“Success”. A word that is often used, but does not really have any clear definition. What is success? It differs from person to person. The most common thought that arises among people when they hear the word “success” is financial wealth. For others, success means having a fit body, or becoming proficient in their sport or hobby. For some, success simply means being happy.
Some people dedicate their lives to reach their goals; to reach success. But for most people, being successful in some way is just a distant dream. “I wish I could be as rich as him. I wish I had a stronger body. I wish I was happier.” These are common things people say. They wish. They dream and aspire. Almost everyone has a desire to become something greater than what they are now, be it in a physical, social or spiritual way. So what is stopping them?
The human brain is wired to search for instant rewards. That’s why we rather pick chocolate over whole-grain bread when we feel a little hungry. This phenomenon is the main cause of procrastination; there are things you can do which will make you feel more comfortable now. The global want for instant rewards is what makes most people never attain the success they wish for. Why?
Success often means something you want to accomplish, that is beyond your current limits. It is something greater than you. The problem is that you want it now. But that is not possible, and you know that. Take a step back and think about it. You won’t go from poor to millionaire in a week, nor will you read a 300-page book in twenty minutes. There is a saying that goes “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Reaching success does not mean taking one giant leap; it means taking small, small steps, every day, always acting with your goal in mind. If you try to reach your deepest personal goals in one day, you will most likely fail and revert to only wishing you had success.
These “small, small steps, every day”, what are they? They go by another name, which you have heard a million times before: habits. As I say this, you may be thinking: I know what habit is. I have some good habits, but I am still not successful. I don’t think following habits is the way to go. I am sorry. But there is no other way. Developing good habits is the only way of achieving success. You won’t win a million at the lottery. If you did, they would probably be used up soon anyways, due to the desire for instant rewards.
So, I am now going to assume that you accept the fact that habit is the only way to go. If you won’t do that, stop reading and come back the next time you fail to do something big and get discouraged instead.
Below is something Aristotle said more than 2300 years ago:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
This is the truth. How can I be so sure of it?
Let me paint you an example. Usain Bolt did not become the world’s fastest runner just by going to a world championship and simply “running as fast as he could” (which would be an act). Instead, he would every day of the week wake up after good night’s sleep, eat a healthy diet, and practise his running skills. By consistently follow a clear set of habits he became the world’s fastest runner (i.e. he achieved excellence, or success).
Say you watch a master illusionist perform a magic trick. It looks easy when he does it, but when you try, you fail. It is simply because when you do it, the magic trick is an act, but when the master illusionist does it, the trick is a habit. He has practised that same trick a thousand times over and over again.
These examples emphasize the importance of habits, and how the habits shape you. The habits you exercise will define who you are.
If you just, for now, accept that fact, we can move on.
Change your life by changing yourself
If you have come to this website, it is probably because you want to change your life. What you may not realize though, is that to change your life you have to change yourself. You have to unveil and accept the fact that there is something in your life – in yourself – that is not functioning properly.
This is very difficult to do. You have built your entire perspective of life upon your identity. Changing this identity would feel like killing a part of yourself – like committing an inner suicide.
However, we know that after pain comes pleasure. Running, for example, is tiresome while doing it, but afterwards you feel happy because you accomplished something. The same principle applies to “changing your life”. You have noticed that something is wrong and needs to be changed. You want to achieve a higher state of pleasure in your life, and to do this you must push yourself through pain – the act of changing who you are, or who you think you are.
So, let’s face it. You need to make a change to your identity, and you will feel pain when trying to make that change.
This sounds horrible, but it’s the truth. All right, let’s swim back up to the surface, shall we? Let us take a look at that Aristotle quote again.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
We are what we repeatedly do. What this means is that you are the result of the habits you practise.
You want to start living a healthier life. You want to be happy to the core. This means that you have to start practising habits which will help you achieve this, for example physical exercise, a well-balanced diet, handling your economy and stimulating your brain.
Long-term vs. short-term gratification
Now the time comes to talk about the difference between long-term gratification versus short-term gratification. What has to be realized is that there is a great difference between the two, and that a good balance between them must be achieved.
Take physical exercise for example. It will not grant you short-term gratification because you will feel muscle pain, harder time breathing calmly etc. But in the long run, you will be rewarded for it. You will run a lower risk of receiving diseases, you will have a lower body fat percentage, you will have better stamina, lesser risk of injury, and the list goes on. Physical exercise will be a pain in the ass short-term, but will reward you long-term.
So what about short-term gratification? Let’s talk about smoking cigarettes for an example. Short term it will provide you with nicotine which makes you feel relaxed and happy. But long-term it will give you bad body odor, weak lungs due to tar being stacked up inside them, poorer economics, increased stress levels when not smoking, increased risk of lung cancer, and the list goes on forever. Smoking grants you pleasure short-term but pain long-term.
So, to reach greater happiness, what you have to do is create a set of habits which will reward you both short-term and long-term. This means finding a balance between the two, and cutting out the bullshit that you don’t need.
We are biological creatures, and there are some things we simply need to function properly. Some of the most essential things our body requires are sleep, physical activity and proper nutrition. Ironically, these three things are what is least prioritized by the people of today’s society.
Why? Because they require short-term pain in order to achieve long-term pleasure. In life, we will generally always strive towards comfort and happiness. The problem of society today is that there are no outer consequences of being a lazy slob and not thinking long-term. We can compensate a lack of sleep with caffeine, a lack of exercise with cars and elevators, and an unhealthy diet with fat suction. However, there are inner consequences of being a lazy slob. A lack of sleep, exercise and nutrition will “reward” you with long-term tiredness, bad health and lack of motivation. Caffeine is not a sustainable fix for lack of sleep. It is, just like cigarettes, a drug which will cause long-term damage.
Treat the cause, not the effect
All right, I’m not going to complicate this more. I hope that you can agree with me that sleep, exercise and nutrition is essential for you to function properly in the long run. If you want to fix a problem, you have to treat the cause, not the symptom. Removing fat from your body artificially simply means treating the symptom of lack of exercise and malnutrition. You have to localize the cause – a lack of physical exercise – and treat it correctly, by practising physical exercise.
But of course, sleep, exercise and nutrition is not the only things that are important for you to feel good. You need to stimulate your mind by reading, learning and creating. You have to stimulate your emotions by doing things you love (that are not bad long-term!) and by socially interacting with other people.
So let’s go back to habits. You want to become healthier, more social, more intellectual, whatever. We are what we repeatedly do. So to become healthy, you must make it a habit to do what will make you healthy. To become more social, you must make it a habit to interact with people. To become more intellectual, you must make it a habit to read books and learn things.
Read it again. Accept it. Understand it. Become comfortable with it. You have to change the way you live, the way you approach every new day, if you want to change your life. So do it. Take help from your sheer willpower to stay consistent in making something a habit, until it actually becomes a habit. Use your willpower to unlearn bad habits, until you don’t even need your willpower more, because those bad habits are not habits anymore.
All right, that was a rather deep analyze of the concept, but it was necessary. Now I will go into the more practical way of actually changing your habits for the better.
Create a “habit schedule”
A good way to do this is to make a list and a “habit schedule”, as I like to call it. This can be easily done with a program like Excel, or OpenOffice’s equivalent “Calc”, which is free. Or you can do it with pen and paper as well. Making a schedule is actually a tip I got from this article. Read it; it’s well worth the read. It is pretty much a more complete version of what I will write below.
Take a look at this picture.
On the vertical axis you write down the habits, the things you will try to accomplish everyday. Don’t make them too hard or time-demanding. On the horizontal axis you write the date. Every time you complete a habit, let’s say read a book for 30 minutes, you fill the box for that habit and that date with green. Every time you fail, you fill it with red. If using pen and paper you could fill the box completely if you complete the habit, and make the box striped if you fail. Or whatever, use your own brain to figure out what works best for you.
You could choose whatever, but there are some habits which you really should have in your schedule. I will write them down below.
- Good sleep
- Physical exercise
- Good diet/food/nutrition
- Personal hygiene
- Study (if you’re in school)
- Podcast, TED Talk, something educative that you’re interested in
- Reasonable spending
- Plan the next day
- No porn
- No cigarettes
And you can add more yourself. If you like drawing or playing an instrument, set aside some time every day to do that. You should also try adding in a project of some kind. For me, my project is this website.
You can really just add in whatever you think is good to make a habit. Use your brain to figure it out yourself. Before you add it, make sure to check somewhere if it is beneficial in the long term. For example, if you like tea and want to make drinking tea a habit, use Google to find if tea is healthy long term (it actually is, take a look at my article on green tea).
You now have knowledge and the tools to start your journey of success. What are you waiting for? Start acting now.