we deceive ourselves. We come to believe that we can't break a habit, or that we should wait until new years (or some other arbitrary life event) to improve. As Richard Feynman so eloquently put it, "you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." If you are unhappy, you must see that your choices and your beliefs are not serving to build the lifestyle that you seek.

Get clarity on what's missing, or what's in excess, and you will know how to improve. Maintain optimism  - believe that you can improve - so that you will consistently do the work.

The second paradox is related to Nassim Taleb's concept of Antifragility, described at length in his book of the same name. In order to discover the harsh truth about your situation, you must seek to uproot your false beliefs and delusions, instead of hiding within safe spaces on social media or in the classroom.

The more you break your ideas, the stronger you become.

Most people read articles, listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, and fill their minds with information that supports the narrative they are trapped in. They get motivated, riled up, frothing at the bit.

And yet they do nothing.

They get their sense of achievement from watching other people. They are NPCs.

They believe they can build a successful life, but... there are a million excuses standing in their way, guarded by the influx of positive signals they are receiving.

I know this, because it's the same trap I fell into. I fooled myself.

Perhaps you believe that you need to build a daily writing habit in order to build an audience and start a successful business. Or you need to stop playing videogames to free up time to do so.

Or that success is sitting just on the other side of that habit, that barrier. It's so close that you can taste it. Like the study showing that dogs would not venture past the boundaries of an electric fence, even after the fence was removed. But you will realize as soon as you step through the barrier that it's a figment of your imagination.

My hope is this article will give you the courage to step through the barrier and realize that it's a figment of your imagination.

My hope is this article will break you, thus making you stronger. And with this strength, you can see the reality of your situation while remaining optimistic in your ability to prevail. And finally, my hope is that you'll take disciplined action.

Become a disciplined person and you'll never struggle with habits (or anything else) again.

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