Skill set alone rarely divides success and failure. Successful professionals understand that you must put yourself in a position to produce positive outcomes to achieve more. Hard and smart work are important elements of this positioning, but persistence is the defining factor that multiplies the impact of that work.
Our modern attention-starved world offers a variety of painless, reliable, and abundant sources for personal and professional satisfaction. However, the relationships that produce consistent positive outcomes still take months and years to grow. In fact, the most satisfying deals evolve over many years of patient pursuit.
This approach requires tremendous persistence. It demands systems and processes that move your persistence practice from willpower to routine or ritual.
Routine vs. Ritual
Most people start their days with a standard routine. This may include brushing teeth, showering, and checking for new developments in their world. Some routines are more structured than others, but they’re all intended to streamline the daily, personal organization process.
Routines permeate all areas of our professional lives, as well. Everything from the lanes you choose on the way to work, where you park, and what you do when you first step into the office is routine. These eliminate uncertainty and allow you to focus on work that requires a higher level of thought.
That said, as you go through your day, you may notice activities that take more time, thought, or energy. You give more attention to them even though they happen with regularity, like a routine. This time and focus is more important to you, whether it is collaborative or individual deep work. These are your rituals.
Attitude differentiates routine and ritual.
The simplest, most routine task, like brushing your teeth can easily become a ritual if you were you give it the same attention as, say, prayer or meditation. Instead, your mind wanders through a variety of deep and superficial thoughts while you go about your routine.
Energy Flows Where Attention Goes
Rituals require your complete attention. They are important to you because they are integral part of your identity. You may also find that you perform these rituals with more care and skill than most of your routines.
Imagine if you were to spend as much time and attention on your routines as your rituals. Everything may take longer, but more than likely, you’d do each task with greater love and expect greater outcomes.
Of course, you wouldn’t waste your time and energy on simple things that don’t require elevated attention. However, an astute awareness of the things that should get additional attention will help restructure your day to achieve more with each minute.
Achieve More with Conversion
Consider your morning coffee run at the office. You and your colleagues wait anxiously for a turn to combine coffee, sugar, and creamer into the magic elixir that will power the day.
The coffee station is often an area of low-energy commiserating. Each person shares a gripe about how challenging their morning is with the hope of one-upping each other and gaining the most attention for their problems.
While the act of preparing your coffee may be routine, the social aspect is a ritual that defines the company culture. It sets a tone. Further, each participant prepares with something to bring to the group in the next session for their 15 seconds of fame.
Many activities throughout your day share a similar experience. The way you treat these defines your mindset for the rest of the day. These energy-sucking rituals connect deeply with your soul. Yet, many more value-enhancing activities fall into a routine without giving any emotional attachment.
How would your life change if you could convert valuable routines to positive and meaningful rituals?
Inventory Your Routines and Rituals
Real estate acquisitions and asset management are complex specializations with many routines and subroutines. The practitioner performs a daily set of activities to fill and maintain a revenue pipeline, while also preparing periodic reporting required by lenders and investors. She soon discovers and invents systems and processes to minimize most of these activities into standing routines.
Depending on how long you’ve been at it, these grooves are well-worn. They govern your daily activity more than your discretion. Inventory your routines as the first step in conquering your days.
Plan and track your days for a week, and then analyze the result.
This exercise reveals aspects of your day that you hardly consider. It also brings your mind to high alert about what you are doing in the moment.
Focus on the transitions of each task and how they influence the next one.
Remember, your objective is to make persistence easy to achieve your goals. Consider how each activity in your day is bringing you closer or moving you farther away from these goals. Now, think about which activities should receive more attention and meaning.
Build a Community
Willpower can take you so far. Beyond that, you need a support system to keep the progress moving.
The people that surround you have a tremendous influence in your success. Those with a growth mindset will help you achieve more, while the people with a fixed mindset will keep you where you’ve been comfortable. Change is difficult because you usually need to leave or marginalize your old community to make room for the new.
Community provides value in three ways when starting something new.
First, these people are pursuing similar goals in complementary specializations. They are spending time on self-improvement just like you, but they may encounter different resources. Discussions will be rich with best practices and innovative thoughts, and each person brings knowledge beyond what you can source on your own.
Second, each person has a different perspective and experience level. Diversity creates fertile ground for healthy conflict, which contributes to individual growth. Approach the group with an open mind to find the positive opportunities in each conflict.
Finally, you will fail. If you’re doing it right and taking appropriate risks, you will not see success for a while. The community will be there to catch you when you fall. Every new venture seems impossible when you get far enough along, and you’ll feel like quitting. However, success is usually at the end of that dip, so stick it out until it starts working.
Build Habits for Everything Else
Habits are powerful. They are automatic, mindless, and satisfying. This can be a problem in some cases, but you can turn it around to make habits work in your favor. Therefore, strive to form better habits and eliminate bad ones by understanding how habits work.
Easy is at the core of every habit.
Make the activity easier to do and you’ll find success in creating a habit around it. However, if you make it just slightly more difficult the habit won’t stick.
Your daily routines are well-worn in your life right now, unless you’ve been pursuing a self-improvement journey already. Each of these routines are nearly habitual, too. Use this to your advantage by attaching desired activities to your existing routines.
Habit stacking is the practice of bundling similar activities into seamless routines to achieve more than the sum of the parts.
Your morning hygiene routine is a great example of this. Each activity from brushing teeth to flossing to taking a shower complements each other. If you were to break this routine into component parts throughout the day, you wouldn’t get nearly as much efficiency as bundling them together in the morning.
More than likely, you have many of these stacked routines throughout your day, and they usually revolve around sleep and meals. Think about that for a second.
How many routines do you stack on top of waking up, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bed time? How many more do you think you can add to each?
Remember, habits stick when the activity is easy.
Breaking your flow to incorporate a new activity is difficult. However, it becomes more palatable if you were to bolt it onto an existing routine.
Cold calling is one of the most dreaded activities for most business development professionals, but it is also the most valuable when practiced routinely. Still, most people come up with dozens of excuses when the scheduled cold calling time pops up on their calendar.
Imagine not having the time to make excuses because you’re already immersed in something. For example, the transition from lunch and emails to cold calls is easier because that’s just what you do. Every day.
Make Bad Habits JUST Too Inconvenient
If the key to building positive habits is to make them more convenient, then the reverse must be true. And it is.
Everyone has bad habits. Some are more unpleasant than others, but all of them have the same signature. They are things that you wish you could quit, yet you persist because it’s comfortable and satisfying.
In modern times, social media has easily overtaken smoking, biting nails, and picking your nose as the worst habit for most professionals. It’s accessible, and you get a high-quality dopamine hit fairly quickly every time you open the apps. You know it’s a waste of time, but you can’t help yourself. It’s too easy.
Media companies don’t make it easy to break the habit, either. Your attention is their bread and butter, so they’ll keep finding ways to capture more of it. “Would you like us to inform you every time your friends send you a message? Turn on push notifications.”
It turns out that 20 seconds of inconvenience will break your desire for most habits. This timing may differ across habits, but the principle remains the same. Make the habit just too inconvenient, and you’re less likely to do it.
You’ll probably notice that habit stacking takes the reverse approach. It makes your good actions just more convenient. Therefore, accomplishing those tasks becomes more likely.
Back to our social media example, a screen time limiter may be helpful to add that little bit of friction to interrupt the habit pattern. Further, consider turning off all notifications so that you only check the apps when it is good for you in your schedule.
Goals are good to help you achieve more. Nevertheless, they’re usually big, complex, and unreachable in a short period. This is a recipe for failure, which is why most people abandon their New Year’s resolutions by February.
Consistency is the most important contributor to goal attainment.
Small, incremental steps that build on each other compound into major achievements. The same principles that work so well for retirement savings are also applicable to personal and professional growth.
A one percent improvement every day compounds to 3778% improvement over a year. That’s 38x!!
Use natural rhythms to govern these objectives. Calendar quarters or weather seasons are helpful to reduce annual goals into manageable chunks. From there, it’s easy to reduce them further to weeks and days.
Measure your success on daily achievement. You will be able to maximize the outcome by optimizing each part with good goals.