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How HABITS Really Work


What is a habit? Simply stated, a habit is something you do so often it becomes easy. In other words, it’s a behavior that you keep repeating. If you persist at developing a new behavior, eventually it becomes automatic. 

For example, if you learn to drive a car with a standard gearshift, the first few lessons are usually interesting. One of the big challenges is figuring out how to synchronize the clutch and accelerator pedals so you have a nice, smooth gear change. If you release the clutch too quickly, the car stalls. If you press down too hard on the accelerator without releasing the clutch, the engine roars but you don’t go anywhere. Sometimes the car jumps down the street like a kangaroo, surging and stopping as the new driver struggles with the pedals. However, with practice, the gear change eventually becomes smooth and you don’t think about it anymore. 

We are all creatures of habit. When I drive home from my office every day, there are nine traffic lights along the routs. Often I get home and don’t remember any of the lights. It’s like I’m unconscious as I drive. If my wife asks me to make a detour to pick up something on the way home, it’s not uncommon for me to totally forget because I’ve programmed myself to take the same way home every night. 

The great news is that you can reprogram yourself any time you choose to do so. If you’re struggling financially, this is important to know! 

Let’s say you want to be financially independent. Doesn’t it make sense to check your money-making habits? Are you in the habit of paying yourself first every month? Do you consistently save and invest at least 10 percent of your income? The answer is either “yes,” or “no.” Immediately you can see if you are moving in the right direction. The key word here is consistent. That means every month. And every month is a good habit. Most people dabble when it comes to growing their money. They are very inconsistent. 

Suppose you start a savings and investment program. For the first six months you diligently put your 10 percent away according to plan. Then something happens. You borrow the money to take a vacation, and you tell yourself you’ll make it up in the next few months. Of course you don’t – and your financial independence program is stalled before it even gets off the ground! By the way, do you know how easy it is to become financially secure? Starting at age eighteen if you invest one hundred dollars per month compounding annually at ten percent, you will have more than $1.1 million tucked away at age sixty-five. Even if you don’t start until you are forty years old, there’s hope, although it will take more than a daily dollar to do it. 

This is called a no exceptions policy. In other words, you commit to your better financial future every single day. It’s what separates the people who have from the people who don’t have. 

Let’s look at another situation. If maintaining excellent health is high on your list of priorities, exercising three times a week may be the minimum standard to keep you in shape. A No Exceptions Policy means you will maintain this exercise habit no matter what happens, because you value the long-term benefits. 

People who dabble at change will quit after a few weeks or months. And they usually have a long list of excuses why it didn’t work out for them. If you want to distance yourself from the masses and enjoy a unique lifestyle, understand this – your habits will determine your future. 

It’s that important. Remember, successful people don’t drift to the top. It takes focused action, personal discipline and lots of energy every day to make things happen. The habits you develop from this day forward will ultimately determine how your future works out. Rich or poor. Healthy or unhealthy. Fulfilled or unfulfilled. Happy or unhappy. It’s your choice, so choose wisely. 


Many people today are concerned about their lifestyle. Phrases like, “I’m looking for a better quality of life,” or “I just want to simplify my life,” are now commonplace. It seems the headlong rush for material success and all the trappings of a so-called successful life are not enough. To be truly rich includes not only financial freedom, but developing rich, meaningful relationships, enriching your health, and enjoying a rich balance between your career and your personal life. 

The nourishment of your own spirit or soul is also an essential requirement. This takes time to explore and expand. It is a never-ending process. The more you learn about yourself – how you think, how you feel, what your true purpose is and how you want to live – the more your life will flow. 

Instead of just working hard every week, you will begin to make better choices based on intuition and instinctively knowing the right thing to do. It is this higher level of awareness that determines your daily quality of life. 


Please make sure you are really alert before you read the next tow paragraphs. If you’re not, go splash some cold water on your face so you will not miss the importance of this fundamental concept. 

More people than ever are living for immediate gratification. They buy things they can’t really afford and put off payment as far down the road as possible. Cars, furniture, appliances, entertainment systems, or the latest “toy,” just to name a few. People in the habit of doing this have a sense of playing catch-up all the time. There’s always another payment next month. This often results in working longer hours or taking an additional job just to make ends meet, creating even more stress. 

Taken to an extreme, if your expenses constantly exceed your income, you will have an ultimate outcome. It’s called bankruptcy! When you develop a chronic bad habit, life will eventually give you consequences. And you may not like the consequences. Here’s what you need to really understand: Life will still give you the consequences. Whether you like it or not isn’t the issue. The fact is, if you keep on doing things a certain way you will always get a predictable result. Negative habits breed negative consequences. Successful habits create positive rewards. That’s just the way life is. 

Let’s look at a few other examples. If you want to enjoy longevity, you must have healthy habits. Practicing good nutrition, exercising and studying longevity play a major role here. The reality? Most of the population in the Western world is overweight, under-exercised and undernourished. How would you explain that? Again, it’s a live-for-the- moment attitude, with little or no thought given to future consequences. There’s a long list when it comes to health. Here are a couple – working fourteen hours per day seven days a week will lead to eventual burnout. When you’re eating fast foods or junk food on the run as a daily habit, the combination of stress and high cholesterol produces a much greater risk of heart attacks and strokes. These are life-threatening consequences, yet many people ignore the obvious and roll merrily along, undaunted by the fact that a major crisis may be looming just around the corner. 

Look at relationships. Marriage is in trouble, with almost 50 percent ending up in divorce. If you are in the habit of starving your most important relationships of time, energy and love, how can you expect a happy outcome? 

When it comes to money, your bad habits may lead you to a never-ending cycle of work in your later years, when you’ d rather be enjoying more time off for fun. 

Now here’s some really good news: 


Simply By Changing Your Habits Now. 


How long does it take to change a habit? The most common answers to this question are, “about twenty-one days,” or “three to four weeks.” This is probably true for making small adjustments in your behavior. Here’s a personal example: 

I remember losing my keys on a regular basis. At the end of the day I’d park the car in the garage, march into the house and toss my keys anywhere they happened to land. Later I’d be going out to a meeting and, of course, unable to find the keys. As the treasure hint for my keys took place, my stress level would noticeably increase, and after the keys were finally found, I’d rush off to my meeting twenty-five minutes late, owning an attitude that would not be described as positive. 

The solution to this recurring problem was simple. One day I nailed a block of wood to the wall facing the garage door. It had two hooks on it and a large label that said, “keys.” 

The next evening I came home, strode past my new parking spot for the keys, and tossed them in some remote corner of the room. Why? Because that’s what I’d always done. It took me almost thirty days of forcing myself to hang them on the wall before my brain got the message: “I guess we’re doing something different now,” and a new habit was finally formed. I never lose my keys anymore, but it took a considerable effort to retrain myself. 

What’s fascinating is that after twenty-one to thirty experiences with a new habit, it’s harder not to do it than to do it. Before you can change a habit, you need to first check how long you have owned it. If you have been doing something repeatedly for thirty years you may not be able to let go of it in a few short weeks. Acknowledge the fact that a deeply entrenched habit has long roots. It’s like trying to sever a multi-stranded fiber that has molded itself, over time, into a single powerful rope. It’s very hard to break. Long-time smokers know how difficult it is to break the nicotine habit. Many never do, despite the overwhelming evidence that proves smoking can significantly shorten your life expectancy. 

As well, people with a long history of low self-esteem won’t transform themselves into highly confident individuals, ready to take on the world, in twenty-one days. It may take a year of more to develop positive belief systems. These important transitions can affect both your professional and personal life. 

Another factor about changing habits is the potential for slipping back into your old patterns. This can happen when stress levels rise or an unexpected crisis occurs. The new habit may not be strong enough to resist these circumstances, and more time, energy and effort will be required. To ensure consistency, astronauts use a checklist for every single procedure to ensure the same results every time. You can create a similar fail-safe system. It just takes practice. And it’s well worth the effort, as you’ll see shortly. 

Imagine if you only changed four habits every year. Five years from now you would have twenty positive new habits. Now, here’s the thing – would twenty positive habits make a difference in your results? Of course. Twenty successful habits can bring you all the money you want or need, wonderful loving relationships, a healthier and more energized physical body, plus all sorts of new opportunities. And what if you created more than four new habits every year? Think of the possibilities! 


As mentioned earlier, many of our daily activities are simply routines. From the time you get up in the morning until you retire at night, there are hundreds of things you do the same way. These include the way you dress, get ready for the day, eat breakfast, read the newspaper, brush your teeth, drive to the office, greet people, arrange your desk, set up appointments, work on projects, attend meetings, answer the phone and so on. If you’ve been doing these same activities for years, you have a set of firmly entrenched habits. They involve every area of your life including your work, family, income, health, relationships and many more. The sum total of these habits determines how your life operates. Simply stated, this is your normal behavior. 

As creatures of habit, we are very predictable. In many ways this is good because others may view us as reliable, dependable and consistent. (It’s interesting to note that people who are very unpredictable also have a habit – the habit of inconsistency!) 

However, with too much routine, complacency sets in and life becomes boring. We settle for less than we are capable of. In fact, many of the activities that make up our everyday normal behavior are performed unconsciously – without thinking. Here’s the point: Your everyday normal behavior has a lot to do with the results in your life. If you’re not happy with these results, something has to change. 



This is great news! By superimposing a new behavior on top of your present behavior, you can create an entirely new way of doing things. This new normal behavior then becomes your new standard of performance and productivity. In other words, you simply start replacing your old bad habits with new successful habits. 

For example, if you always show up late for meetings, your stress levels are probably high and you feel unprepared. To improve this, make a commitment that you will arrive ten minutes early for every appointment during the next four weeks. If you discipline yourself to complete this process, you will notice two things: 

1. The first week or two will be tough. In fact, you may need to give yourself a few mental pep talks just to keep yourself on track. 

2. The more often you show up on time, the easier it becomes. Then one day it becomes normal behavior. It’s like being re-programmed. And you'll discover that the benefits of the new program far outweigh the results of the old one. 

By systematically improving one behavior at a time you can dramatically improve your overall lifestyle. This includes your health, income, relationships and time off for fun. 

I have a friend in his fifties who changed twenty-four eating habits over a two-year period. Before he decided to change, he was tired and overweight, had low energy and lacked motivation for his work. His bad habits included too many desserts, fast foods and a bottle of wine every day. Then he decided to change. It was a long process and required lots of self-discipline. With the help of an excellent nutritionist and a personal trainer, he made a complete turnaround. He has stopped drinking, has no trouble avoiding desserts and eats smaller food portions that are well- balanced and provide maximum energy. He has a new zest for business and his confidence is at an all-time high. 

If other people can make significant changes, why not you? Remember, nothing will change until you do. Embrace change as a positive catalyst, one that will give you more freedom and peace of mind. 


You’ll Keep On Getting What You’ve Always Got. 

Bad Habits 


Many of our habits, patterns, idiosyncrasies and quirks are invisible, causing renowned author Oliver Wendell Holmes to observe, “We all need an education in the obvious.” So let’s look more closely at the habits that are holding you back. You are probably conscious of a few right away. Here are some common ones we have received from clients in our workshops. 

  • Not returning phone calls on time.
  • Being late for meetings and appointments
  • Poor communication between colleagues and staff.
  • A lack of clarity about expected outcomes, monthly targets, goals, etc.
  • Not allowing enough travel time for outside appointments.
  • Not attending to paperwork quickly and efficiently.
  • Handling the mail more than once.
  • Allowing bills to go unpaid, resulting in interest penalties.
  • Not following up consistently on overdue receivables.
  • Talking instead of listening.
  • Forgetting someone’s name sixty seconds (or less) after being introduced.
  • Hitting the snooze alarm several times in the morning before getting out of bed.
  • Working long days with no exercise or regular breaks.
  • Not spending enough time with your children.
  • Having a fast-food meals program Monday to Friday.
  • Eating at irregular times of the day.
  • Leaving home in the morning without hugging your wife, husband, children and/or dog.
  • Taking work home with you.
  • Socializing too much on the telephone.
  • Making reservations at the last minute (restaurant, travel plans, theatre, concerts).
  • Not following through on time as promised, with other people’s requests.
  • Not taking enough time off for fun and family – guilt free!
  • Having your cell phone on all the time.
  • Answering the telephone during family mealtimes.
  • Controlling every decision, especially the small stuff you need to let go of!
  • Procrastinating on everything from filing taxes to cleaning out your garage.

Now check yourself out by making a list of all the habits that keep you unproductive. Block off an hour or more so you can really think through this process. And plan it so you won’t be interrupted. It’s a worthy exercise and will give you a strong foundation for improving your results in the years ahead. In fact, these bad habits, or obstacles to your goals, really act as a springboard to your future success. Until you clearly understand what is holding you back, it’s difficult to create more productive habits. 

Another way to identify your unproductive behavior is to ask for feedback. Talk to people you respect and admire, who know you well. Ask them what they observe about your bad habits. Look for consistency. If you talk to ten people and eight of them say you never return phone calls on time, pay attention. Remember this – your outward behavior is the truth, whereas your inner perception of your behavior is often an illusion. If you are open to good honest feedback, you can make adjustments quickly and eliminate bad habits permanently. 


This is an extremely important insight. Understand that the people you hang around with and the environment you live in strongly influence what you do. A person brought up in a negative environment, continually subjected to physical or verbal abuse, has a different view of the world than a child reared in a warm, loving and supportive family. Their attitudes and levels of self-esteem are different. Abusive environments often produce feelings of unworthiness and a lack of confidence, not to mention fear. This negative belief system, if carried into adult life, can produce all sorts of unproductive habits including drug addiction, criminal activity and an inability to mold a steady career path. 

Peer pressure also plays a negative or positive role. If you hang around people who are always complaining about how bad everything is, you may start believing what they say. On the other hand, if you surround yourself with people who are strong and positive, you’re more likely to see a work full of opportunity and adventure. 

In his excellent book, NLP: The New Art and Science of Getting What You Want, author Harry Alder explains further: 

Even small changes at the root level of belief will produce amazing changes in behavior and performance. This is seen more starkly in children than in adults, as they are more sensitive to suggestion and changing belief. So, for example, if children believe they are good at a sport, or a particular subject, they will actually perform better. The better performance will fuel the enhanced self-belief and they will go on to excel. 

In a few rare cases a person might have an overriding self-belief that says “I’m no good at anything,” and this will have a very damaging effect on anything they try to accomplish – if they bother to try. But it is far more common to have a mixture of self-beliefs, some of which are positive or “empowering” and some of which are negative or “disempowering.” A man might have a very low self-image in career terms and not see himself, for example, as being a good “manager” or “boss” or “leader”. The same person, however, might see himself as a “natural” at sport, socializing, or in some hobby or pastime. Just as commonly, in a work situation, a woman might see herself highly in terms of professional ability – being able to do the job well technically – but be far from happy about handling the “office politics” side of her career. Or vice versa. So we each have a range of self-beliefs, covering the many facets of our work, social and domestic life; and we need to be specific when identifying those that affect what we achieve. We need to replace disempowering ones with empowering ones. 

Even if you were unfortunate enough to have a severely disadvantaged background, you can still make changes. And it may only take one person to help you make the transition. An excellent coach, teacher, therapist, mentor or positive role model can dramatically impact your future. The only prerequisite is that you must commit to change. When you are ready to do so, the right people will start showing up to help you. In our experience, that well-know saying, “When the pupil is ready the teacher appears,” is true. 

Bad Habits 


As mentioned before, successful people have developed successful habits. Learn to observe what those habits are. Study successful people. As well-known business philosopher Jim Rohn says, “They leave clues.” What if you were to interview one successful person every month? Take him or her out to breakfast or lunch and ask lots of good questions about their disciplines, routines and habits. What do they read? What clubs and associations do they belong to? How do they schedule their time? If you listen well and take good notes, you’ll have a wealth of powerful ideas in a very short time. And if your request is sincere, truly successful people are happy to share their ideas. They enjoy the opportunity to be a coach to people who are genuinely interested in improving their lives. 

When we finished writing the first Chicken Soup for the Soul book, we asked all of the bestselling authors we know – Barbara De Angelis, John Gray, Ken Blanchard, Harvey Mackay, Harold Bloomfield, Wayne Dyer and Scott Peck – what specific strategies would be required to assure that our book would become a bestseller. All of these people were generous with their ideas and their insights. We did everything we were told. We made a habit of doing a minimum of one radio interview a day, seven days a week, for two years. We retained our own publicist. We sent out five books a day to reviewers and other potential opinion molders. We gave newspapers and magazines free reprint rights to out stories. We offered motivational seminars to all of the people responsible for selling our books. In short, we asked what our bestselling habits should be and wee put them into action. As a result, we have sold fifty million books to date worldwide. 

The trouble is, most people won’t ask. Instead, they come up with all sorts of excused. They’re too busy, or they rationalize that successful people wouldn’t have time for them, and how do you find these people anyway? Successful people aren’t standing on every street corner waiting to be interviewed. That’s right. Remember, it’s a study. That means you need to be resourceful and come up with ways to find where these successful people work, live, eat and hang out. Make it a game. Have fun. It’s worth it! 

Here’s another way to study successful people: Read their autobiographies and biographies. There are hundreds of them. These are wonderful true stories packed with ideas, and the books are in your local library and bookstores. Read one every month, and you’ll gain more insights in a year than many university courses could offer. 

Also, be alert for special television documentaries that feature successful people. Another habit the three of us have developed is listening to motivational and educational audiotapes when we are deriving, walking or exercising. If you listen to an audiotape for thirty minutes each day, five days a week in ten years you’ll have been exposed to over thirteen hundred hours of new and useful information. This is a habit that almost all of the successful people we know have developed – they listen to audiotapes. 

Our friend Jim Rohn says, “If you read one book every month about your industry, in ten years you’ll have read 120 books. That will put you in the top 1 percent of your field.” Conversely, as Jim wisely notes, “All the books you haven’t read won’t help you!” Check out specialty stores that sell videos and cassette tapes featuring top personal development trainers and business leaders. All this terrific information is out there waiting for you. So feast on it, and watch your awareness soar. Pretty soon, if you apply what you learn, your income will soar too. 


People who are rich in every sense of the word understand that life is a learning experience. It never stops. Learn to constantly refine your habits. There’s always another level to reach for, not matter how good you are right now. When you constantly strive to improve, you build character. You become more as a person, and you have more to offer. It’s an exciting journey that ultimately leads to fulfillment and prosperity. Unfortunately, sometimes we learn the lessons the hard way.

Have you ever experienced kidney stones? It’s no fun, and a good example of how bad habits can make your life misery.

On consultation with my doctor it became evident that my suffering originated from poor eating habits. The consequences finally showed up in the form of several large stones. It was decided that a lithotripsy was the best way to remove them. This is a laser technique that only takes about an hour and normally the patient fully recovers in a few days. 

Prior to this I had booked a special father-and-son weekend in Toronto. My son had just turned nine and had never been there before. Our favorite football team was playing in the national championship final, plus the Los Angeles Kings, my son’s favorite hockey team, were in town as well. We planned to fly out on Saturday morning. My lithotripsy was on Tuesday of the same week, which I figured gave me lots of time to recuperate before the flight. 

However, on Friday afternoon, after a severe bout of renal colic and three days of excruciating pain, dulled only by regular morphine shots, my surprised trip with my son was evaporating before my eyes. More consequences! Fortunately, at the last minute my doctor decided I was fit enough to travel and signed me out of the hospital. 

The weekend was spectacular. Our football team won, we watched a great hockey game, and my son and I have memories we will treasure for a lifetime. And I almost lost that wonderful opportunity because of my bad habits. 

I am now highly motivated to avoid future kidney stone problems. I drink ten glasses of water every day and choose not to eat certain stone-forming foods. It’s a small price to pay. And my new habits have successfully kept me out of trouble, so far. 

The point of this story is to illustrate how life will always give you consequences related to your actions. So before you embark on a specific course, look ahead. Are you creating negative consequences or potential rewards? Be clear in your thinking. Do some research. Ask questions before you start any new habits. If you do this, you’ll enjoy more of life’s pleasures, and not be screaming for morphine to kill your pain! 

Now that you understand how habits really work and how to identify them, let’s conclude with the most important part – how to permanently change your habits. 

The Successful HABITS

This is a step-by-step method to help you create better habits. It works because it’s simple. You don’t need complicated strategies. This template can be applied to any area of your life, business or personal. If applied consistently, it will help you achieve everything you want. There are three fundamental steps: 


It’s important that you really think about the future consequences of your bad habits. These may not show up tomorrow, next week or next month. The real impact could be years away. When you look at your unproductive behavior one day at a time, it may not look so bad. The smoker says, “What’s a few cigarettes today? It helps me relax. I’m not wheezing and coughing.” However, the days accumulate and twenty years later in the doctor’s office, the X-rays are conclusive. Consider this: If you smoke ten cigarettes a day for twenty years, that’s seventy-three thousand cigarettes. Do you think seventy-three thousand cigarettes could have an impact on your lungs? Of course! In fact, the consequences can be deadly. So when you examine your own bad habits, consider the long-term implications. Be totally honest. Your life may be at stake. 


Usually this is just the opposite of your bad habit. In the smoker’s example it would be, “Stop Smoking.” What are you actually going to do? To motivate yourself, think about all the benefits and rewards for adopting your new successful habit. This helps you create a clear picture of what this new habit will do for you. The more vividly you describe the benefits, the more likely you are to take action. 


This is where the rubber meets the road. In the smoking example there are several options. Read how-to-stop- smoking literature. Start hypnosis therapy. Substitute something else when the desire for a cigarette arises. Place a bet with a friend to keep you accountable. Start a fresh air exercise program. Use a nicotine patch treatment. Stay away from other smokers. The important thing is to make a decision about which specific actions you are going to implement. 

You must take action. Start with one habit that you really want to change. Focus on your three immediate action steps and put them into practice. Do it now. Remember, nothing will change until you do. 


So now you know how habits really work and how to identify your bad ones. In addition, you have a proven formula that will jump-start your new successful habits. This will work equally well to improve your business habits as well as those in your personal life. 

Excerpt from the Power of Focus
By Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Les Hewitt

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