The power of habits with Rajan Singh, Founder: HabitStrong
Seven key takeaways from my FreeFlowing conversation with Rajan Singh on the power of habits:
“Changing our life is not that hard, provided we get one small thing right: don’t compromise on the small things. If we can be relentlessly consistent we can achieve anything.”
Learning #1: Our perceptions of risk are usually over-stated
We all have different ideas of what achievement is, but the one thing that in my experience, always works, is consistency. I wouldn’t call myself a big risk taker, but I try not to let my past decisions dictate my present course of action.
Yes, getting into IPS was hard, and Wharton was hard, but I didn’t think that the risk was so great as to not even be worth attempting. Unless the odds are one in a million or something like that, anything can be worth doing.
“For most of us, a good life means having an overall sense of well-being. This is what good habits can help achieve.”
Learning #2: Good habits, even small, innocuous ones, can have a cascading effect on your life
Habits like a morning routine or waking up at the same time every day, can have a cascading positive effect on our daily lives.
No matter how well off or how successful we are, we need physical and mental health, some level of fitness, control over our actions, and focus, all in order to live a fulfilling life. Without these things, we may not feel a long-lasting sense of accomplishment.
“The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak with an axe, and the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.” – Atomic Habits
Learning #3: There is a science behind building and breaking habits
If there is one thing Atomic Habits has demystified, it is that there is a method to the way habits work. The other interesting thing about habits is that they don’t require breakthrough technology or knowledge about complex neuroscience.
It is all about finding motivation to show up and to keep going.
It’s hard to say which is more difficult – building a new habit or breaking a bad one. While building a new habit, for example, a reward mechanism works well in terms of motivation to take action.
This is simply because of the way our brains are wired. Habits typically have a loop that involve a trigger, an action and a reward. Creating this loop and making all the elements strong is the way to go.
To break a habit, we need to break this loop. For example, many of us want to stop eating junk. I found that while indulging in this behaviour, like eating that piece of chocolate, if I am aware and mindful of how guilty I felt the last time I indulged in this behaviour, paying attention to my feelings all the while helps in putting a break to it. I might eat only a small piece, or even put it away. Being mindful about indulging in a bad habit can be an effective start to breaking it.
Mindfulness can go a long way when trying to break a bad habit. It’s funny how the way our brains function hasn’t changed for centuries but our lives outside have changed so dramatically!
“What matters is now. The present moment. What you are going to do now, in the next two hours, four hours, the rest of the week- this is what is important; this is where the action is”
Learning #4: Winners and losers have the same goals
This brings us to the question of the role of goal setting. The way we should think about goals is like sailing a ship towards a destination.
Long ago, lighthouses served as beacons of harbour for ships cruising on open waters. Goals are like this lighthouse. They motivate us to keep pushing. So what matters, if we were navigating a ship towards this lighthouse, is to keep moving forward. If we stop and keep thinking about the goal or just look at the lighthouse, we won’t get anywhere.
Especially when the outcome needs continuous effort, or is some time away from being realised, we can get stuck on how far (or little) we have moved or how long we still have to go. Even when the distance feels forever, we have to do what we have to, today and every day after. We have to show up again, and again, and again. Through this alone it is surprising how much stuff can get done. Even small steps, little progress, done consistently will show results sooner than later.
When the outcome needs continuous effort, or is some time away from being realised, we can get stuck on how far (or little) we have moved or how long we still have to go. If we stop and keep thinking about the goal or just look at it, we won’t get anywhere.
“Technology’s role in our lives will only intensify in the future. My approach is to apply rules to its use, rather than to stop using it completely.”
Learning #5: Getting rid of distractions is a short-term solution
For many of us, social media and chat apps are the cause of some of our biggest distractions. But will deleting them from our phone solve our problems?
I want to explain this through the analogy of traffic. We need traffic rules to keep us safe on the roads, because of the high speeds that we can drive on today. There wasn’t a need for traffic rules in the age of bullock carts, for instance.
Similarly, technology and tools like WhatsApp are entrenched in our daily lives and so giving them up is not the answer. The first thing is establishing a set of rules, and the second thing we need to do is train our minds to observe these boundaries, so as to be able to live amidst these disruptions and distractions.
“At HabitStrong, we measure our success by the impact we have in changing people’s lives. It is possible to build material and meaningful change, and I want people to realise that by seeing it happen in their own lives.”
Learning #6: With HabitStrong I have found a way to combine my personal and professional goals.
When we let work or any other activity consume us to the exclusion of all else, we also get on the treadmill of an unhealthy lifestyle. As an entrepreneur myself I understand the need to be on top of things, but that is not the way to get the most out of each day. The busiest person is not necessarily the most successful.
I am lucky in that with what I do I am able to achieve both my personal and professional goals. That I am also able to improve myself alongside building HabitStrong is a bonus.
The ‘strong’ in HabitStrong is not about physical strength at all. It’s not about winning the battle every time; it’s about being relentlessly consistent, and staying on track.
“Habit Strong’s approach is to translate high level knowledge into step-by-step, doable actions that can be followed by anyone.”
Learning #7: HabitStrong goes beyond reading books on habits
HabitStrong is a reflection of my own learning from building and breaking habits. While reading books or talking about it with others it may feel easy, but it is hard to practise.
In our boot camps, we say: this is difficult. It is not impossible, but it is not easy either. We could have said that it was easy if everyone showed up, but we don’t. We give this grounded and unambiguous message because when we tell people that something is easy, they tend to come unprepared.
Forming habits is a fight in one sense, and we emphasise this by repeatedly telling the participants not to compromise. Not even a small, tiny bit. For us, it is important to do it right.