Myth #1: All you need to do is work really, really hard to be successful.
This belief is single-handedly responsible for at least half of all the personal failures people have discussed with me over the years. This might sound ridiculous, but it’s true! After all, everyone agrees that success requires hard work, regardless of whether you want to run a marathon or build a successful business. In the book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of diligent practice to master a domain. Simply put, hard work is something you just can’t avoid, even if you work smart. However, you also likely have other job responsibilities, household chores, and family responsibilities. Where do you find the time and energy to work hard on new positive habits every day? For instance, you might be trying to build a habit of exercising for 30 minutes every day. But what about those days when you don’t have 30 minutes? You skip, and then you keep on skipping. The good news is that hard work is NOT the most important element in success, at least not initially, when you are just beginning to build a habit. The only thing that matters initially is to actually do the habit every day for a very short time. Therefore, rather than try to exercise for 30 minutes a day, start with as little as two minutes a day. You may be wondering – two minutes a day will clearly not help you achieve any results at all, so what’s the point? The point is simply to become accustomed to an everyday routine. A habit is something that you do without willpower, something that comes to you naturally. Doing it every day trains a part of your brain – the cingulate gyrus – to ingrain this activity and make it as natural as brushing your teeth every morning. Within a couple of weeks, your brain will get used to the process of doing the activity every day at a specific time or place. That’s when you can increase the time by two to five minutes every week. Taking it slow allows you to make gradual adaptations to your everyday routine to accommodate your new habit. Within a few weeks, you will reach your 30-minute target, and it will have become a habit for life that doesn’t feel like a burden.
The key: Just remember, hard work is important, but that’s the second step toward change. The first step is consistency. Once you become consistent with a small habit, only then should you begin to work harder at it.
Myth #2: You must have a hard deadline, and if you don’t hit it you will fail.
Are you trying to build new habits to reach certain goals by a set deadline? Something like, “I have to lose 10 pounds in one month,” or, “I have to become a published author within a year.” You might believe that you can’t get anything done without setting deadlines. But what if I told you that deadlines are actually holding you back in many cases? This happens in two ways: First, a deadline will draw your attention toward your goal, the result that you seek. You will constantly evaluate how well you did every day by checking your weight or critically judging the quality of your writing. What you haven’t taken into account is that during the first few weeks, you might not gain any visible results at all. You might struggle to run even for half a mile or write anything meaningful. That’s all part of the natural skill development process that everyone goes through. This lack of visible progress can really discourage you. You might feel that you just don’t have what it takes, and you may be motivated to abandon your goal altogether. Deadlines also cause people to underestimate the amount of time required to get a job done. Look around and you will see this happening in all walks of life. People often miss deadlines at the workplace or end up putting in extra hours at the last minute. If you set deadlines that are not practical, you are building up unrealistic expectations that will soon demotivate you. It’s important to understand that deadlines have a time and a place, but they aren’t universally beneficial. For instance, do hard deadlines truly matter for building long-term, life-changing habits? No, they don’t. Even if you take 10 years to become a published author or set up your own business, imagine the impact that will have on the rest of your life. What’s the big hurry? Take it slow and steady… small, consistent steps forward every day.
The key: Especially during the first few weeks, forget about setting rigid deadlines and just focus on what’s important – building the foundation for your positive habit or routine. If you need a better approach to stay motivated, focus on your “big why.” Why do you want to build this habit/project/etc.? What rewards will you gain? How will it make you happier and more fulfilled? Write this down, remember it, and let it be your inspiration!
Myth #3: You have to be bigger and better than you are right now.
Goals are important. All journeys of change must begin with a goal. You also must have determination in order to achieve those goals. However, what do you think happens when you are too determined? You begin to nurture another belief: who you are right now is not good enough. Years ago, I had become too embroiled in my efforts to meditate. As my interest in meditation grew, I began to increasingly say to myself, “I am not good enough,” and, “I have to be better at this.” I began to notice various imperfections within myself that needed to be “fixed.” Ironically, my over-the-top efforts to meditate for extensive periods of time had opened the doors to self-criticism and stress. Thankfully, I realized that my obsession toward meditation had made me forget one of the basic goals of meditation – self-acceptance. So the bottom line is this: you have to accept yourself as you are, and then commit to personal growth. If you think you are absolutely “perfect” already, you will not make any positive efforts to grow. But constantly criticizing yourself is just as counterproductive as doing nothing, because you will never be able to build new positive habits when you’re obsessively focused on your flaws.
The key: Follow the middle path. Change your mantra from, “I have to be better,” to, “I will do my absolute best today.” The second mantra is far more effective because it actually prompts you to take positive action every day while simultaneously accepting the reality that every effort may not be perfect. Remember: You already are good enough; you just need more practice.
Myth #4: You must be willing to sacrifice everything to be successful.
You’ve heard this story a million times: successful people work for hours without taking breaks, eating, or sleeping. You might have heard how Eric Clapton used to practice the guitar for 18 hours a day, or how Bill Gates sometimes slept on the floor of his office to save the time it would take him to go home, or how Edison worked for days without a break while inventing the light bulb. The underlying message: you need to sacrifice even your basic physiological needs if you wish to succeed. These stories inspire admiration in today’s corporate-influenced culture. But they make you overlook a critical question: Did these people work at superhuman levels every day? No! Many people try to find more time for their positive habits and projects by skipping breakfast, sleeping less than even six hours, or hardly taking any breaks at work. Such drastic measures are scientifically known to be sure-fire ways of reducing your productivity. They diminish your energy, IQ, decision-making ability, willpower and more. Sooner or later, sacrificing adequate food or sleep will become too troublesome to sustain, and you will end up quitting too soon.
The key: Rather than try to gain time through over-the-top sacrifices, why not spend less time on things that matter less? Spend less time on social media, less time watching TV, or fewer evenings at the pub.
Myth #5: You can (and should) completely transform yourself all at once.
Do you have a future image of yourself as a transformed person? Someone who is healthier, happier, more confident, incredibly productive, always able to balance work and life, and so on. Most of us do to a certain extent. Every now and then, we become motivated to do something to become that person. The most common example of this is during New Year celebrations when we make resolutions with a remarkable amount of optimism. Anything seems possible in the New Year! You kick off with tremendous motivation: “Yes, this time, it’s going to be different!” But you know how it usually goes. Resolutions just remain… well, resolutions and wishes for some other time. Your over-enthusiasm is actually the cause of your failure. When you try to build six new habits at a time, or even two, you will become overwhelmed and most likely fail at every habit. Why? Because making changes requires willpower. In the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy Baumeister, one of the foremost authorities in this domain, explains how we have a limited quantity of willpower in the same way that we have a limited amount of physical energy during a day. Trying to build two new habits at the same time divides your available willpower between those two pursuits, making it more difficult for you to do either of them.
The key: Successful transformation begins with building a single habit, preferably the simplest one first. Don’t begin the second habit until you have been consistently doing the first one for at least a month. Let your first victory pave the way for your second.