Forge your habits, seize your goals.

I’ve been reading this book, ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg, which tells the story of when Michael Phelps broke the 200m Butterfly World Record in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

You may be thinking, “So what? That’s what swimmers do.” But what was different about this story was that Phelps’ goggles had filled up with water during the race, essentially leaving him blind and he still somehow managed to break the World Record.

Pretty cool hey?

This got me wondering…how did Phelps manage?

Well, ever since his teenage years, Phelps has this videotape of a ‘perfect race.’ It was given to him by his coach Bob Bowman who told him to watch it before he went to sleep, when he woke up and even after every practice. This videotape acted as Phelps’ keystone habit.

Phelps worked his butt off to establish this habit, to the point where he could smash out the perfect race as soon as Bowman told him to “Get the videotape ready.”

This foundation then paved the way for other habits (like Phelps’ pre-race routine) because once you establish a small win, it builds momentum to favour another small win. Leverage enough of these tiny advantages and suddenly a large achievement doesn’t seem so far away.

So, when his goggles gradually filled up with water, Phelps was unfazed as he’d visualised what success looked like so many times. With water in his goggles, Phelps counted his strokes perfectly all according to the videotape, finishing the race with absolute confidence and telling a reporter that “It felt like I imagined it would.”

After all, the race was just one additional victory to a lifetime full of small wins.

* Plot Twist!!!* Have you figured it out yet? This videotape I keep speaking of wasn’t actually tangible but rather a mental visualisation. That’s right…it was all in his mind.

With the initial guidance from his coach, Phelps had created the videotape himself and developed it into a keystone habit. He smashed the Beijing Olympics race by visualising every small detail of the perfect race and executing it flawlessly on the big day, just like he “Imagined it would.”

So, how do habits work?
Right now, maybe your inner critic might be saying something about being just a normal human being and how you could never achieve such a feat like Michael Phelps…

The good news is, you don’t have to be a naturally-gifted, superhuman fish-guy to use habits to achieve what you want.

The structure of a habit goes like this: we encounter a cue, followed it up with routine and then receive a reward. So, for example, when I make my bed:

  • Cue = waking up in the morning and getting out of bed
  • Routine = making my bed
  • Reward = feeling organised and satisfied

This works wonders for me as a true habit because I’ve done it for so long that my body moves without requiring any thought, like walking.

How can we apply this to our lives?
Ok, so that’s how habits work, but how do we identify the right ones and make them stick?

Duhigg wrote an article on the 3 characteristics to look or when identifying your keystone habits. 

1 // Look for things that give you “small wins”
These will be activities where you can build momentum and feel encouraged to do other things after achieving the initial win.

2 // They will help other habits to grow
For instance, apparently people who exercise start eating healthier and being more productive at work. It’s not completely clear why, but exercise just works for a lot of people as a keystone habit where the positive effects “spill over” into other areas of your life.

3 // They will have an element where excellence, perseverance or some other virtue is contagious
So, you could have a drive for excellence in exercise and you might discover that drive seeping into your studying habits! The foundation spreads and thus changes your sense of self and what’s possible.

So, what does this all mean for YOU?!
Habits are pretty sick. They enable us to do what we want without thinking about it.

So, establish some good habits in your life. Maybe try exercise! Just ensure you make a true effort to establish this as a habit; identify the cue, routine and reward for it. Set aside some time to do it regularly, even if it’s only for five minutes. You’ll know when it becomes a habit as you will no longer have to think about doing it.

And finally, be observant with how this quietly affects other areas of your life…the “spill over” is bound to happen!

This article was written by Zac, one of the genYOU content creation team members.