Developing the habit of good habits

January 10, 2018

December 31st was a milestone for me. It represented the completion of six years of tracking nearly everything in my life. It started with a simple spreadsheet to track if I was at home or traveling, where I was (if traveling), some specifics of my workout, my performance against my top three life goals, my general level of stress, and a short open section for any general thoughts.

It evolved significantly over the years. I now track my workouts separately. And I have added and subtracted columns here and there, especially around nutrition, sleep and interactions with my kids. But the concept remains the same: what gets measured, gets done. And stuff did get done. It’s no coincidence that the past six years have been the most significant period of growth for me as an adult.

The real breakthrough came early on, perhaps 2013, when I finally understood the power of building positive habits into my life instead of just focusing on goals. I began to notice that I would meet all my professional goals but often miss my personal ones. Workaholic, yes, but there was something more. Initially inspired by reading Darren Hardy’s “Compound Effect,” Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” and countless articles, speeches and podcasts on the subject, I made my life a sort of habit laboratory.

And here are some of my top conclusions.

  • A good life is not just an accumulation of good years and notable accomplishments, but rather it’s about having more good days. Good days are the building blocks of a good life and they follow from having useful, consistent routines and managing healthy habits. My mantra: have more good days!
  • Habits are easier to add than to remove. Let the good ones crowd out the bad ones.
  • Good habits are about the long term, not about quick gains or reacting to tough periods. They eliminate the need for “fasts.” For example, after calorie-busting holidays, I don’t need to go to extremes, I just need to find my routine again. I know where I am going.
  • Clustering good habits is a power move. In other words, don’t just stretch in the morning. Stretch and meditate. Both are super powers of leaders and high achievers.
  • Thirty days is just the beginning to imprinting a daily habit – 90 days is where the magic really begins. Practice a habit for two or three years and it’ll become a permanent part of your life.
  • Habits are not a goal but a process, a practice, and if you are patient they are the building blocks to mastery. They are about creating or becoming something new. It’s not about running a marathon but rather having the habits to be a “runner.” What do you want to “become”?
  • Approach habits like a scientist. Try things for a while, track the results and adjust.
  • Don’t forget to keep track. Whether it’s a simple notebook or a school calendar—like a friend of mine uses—or a spreadsheet. Hold yourself accountable to good habits every day.
  • If you are struggling with getting started or getting traction, accountability partnerships work. Find a buddy to update weekly on your habits and encourage honest feedback. This works especially well at the beginning.

If this is all new to you, I suggest starting slowly and accumulating easy wins. If you want to learn to stretch in the mornings, make this the month where you become a person who stretches every day. It doesn’t matter if you just touch your toes while you are making coffee. Do it and keep track.

For my team at Hagerty, we have been talking for a while about habits. As we roll into the New Year, I am suggesting they try adding just three new habits – one personal, one professional and one gratitude-based.

Here they are:

  • Personal habit: Better sleep in 2018. Good days require active and regular oscillation between work and rest. Make rest and sleep a priority this year by clustering the habits of eliminating screen time 45 minutes before going to bed and going to bed at the same time each night. It makes a huge difference.
  • Professional habit: Learn something new. Carve out 30-60 minutes each week to learn something new outside of your work of industry, especially technology. Whether it’s a book, a podcast or a few articles each week, commit to knowing a new topic well enough by the end of the year so that you can articulate it to your grandmother or to a middle schooler. (Hint, hint: At Hagerty, I am going to start asking people what they are learning regularly. Get ready for pop quizzes in the hallway or at rollouts, folks.)
  • Gratitude habit: Acts of gratitude are the recognition of a kindness offered by another human being. It’s a core practice of building viable community and building trust in a time when people are increasingly polarized. Make a habit of writing a quick note to two people per week for some act of kindness or diligence. That’s 104 people this year who could have their life changed permanently because of your small gesture. Imagine.

I’ll be writing more on these topics in the months ahead. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.


Image credit: Jan Smith, via Creative Commons