I mentioned a few weeks back in my essay on Ben Franklin his concept of ‘virtues’.
For the past month I’ve taken Franklin’s ideology and have seen success in my habit building like never before.
Humans are constantly slaves to their habits while also trying to establish news and break the old ones. We use ambiguous words and phrases to describe our usually pitiful attempts at altering the course of our lives. “I should really quit smoking…” “I want to be healthier”, “ I want to make more money and quit my job..” Are all phrases uttered daily by a majority of people. Even hearing them say it you have a sneaking suspicions that they won’t actually make any changes. Why is that?
The obvious truth is that establishing habits is hard. Really hard.
Some people have the benefit of massive events taking place to change their actions. Sometimes people can be ‘shaken’ into forcing a change in himself. Most of us don’t have this luxury.
Another huge hurdle is that it’s often not just ONE thing to change. Sure that’s a great start, but we often want a life for ourselves that requires change in many areas of our life.
So our problem for building the best version of ourselves is that we often lack specific goals and that those goals we do have are poorly defined. Tony Robbins talks about focusing on what your “Musts” are, meaning the things you absolutely have to do vs. the things you ‘should’ do. If you reflect for a moment, you’ll probably realize that you only tend to do your ‘musts’ and never actually accomplish your ‘shoulds’.
With a little help from our friend Ben Franklin, I’ve put into practice a method for massive habit building over the past 8 weeks. The results have stunned me as I’ve often struggled to maintain existing positive habits while trying to add additional ones. Let’s get into it.
The process is simple, take a moment and imagine the ideal version of yourself in the future. Make this picture as vivid as possible, what do you look like? What do you do with your days? What clothes do you wear, car do you drive etc. These are not important for ‘goal setting’ but the more clearly you can picture yourself the better off you’ll be as we will see in a moment.
Now let’s focus on the less physical stuff. What skills does future you possess? What are you so good at that other people envy you? How are you relationships with friends, family, boyfriends/girlfriends etc. Who are these people?
Spend some time with this, write it out as a story on a piece of paper as there are a lot of data points here that we’ll need to remember.
Once you’re ready now we must make the big leap, ask yourself:
What habits does future me possess? What does future me do EVERY SINGLE DAY.
If future you has 6 pack abs, chances are he/she eats incredibly well and does high intensity exercise daily/weekly.
If future you knows everything about the French Revolution and the current political state of the European Union, they probably have read countless history textbooks (and continue to read them daily) while also consuming periodicals like ‘The Economist’ etc.
If future ‘you’ has a software startup company that’s trying to change the world, then you must write code every day and constantly stay up to date with the latest software development techniques. That’s another two habits.
Break down each piece of future you into daily and weekly habits. The logic here is that if future you has awesome routines, and present you establishes those same routines, eventually the two of you will intersect.
What you can measure you can improve. I think that’s a quote from Peter Drucker.
His point is you MUST be able to quantify the things you want to improve, in order to verify you are actually improving them. In the corporate world it’s easy to judge a company by it’s revenue growth, dividends etc. In your personal life, chances are you have absolutely zero quantification of your own growth (other than financial perhaps).
In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin described a process in which he wrote out a list of ‘Virtues’ that he wanted to embody (google them). Then Franklin ranked himself on each item in the list over time and charted his progress in obtaining them. If you want to read more about it, I talk about it in my book review HERE.
Nowadays, life is even easier because we have spreadsheets! Yes that’s correct, I’m proposing you break your life down into categories and enter them into Excel (or preferably google drive Sheets so you can access them from anywhere). This works on multiple levels that we’ll get to in a bit. First how to do it.
First: Break the skills you listed out in the previous exercise into broad categories. For me, I used ‘physical health’, professional(career) skills, personal growth (getting smarter!) and relationships. Every skill needed to become the ideal version of ‘you’ should probably fit into one of those categories. Onward.
Slot each skill into a row in the A column of your spreadsheet. The idea here is have one row per skill.
Now in the remaining columns (B, C, D…) fill in the top row with the days of week. Monday Tuesday etc. and on the 8th day put a column for ‘Total’ Charting your progress: Now you need to each day, score yourself in every single row. Her’s the system that I use. For daily habits, 1 point per day. For things that I must do each day, I simply score them 1 point if I worked on the skill.
An example would be, “Write code every day” doesn’t matter what I write, but if i sit down and actually do the work I get my point for the day. A perfect week gets me 7 points. The ‘few times a week’ I score in fractions of 7.
For example “Go to the gym 3x a week” I score 2 points for the first two trips, and 3 points for the final trip. That gives a little more incentive on completing the full week! Then there are longer term things that you might want to do each week. Something like, ‘Go out with a good friend for coffee to catch up’. These obviously can’t be done 3-7 times a week, so I just do a simple binary score for them. If I do it, 7 points flat out, if not a big zero for the week. Don’t forget to sum each row so you can view a breakdown of how you did per week for each habit.
Now the final piece: Tally each of your rows, and save the weekly totals in a different sheet! Here’s an example of one week’s totals pasted over. Notice that I have the weekly SUMS of each habit in the column. So really you’re copying the entire sum column you created above (in the daily spreadsheet) and copying it over to new spreadsheet that contains just one column for that week’s totals.
This is hugely important. We want to be able to look back and see how our habits have improved or regressed in each category week by week. If you’re doing it right you’ll see your numbers get pumped up and up! Or better yet, you’ll be able to identify parts of your habit master plan that are slipping and devote more attention to them in following weeks.
I’ve found this method to be insanely effective in keeping me on track day in and day out. When you have a list of things to accomplish (habits to build) and a simply system of 1 or 0, your laziness tends to stare you in the face through the spreadsheet. This is incredibly motivating from a negative standpoint. On the other side of the coin, the feeling of putting in points on a daily basis gives you a powerful (and often needed) boost in motivation! It’s like a small shot of gratification as you move on your way to the big gratification (of achieving whatever the habit was for!). Give it a try for a month, and let me know what you think!