A reader recently asked me a question about habits, and building good ones:
What is the best way to form good habits? You see all these books: Miracle Morning, Getting Things Done, Superhuman by Habit, Pomodoro Technique, etc. They all provide ways to better manage your time, so you have time for side projects, etc. But most of them don’t really say what to do when you are tired, feel like hitting the snooze button rather than getting up, or feel like checking twitter rather than banging out the 20 unit tests on your plate. What do you do to stay focused and form good habits?
As I was thinking about the questions and thoughts about what I wanted to say were running through my head, I realized that most of what I wanted to say were things that my friend John Sonmez had been talking about recently. John’s a fountain of knowledge, when it comes to getting things done, building habits and generally making yourself a better person, not just a better developer. So, rather than me trying to re-hash the things that John says so well, I asked him to respond to the questions directly. Fortunately for me, and you, he did!
Here, as a guest post to my newsletter and archive, is John Sonmez, answering the question of how to build good habits.
I don’t know if you know it or not, but you’ve basically just asked the question “what is the secret to success?” because habits—and more specifically executing on them when you don’t feel like it—is exactly that.
If I could take success and put it in a bottle and drink it, it would taste like consistency and sweat. (In case you are wondering “consistency” tastes a bit like slightly soured milk, and sweat… well, it’s salty.)
Every single successful person I know has figured out some way to bottle this substance and to drink healthy servings of it, just about every day.
But, of course this is a lot easier said than done—otherwise we’d all be super successful.
So, how do you actually become consistent?
How do you actually develop habits?
Especially when the passion has died down and you just aren’t feeling motivated?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to these questions.
I can’t handle you that bottle of sour milk and sweat for you to drink. It’s up to all of us to brew up our own batch.
Brewing up a batch of “success” juice
It all starts with the proper mindset.
As lazy human beings, we tend to be pretty short-sighted.
My wife handed me two Cadbury Creme Eggs that she picked up when she went to the store and they are sitting there on my desk, staring at me, trying to prevent my mind from thinking about anything else.
I have to actively fight and resist the urge to eat them, because I know that eating chocolate eggs, when I am supposed to be working and when they aren’t on my planned diet, is going to be counter-productive to my long term goals.
But, I am resisting them. I am sitting here typing this email, because I’ve figured out—at least in some way—to shift my thinking from the short-term to the long-term.
If you want to get out of bed instead of hitting the snooze button, you have to think about more than just today. You have to think about how making that decision 100 or 1,000 times will affect your life. That is what thinking in the long-term is about.
If you want to write those unit tests and get some real work done. You’ve got to think about how choosing to work instead of goofing off is going to play out over the course of the next 5 years.
It’s not easy to think this way, so most people don’t even try.
Most people just make the short-term decision that feels good.
They plop down in front of the TV, instead of working on their side-project.
They stuff their face full of junk, instead of carefully planning their meals and losing the 10—or 50—pounds they’ve been trying to lose for the last 5 years.
They are the same kind of people who always start out with good intentions.
We’ve all been that kind of person at some time in our lives—perhaps you are now. (I know I still am from time-to-time.)
But, we have to fight it.
We have to see something bigger on the horizon.
We have to realize that when we give up a battle with temptation, laziness or procrastination, we aren’t just making a single decision, we are setting a course. A course that will eventually run our ship aground.
Only by changing your mindset to realize these things—to thing big; long term—can you ever hope to build and execute on good habits.
Most people know exactly what they need to do to achieve their goals in life.
Fat people know they need to stop eating so much and exercise more.
Broke people know they need to stop spending so much.
Lazy people know they need to stop procrastinating all the time.
But, do they do it?
Will you do it?
It’s up to you.
The drink isn’t very tasty and it has a hell of a bite, but if you mix up a batch and start chugging it, you’ll do what 99% people are incapable of.
And when you do, productivity tricks aside, you are going to see results.
That’s all I have time for to include in this email, but I have a whole section devoted to productivity in my book “Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual.”
You can also find a chapter that deals specifically with how to be get things done when you don’t feel motivated called “Burnout? I’ve got the cure.”
– John Sonmez