Nobody looks up to a mediocre business leader. Human nature is to admire the excellent. Seeing other people do magnificent work shows us what is possible, and inspires us to achieve higher heights of our own.
Contrary to what many may believe, performing at a high level, particularly in a manner that brings you the business results you crave, doesn’t require freakish talent, superhuman willpower, or abundant motivation. These elements are all unreliable.
Consistently being excellent is fueled by one simple thing: establishing the right habits.
In his book The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers, author Will Durant concluded:
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation; we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly…We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
And through his research on what separated the performance of Olympic swimmers from others who didn’t fare as well, Dan Chambliss came to a similar conclusion:
Excellence is mundane. Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then fitted together in a synthesized whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together, produce excellence.
Data shows it takes 66 days of doing a task consistently, for your brain to be rewired enough for the action to become a habit. That’s a little over two months. Most people give up on a new activity that will propel them toward their goal far sooner than that.
As a result, operating in excellence remains outside their reach. No bueno.
Here are four principles to remember as you work to establish your excellence inducing habits, so you can perform better than ever before.
1. Make your habits embarrassingly small.
When most people set out to create a new habit, they make the mistake of going too big. So if they are a couch potato, they try to commit to going to the gym every day.
I made a similar mistake when I began writing for my business. Several of my virtual mentors said they wrote 2,000 words a day. So I resolved to do the same. But because I was starting from a place of writing inconsistently, the reality of having to produce such a large volume of words on a daily basis soon proved daunting.
And even though I started off strong, I soon started missing days until I was back to my old bad habit of writing inconsistently.
I succeeded in making writing a habit a few months later when I started with a goal of producing just 50-words a day. I could accomplish the task in less than 5-minutes. And because my target was so tiny, I felt silly for not doing it. And almost always, after I reached my 50-word quota, I’d keep going, because I was already in motion, and no longer felt the pressure to produce.
When working to establish a new habit, make your goal tiny. Make it so small, that it requires minimal effort to complete your task for the day.
2. Follow the 20-second rule.
In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor shared research, including his own experience on how removing barriers, even minor ones that save as little as 20-seconds, is enough to push you forward toward establishing positive habits.
Thus doing things like sleeping in your gym clothes helps to reduce friction associated with working out in the morning. Author and podcast host Srini Rao writes a partial sentence every night to reduce the friction in starting his writing each day. And I’ve reduced friction to cooking at home, by grocery shopping every Sunday. This prevents me from using the excuse of not having healthy food stocked as a reason to eat out.
3. If you break the chain, simply start again. Quickly.
We are all human. And sometimes even with our best-laid plans, you may not be able to complete a task during your quest to establish a habit. If you do miss a day, don’t fret. Be kind to yourself, and start again.
Make the miss an outlier, rather than a negative trend. The sooner you pick your habit up again, the easier it will be to regain your positive momentum.
It’s time for you to make excellence a habit. Today is a great day to start.
This original article was written by Sonia Thompson for INC.