How to Steal the Daily Habits of Successful People for Yourself
18 min read
This post talks about how to master and build habits like successful people! The successful entrepreneurs have mastered and built sustainable habits around their lives, so that their life is working for them, instead of the other way around. If you’re struggling with keeping habits like I was, read this post!
If you’re trying to change something in your daily life and you feel like you can’t keep up with every new habit you want to create, you may be behind compared to those other successful entrepreneurs… (ugh, like those ones that get up at 5 am? If you’re one of them…..how do you do this?!)
Feeling behind isn’t a good feeling.
But, there’s good news!
I did some research and found that there are some super easy habit hacks you can use to create (and stick with) the right habits, so that you actually stay with them for the long-run.
I totally get it.
I remember numerous times when I wanted to change something in my life, such as start an exercise routine, a healthier diet, read more books, or even just a routine to get to bed on time – and then being disappointed in myself for “falling off the wagon”.
Inevitably, I’d end up creating this elaborate system that would just end up empty and my wondering what the hell happened that I didn’t keep up with it? I built the perfect system!
I remember when I bought a whiteboard calendar and I dutifully dated it each month, so I could cross it off with a big red X when I finished the task for the day.
I remember the time when I would give myself a “reward” for completing the habit for a week, two weeks, or a month in a row.
There were also the days when it would be the end of the day, me exhausted and ready for bed, sighing and saying to myself, “Meh, forget it, I’ll do it tomorrow.” (Procrastinator alert!)
The worst part about all of this are all of those unfinished habits! And I would be no further along than when I had first started to try the new habit.
I started to think I was allergic to consistency or commitment (sorry hubby, lol!) and that I would never stick with the routine for the rest of my lifetime – ending up with multiple health problems, 800 unread books on my shelf and chronically tired because of my night-owl tendencies.
I bet you aren’t nearly as bad at habits as I was – but if you are, you’ve found yourself in the best place to try again, and to stick with it this time!
Luckily, we have the opportunity to learn from the research of multiple scientists, and the footsteps of other successful entrepreneurs to learn what they’ve done to stick with their life-long daily habits.
In fact, I’ve adopted a different mindset to habits altogether, and it’s changed that push-pull stress I was putting on myself, and now my habits are so automated I hardly even realize I’m doing them.
If that sounds easy breezy to you (they are to me now!) I encourage you to give this a try and see if you can turn around your habit frowns (What am I, Vanilla Ice, now?)
And if they do work for you – I’d love to hear how your habit routines have changed after trying these techniques!
Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. This goes to help support and run The Success Mountain website and keep the free information flowing!
How to steal the habits of successful people for yourself
Christine Carter, author of The Sweet Spot says, “Habits are the best way to bridge what we know we should do, and what we actually do.”
What she means by this is that despite us knowing we need to eat healthy and exercise, blahblahblah – we still just don’t do it.
Let’s just say you were taking a long road trip. You have the option of renting a car with cruise control, while the other vehicle doesn’t have cruise control. Which one will you take?
Of course, the easier one. If there’s anything we like, it’s to make things easier.
This is the power of habits.
They make tedious annoying things a lot easier to do. It’s like using Zapier (an ITTT push technology for automating daily business tasks) but for eating healthy.
You just get hungry and voila, you ate healthy food. How’d that happen? Habits! Real-life automation. Before we even had to think about it or hesitate on what choice to make (because a cheeseburger sounds fantastic right now and kale sounds horrible) then we just DO IT.
If we want to learn how to steal the habits of others who are successful, first, we should understand why our habits didn’t work in the first place.
For example, low blood sugar means less energy and decision-making, which means we default to our current habits. If you have a bad habit of saying, “Screw it, I’m getting a burger.” Then that’s a habit. Hence the saying that what we do every day creates our lives.
Instead of concerning our brains with the things we have to force ourselves to do (ugh, go get a bunch of salad, juice it, add kale, go work out, etc) we can free up our brains to think of other, more important things.
Carter talks about our brains being an elephant, and us being the rider. Similar to how riding on one path will slowly ingrain a trail, a habit is built using neural pathways in the brain.
The tiny rider is our will-power, and as much as the rider wants to tell the elephant where to go, sometimes the elephant just ignores the rider and goes where it’s used to going.
“The rider can provide direction, but only when the elephant doesn’t have conflicting desires of it’s own,” says Carter.
That’s why even if we set our alarm earlier than normal and reward ourselves with hot delicious coffee, or we reward ourselves with shopping after a long week of dieting, these rewards don’t work well after the first couple of times.
The reward isn’t immediate enough. This is why I think most habits fail. When your alarm goes off, you aren’t going to care if you’re getting coffee because you have to get up first to get it, and you’re sleepy, and you don’t want to.
And the elephant doesn’t know whether it’s taking a good path (a good habit) or a bad path (a bad habit).
In this post we will talk about how to break this cycle with the right rewards.
The neural pathways of habits are ingrained in our brains forever, too, which explains why bad habits are so hard to break. We can use this to our advantage, though, because it’s actually fairly easy to build a new habit.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
This brings us to what we need to succeed with our new habits.
By the way, one of the absolute favorite things I used in 2018 last year was a habit calendar. Now, I was going to make my own, but then I really loved this one calendar I bought on Amazon last year. Here’s what it looks like:
“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines practiced every day.” – Jim Rohn
1 | Identify what you’ll need on your habit building journey
Figure out what you want to accomplish
First, I would recommend figuring out what your values are. What is it that you’re trying to accomplish with this habit?
Although your ‘why’ sometimes isn’t strong enough by itself to keep your habit going when you’re first starting, it’s still a good idea to have a sense of why you’re struggling through those grueling workouts or early mornings.
Simply think about it for a little bit. Why do you want to accomplish that? And what is it that you’re trying to become? Any inspiration you can keep in front of you while you’re building the habit over the next couple of months? What will happen if you don’t create this habit?
Identify a habit you want to build
Second, you’ll want to figure out specifically what sort of habit you want to build.
If you’re embarking on your habit journey seriously, I highly recommend starting with an incredibly small, easy habit that will make you happy. What kind of habit would help you feel most happy if you did it? Or what kind of habit has the biggest reward for you?
Creating a habit stack
Third, you’ll want to create a habit stack, which we will talk about more in depth.
To create a good habit stack, you’ll need:
- A trigger
- A routine/groove, or rut (the elephant’s path)
- A reward
- A habit tracker & plan
Keep reading to go more in depth, you’re already done with step one!
Step two | Finding a trigger for your new habit
A trigger is one of three components of a habit. The trigger is something that helps your brain associate with “oh, we’ve done this thing, now it’s time to do this other thing.”
In short, it’s “an environmental cue, a behavioral response, and a reward (or the removal of an unpleasant stimulus),” (source).
Here’s some ideas of some habit triggers:
- Seeing a water bottle triggers taking a drink
- Seeing that it’s 11 pm might trigger you to go to bed
- Seeing your cell phone blue-light dimmer turn on might trigger you to turn the rest of the lights out
- An alarm that goes off at 10 am reminding you to take your medicine
- My dog hearing the garage signaling that her pet-dad is home – and it’s dinnertime!
- A habit calendar in the kitchen or on the fridge to remind you to get your habits done!
Instead of putting “Exercise for 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday” – you need to make a trigger to match with this ideal.
So you could say, “As soon as I get home from work, exercise for thirty minutes using a Yoga video on Youtube.”
Come up with a trigger that you can use from your already established routines.
Step three | Creating a routine for your traveling elephant to follow
The routine is the same path that the elephant takes whenever the trigger occurs. This is the neural pathway that you slowly build as you grow your habit.
“Walk down the path the first time and the rider will have to guide the elephant. Walk down it a dozen times and the elephant will start to wear a path. Walk down it every day for a month or so, and you’ll have a clear road, with no rider needed for guidance. This is exactly what’s happening in your brain. When you establish a habit, neural connections – pathways – are formed, and each time you enact a routine, the neural path grows stronger, more permanent.”
-Christine Carter, The Sweet Spot [link]
This is also why we do sometimes feel “in a rut” or “stuck” because we haven’t changed up our current patterns, behaviors or pathways in a while. It’s nice to switch it up!
Despite having routines or ruts of snoozing our alarm 10 times and just skimming to work at 8:05, we all have the power to consciously choose to have a more calm, easy, less-stressful morning.
Step four | Rewards: set yourself up for success when building habits
Building habits successfully requires activating the pleasure chemicals in our brain that “this is good! We like this!” which helps grow the behavior to be repeatable.
Your brain has to have immediate rewards, such as the pleasure chemicals of the brain, in order to for it to decide if it wants to keep the habit (remember, your brain is the elephant, who’s in charge. All you can do as the rider is try to advise).
The reward has to be good enough so that the brain is happy to repeat it.
This means that having a cheat day on Saturday when it’s Monday, you’re famished, and there’s a reeaaally doughy cookie on the table in the break room might cause you to break down. Saturday is too far away and your blood sugar is low. Your brain decides this habit isn’t worth keeping and it will subconsciously sabotage your success. Those elephants can be smart.
Some good rewards are:
- Less stress because you left early for work
- Compassion instead of anger towards another driver
- Endorphins when you’re finished with your workout
- Yummy healthy food, versus disgusting healthy food
How can we get to these rewards?
Christine has a great example in her book where she talks about taking a few minutes to listen to an audiobook before bed while cleaning the house. She found she was actually more excited to listen to the audiobook, so she started looking forward to cleaning the house. Her trigger is that it’s time for bed, her desire/reward is to listen to a good audiobook, but also to see a clean and organized house. See how that works?
Try to turn your rewards into something actually fun for yourself.
Hate doing the dishes? Listen to a podcast. That’s what I do – it works great.
Hate working out on the treadmill? Watch a TV show. Have a slow walk during every commercial break.
Next, grab a habit tracker!
In the Habits Subreddit, they recommend using a system where you write a big red X on a calendar to mark that you completed your habit for the day. The point of this ‘game’ is to not break the chain, or the number of times you’ve completed the habit.
The one I used in 2018 last year was a habit calendar. Now, I was going to make my own, but then I really loved this one calendar I bought on Amazon last year. Here’s what it looks like:
To mimic this, I found a habit tracker. I had one of these last year and I was surprised by the number of times I used it. It was rewarding to be able to fill in all of the bubbles for the day! I even *gasp* took vitamins. It might just work for you! Make it fun – add stickers, highlighters, etc!
Why this works:
Preparing yourself for success is just as important, if not vital, to your success with sticking with your habits.
Printing out your tracker and putting it somewhere you can see it every day is going to help trigger you to complete your habit.
Here’s a list of places you can put your tracker:
– on your fridge
– using a dry erase marker on your bathroom mirror (I do this!)
– using a habit tracker printed out and on the back of the door you exit every day
– At your desk
– In your planner
– As an alarm in your phone or using an app (check out this post on The Compound Effect and the best apps you can use to improve your life!)
Step five | Actually building your habit
Eliminate complicated techniques and scenarios for building habits.
You’re setting yourself up for failure if you plan out an elaborate “run 1 mile” on week 1 of your routine. Instead, start with the tiniest habit possible.
Carter says to be successful at creating new habits, we should throw away our ambition. I’m the type, like her, to come up with big, impressive, ambitious ideas to start a new habit (like an exercise plan). She’s right. After implementing her and BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits – I’ve been able to keep many more habits alive for longer than I would even expect.
Seriously – these tiny habits are no small feat!
BJ Fogg, author of Tiny Habits, actually – no this isn’t a joke – truly recommends flossing ONE TOOTH.
Yes, ONE tooth at a time.
Now I feel like that’s a bit overboard, but I must say that starting with 5 jumping jacks per day has been known to help people actually stick with a routine.
The trick is to have it be SO small that it’s less than 30 seconds to complete, little physical effort, and you MUST do it once a day – no exceptions.
The point is for you to be like, “That’s so easy, it’s dumb if I don’t complete it, because it’s just this little thing. I’ll let myself down if I don’t do it, and I’d be done already if I didn’t have this argument with myself in my head.” <—-like that.
Here’s a few examples of Fogg’s tiny habits:
“After I pour my morning coffee, I will do five jumping jacks.”
“After I start the dishwasher, I will read one sentence from a book.”
“After I walk in my door from work, I will get out my workout clothes.”
“After I sit down on the train, I will open my sketch notebook.”
“After I hear any phone ring, I will exhale and relax for two seconds.”
Write out your habit like Fogg’s format, and then find a way to create a reward around it. Here’s a few more examples.
One last thing: 21 days to build a habit is a lie!
By the way, this idea that it takes 21 days to stop doing something or to build a habit is false. It was built off the premise that one plastic surgeon said he noticed it took about 3 weeks before his patients to stop looking in the mirror after having a nose job. That’s not exactly science, man. Real science shows it take, on average, 66 days to form a habit. But most habit time frames vary from habit and person.
And, research shows that the smaller the habit, the easier it is to build your habit! So, don’t beat yourself up if you wanted to run a marathon and you still don’t feel like it’s automatic after 20 days. Keep going!
So we know that you want to actually keep your habits this year – and maybe build some new ones (maybe break some old ones?).
And if you’re anything like me, you have a hard time sticking to them – often planning elaborate systems or just becoming too lazy to keep up with them after a few weeks.
So to combat this, it helps to learn a little bit about how habits work, and build a system to set yourself up for success as much as possible!
Learning how habits work helps you recognize why your previous habit attempts have failed, while coming up with a simple system eliminates any possible procrastination you may have. Deciding on a trigger helps you build off of something you already do, making it less difficult to do your daily task, and it automates the process so that a few weeks from now, you won’t have to use as much willpower to complete the task – it’ll be automatic!
Using other tactics such as giving yourself a visual tracking aid to show yourself how many habits you’ve done in a row helps you “not break the chain” and keeps up your motivation, as well!
I also offered a free printable habit tracker that helps you outline your habit, and that visual calendar that helps you keep up with the habits you’re building – and much easier when you can see it written out!
After years of trying to keep up with your habits, you can now feel relieved that you have a simple solution in place to finally build one habits, using the stacking method, and get farther than you’ve ever gotten with your habit!
Have you tried these strategies? What do you think?? Did they work for you? Comment below!
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