How to Be Successful by Developing Killer Habits

by Stephen Mills on March 26, 2009


Note:  This is the fourth article in the series “How to be Successful by…”.  This series examines what traits successful people have in common.  Here are the first three articles in the series:
How to be Successful by Practicing Resilience
How to be Successful by Taking Responsibility
17 Ways to Achieve Heroic Goals

Everyone gets excited and pumped about some new idea they hear, some motivational purpose, that new year’s resolution, or whatever.  We hear and read so many good ideas and success tips.  But we never really seem to follow through on them for long. Why is that?  Because we fail to make them a habit.

As much as 90% of your daily behavior is habitual.  In a very real sense you are your habits and so it is very important that you understand what habits you posses.  Those habits are currently limiting you and by developing some new killer habits and eliminating your bad habits, you can re-frame your possibilities.  Your results are being driven by your habits and if you want to improve your results, you are going to have to change your habits.  Good habits power success.

10 Things You Can Do To Develop Killer Habits and Eliminate the Bad Ones

Understand your existing habits

Make a list of every habit you have.  Get feedback from friends, family, and colleagues.  Examine this list and discover your limiting habits so  you can eliminate them.  Some examples of bad habits:

  • Negativity
  • Eating crap
  • Watching TV
  • Procrastination
  • Being late
  • Micro-management
  • Working too much
  • Interrupting people

Establish New Habits that Are Aligned With High-Level Purposes

If you don’t attach your new habit to high-level life purposes, then you will not have the commitment to follow through and ensure it becomes established.  I want to live to 100 and be highly functional all the way to 100.  I want to be alive to watch my grandchildren (hopefully I will have some) grow up.  I want to be able to talk to them and play with them.  I want to travel the world.

I haven’t even begun to accomplish my life’s purpose.  In order to do all this I need to be very healthy and fit.  With this purpose as a backdrop, I decided to establish a healthy eating habit.  I’ll leave it to your imagination as to whether I was successful in that or not.

Commit To Your New Habit Every Morning for 30 Days

Until your new habit actually becomes a habit, you will have to make the empowering decision over and over again.  It is not yet automatic.  So while developing the healthy eating habit, I had to recommit to it every day.  Experts believe it takes approximately 30 days for new neural pathways to be laid down in your brain.  These neural pathways are the what allow your subconscious mind to take over and automate your new behavior.

Focus on Only One Habit at a Time

Trust me on this.  I have repeatedly tried to do too many things at once and it just dilutes your focus and is a recipe for failure.  I’m impatient and want to do it all at once, but commit to and focus on no more than one new habit per month.  After one year you will have 12 powerful new success habits.  That is more than life-changing.

Establish the Habit First, Then Expand It

The establishment of the habit is the most important part of the process.  It is more important than the content of the habit.  Let me explain this with an example.  If you decide you are going to establish an exercise habit, you need to make the exercise routine easy.  If you make it too difficult, you will be much more likely to find an excuse to fail.

My exercise habit was established with a daily walk in the sunshine that I found very pleasurable.  You could exercise for 5 or 10 minutes a day for 30 days straight and then start ramping up the intensity of the exercise routine after it is established.

Be Patient

This is very difficult for me, but it is extremely important.  You did not get to your current situation overnight and you cannot get out of it overnight.  Relax and go slowly and gradually.  Add new healthy foods to your diet gradually.  Don’t shock your system and emotions by going from sugar to green in one day.  Don’t take on too much at once or you will become overwhelmed and you will dramatically increase the likelihood of failure.

Want your new habit!

If you are not passionate about your new life and if you don’t really want the change, you are not going to be successful in changing.  It is that simple.  If you are not committed, then don’t start because all you will end up doing is establishing a habit of failing to establish habits.  Think New Year’s resolutions.

Make Zero Exceptions

This is a tough one, but an important one.  If you cheat once in a while, then you will be constantly torn with decisions about whether to cheat or not.  Further, once you open the door, it is easy to slide down the slope and you will very likely just end up at the bottom.  If you stay committed to the zero exceptions rule, you will actually find your new habit easier.  The decision has already been made – you aren’t eating cookies.  You aren’t torn and stretched between the option to cheat or not cheat.  There is no choice available to you.

If you build an exception into your habit it is not cheating and there is still no choice.  For example, if you decide that Saturday night is “sinful meal night” then that’s ok.  But you have to stick to that 100%.  If you add a sinful meal randomly during the week you are cheating.

Attach Painful Emotions to Bad Habits and Pleasurable Emotions to Good Habits

This is a great idea that I have recently discovered and it is very powerful and simple.  I am indebted to Jonathan Wells at Advanced Life Skills for introducing me to this idea.  Please visit his site and get his e-Book for details.

The basic idea is to list both your empowering and limiting beliefs/habits.  Next to your empowering habits or beliefs, write down the positive emotions you experience or will experience as a result of practicing that habit.  Next to your bad or limiting habits and beliefs, write down the painful emotions and experiences you have as a result of that habit or belief.

You have now anchored what you want to do with positive and pleasurable emotions and what you want to eliminate with painful emotions.  Review and visualize these responses frequently and you will have a simple tool to enable change.

Write down your new habit every day for 30 days

Write down your commitment and decision every day for 30 days while you are establishing your habit.  Write down how it is attached to and aligned with your high-level purpose.  It makes it real and it burns it into your brain. “I want to see my grandchildren.  I want to see the world.  I want to live and thrive until I am 100 years old.  I want to live life to it’s fullest in every moment I have. I will eat healthy today.”  That’s a powerful way to motivate yourself to establish a new habit.

I didn’t provide you a list of killer habits for you to develop.  It’s better if you come up with those yourself.  However in the past and in the future on this blog, many posts are devoted to single subjects that you should develop as a habit.  The net is full of good ideas that you should make habitual parts of your daily life.

What do you think?  Leave a comment below.  Subscribe to The Rat Race Trap by Email here or to a reader in the top left sidebar.  I would love to have you aboard.

{ 3 trackbacks }

“So are you going to start updating again?” | Lost in Translation
March 26, 2009 at 10:30 pm
How to Be Successful by Believing in Your Dream — The Rat Race Trap
March 29, 2009 at 7:47 am
Do You Speak The Language of Success? | The Way of Money
March 29, 2009 at 5:52 pm

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Giovanna Garcia March 26, 2009 at 9:06 am

Great tips on developing habits. I love the align with higher purposes, because it has to be a big enough of a why for someone to really want to do it. And committing for 30 days is a main key of truning anything into habit.
You did a wonderful job writing.
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action


Albert | UrbanMonk.Net March 26, 2009 at 10:15 am

Hi Stephen, found you from Glen’s blog, and I’m glad I did. I’m enjoying your indepth discussions here, and will be poking around your archives!


Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills March 26, 2009 at 11:10 am

Great article Stephen,

Scientist say that it takes 21 days to break an old habit but the time to adopt a new one can take much longer. The good news is that once established, our new desirable habit will help us avoid slipping back into less beneficial behavior.


Robin Easton March 26, 2009 at 12:14 pm

We regain self-esteem when we end bad habits and take on new ones. We also become more conscious, as bad habits do not require us to be conscious or aware. And often they further deaden any awareness that we do have. We become excitingly empowered when we end bad habits and take on healthy life-giving new ones. I encourage anyone wanting to ditch bad habits to do so, because this is your LIFE and you deserve the best life possible. Love yourself by following Stephen’s advice.


Stephen - Rat Race Trap March 26, 2009 at 12:41 pm

@Albert, wow! Thank you for the kind comments. I’m getting better at articulating my thoughts. This writing is new to me.

@Giovanna, Aligning with a higher purpose is my favorite part of establishing new habits too. It is such a powerful motivator.

@Jonathan, I’ve read that the new pathways are laid down and the old pathways are still there. That is why it is so easy to slip back into bad habits even after they are discarded. All it takes is a trigger. That’s one reason why it is so important not to fall off of the wagon and go back. Not even once.

@Robin, I love this:

“We become excitingly empowered when we end bad habits and take on healthy life-giving new ones.”

You have a beautiful way with words 🙂 Thank you for your comments.


Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills March 26, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Stephen, you are correct about the neuro pathways still remaining. Deeply ingrained habits create well established neurological pathways that take a very long time to shallow out. The more you practice a new habit the quicker you establish a new preferential neurological route.


Stephen - Rat Race Trap March 27, 2009 at 8:41 pm

@Jonathan, I’ve also read that you should work on a new habit regularly for about 3 months. My experience is that after 1 month I’m pretty well established, but we are all different. Thus the advice to everyone is to know yourself and work within your own requirements. In the end, constant focus on improving and maintaining your own habits is a lifelong pursuit. And a very pleasurable one I might add. Don’t procrastinate your own growth!


Annie - Success With Foreign Languages June 14, 2009 at 10:25 pm

When I first discovered that I could teach Mandarin online, I was so excited but unsure. I teach as a non-native speaker and have a great passion to teach others how to speak better as I have learnt many languages since I was 2 years old. I discovered whenever I get a great feedback from my students, I feel more empowered and want to improve. It drives me further to develop winning habits. It is easy to have killer habits; each step taken is a positive step towards success.
.-= Annie – Success With Foreign Languages´s last blog ..Poor Kid, Many Languages =-.


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