In his 2014 book The Power of Habit
, Charles Duhigg acknowledges that creating new habits, like exercising and eating healthier, can be difficult. He writes: “Once we develop a routine of sitting on the couch, rather than running, or snacking whenever we pass by a doughnut box, those patterns always remain inside our heads.”
That doesn’t mean we’re helpless. “By the same rule, though, if we learn to create new neurological routines that overpower those behaviors—if we take control of the habit loop—we can force those bad tendencies to the background.” Once someone creates a new pattern, he writes, going for a jog or ignoring the doughnuts becomes as automatic as any other habit.
For example, each time Jennifer and John-Mark discovered extra money in their budget, they automatically applied it toward their debt. By developing that habit, it became so routine that the pair didn’t even think about it, which allowed their debt-payoff snowball to keep rolling.
“Your habits are rooted in choice, and you making the decision to do or not do certain things will be what propels you up the success curve or down the failure curve,” says Jeff Olson, author of The Slight Edge
and founder of Live Happy. “Time is the force that magnifies all those seemingly insignificant things you do every day to highlight something titanic and unstoppable.”
A Hairy Situation
In 2003, a group of 30 Aussies embarked on a mission to bring back a long-lost fashion trend. In the process, they created what would become a worldwide phenomenon over the month of November.
The annual Movember campaign
challenges men around the world to grow a mustache to raise awareness for some of the biggest men’s health issues, including prostate and testicular cancers, mental health and suicide prevention. Men grow a healthy crop of hair for 30 days, seeking donations along the way, and the money goes toward organizations aimed at improving the lives of men who are facing these health issues.
Starting out as simply a friendly bet to see if they could resurrect the forgotten ’stache, Movember took on a new form once the four co-founders witnessed the enthusiasm behind the effort. “We were at a stage in our lives when we just wanted to produce something good for the community,” says co-founder Adam Garone.
In 2004, they formalized the concept and decided to get all participants growing for the organization’s original cause—prostate cancer. That year, 450 Movember participants raised $54,000, and it was donated to the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
“We had no idea whether $54,000 was a big or small number,” Adam says. “We assumed it’d be a small number to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, but it was the biggest donation they’d ever received at the time.”
That set things into motion for the big-hearted crew, just as paying off $98 in debt did for Jennifer and John-Mark. Scientific research reveals that achieving success, no matter how small, plays a key role in continued success and maintaining momentum.
In a 2016 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers explain that the perception that success is possible is the critical determinant and consequence of psychological momentum. As the authors point out, once people sense they can be successful, they expand their mental and physical effort, which leads to a positive-upward-feedback spiral of more psychological momentum and more success. “Positive emotions fuel our advancement and energize us and basically fund our momentum,” Daniel says.
These days, Movember has official campaigns in 21 countries and has raised a total of $770 million to fund more than 1,200 men’s health programs—with no plans to slow down.
Ready, Set, Go
As you pursue your goals, there will be times when some extra inspiration is required to spur you into action. Maybe it’s at the beginning of your pursuit, or perhaps it comes as you face your first setback. Luckily, Margaret has a plan for that, and it comes in the form of three questions she refers to as “The Five, One and Smallest.”
First, ask yourself what you would do if you only had five minutes. Sure, your undertaking undoubtedly needs more attention than five minutes, but Margaret says asking that simple question can trigger ideas on what your next step should be. The next question: What could you do to move your project along by just 1 percent? “We’re not talking about finishing it,” Margaret says. “We’re talking just 1 percent—what would you do?”
Then, Margaret suggests asking yourself what the smallest step is you could take right now that would have the biggest, most positive impact. For example, an author might send an interview request to a sought-after expert in the hopes of gaining a valuable resource for his book. Whatever answers you discover after asking these questions will help spark your energy, ignite your momentum and remind you that you have the tools to achieve any goal.
“You don’t need an Ivy League education and special skills to set about accomplishing any goal you set for yourself,” Jeff says. “You must, however, practice your craft hour after hour, day after day, and year after year—but you already know how to do everything it takes to make you an outrageous success.”
Amanda Rider writes regularly for Live Happy magazine.