One of the key skills in life: learning how to break bad habits
A few days ago, I was listening (for the third time or so?) to an old conversation between Tim Ferriss and Naval Ravikant, CEO and co-founder of AngelList. At some point, Naval mentions a book about habits, and says something that caught my attention:
“It’s good for me to always keep on top of mind how powerful my habits are. Humans are basically habit machines. We form habits. We run on those habits all day long. Habits can be great because they help us get things done very efficiently without having to reprocess them all the time. They can also be terrible because we can have addictions. Those are the obvious bad habits. Also, they allow us to go through our life unconsciously and mindlessly. […] I think learning how to break habits is a very important meta-skill that can serve you better in life than almost anything else. Although you can read tons of books on it, the reality is you’re never going to learn how to break bad habits until you just break them.”
I always try to remember that everything I set my mind on is an ultramarathon, not a sprint.
Nothing changes overnight. Diets don’t work tomorrow, neither do writing, sports, growing a project, or anything else.
But if we do a little every day, and continue to do so for many years, we can improve. Those habits will have a compound effect, and our work gets better.
Making and breaking habits is one of those skills that should be taught in schools and can make anyone unstoppable, right next to learning how to learn.
In the past year, I broke the habit of permanently checking social media, and even closed my Facebook account in December, which helped me focus on building The CEO Library and not let myself be distracted. I stopped consuming alcohol and wheat altogether, in order to better train for mountain running competitions. I continued the habit of reading a little bit every day – a few years ago I wasn’t reading at all, while this year I already finished 45 books.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m far away from my goals, still fighting some uphill battles, such as quitting coffee (I enjoy the morning ritual too much, but I’ll sometimes take month-long breaks from it). This past weekend I had french fries for three days in a row, after one year of not touching them. I’d love to write more and I’m struggling to finish my first ebook. I still have days when I’m too lazy to train, which in turn makes me feel really guilty.
I’m curious to know: what habits have you tried to break or build lately? What techniques did you experiment with? What worked? What didn’t?
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