For the next few posts, I want to go over habits: how to build better habits, how to overcome bad habits, and how to let your unconscious self build the future you want.
Your Habits Will Dominate You If You Do Not Have Purpose
“For the future, the motto is, ‘No days unalert’.” – Robert Greene
Habits are “routines of behavior that are repeated regularly and tend to occur subconsciously.” Patterns can be big or small, layered or direct, easy to execute or complex. But most importantly, habits can be good or bad.
Good practices are nice. It’s incredible when your unconscious mind carries you towards virtue or the goals you’ve set for yourself. For example, brushing your teeth regularly, going to the gym every day at a set time, or reading a book a week are great habits which aid personal growth.
On the other hand, bad habits eat away at your peace of mind. Bad patterns push you towards vice and a life of emptiness. The more bad habits you have, the harder it is to live fully and sustain your personal growth. For example, looking at your phone, obsessing over social media, and becoming angry at small inconveniences are all bad habits.
Bad Habits Lead To Despair And Depression
I’ve been at the mercy of bad habits. When I felt compelled to waste time on my phone or spend my money on pointless things, I experienced despair and resentment. Constantly, I asked myself: “Will I ever improve?” “Can I defeat my bad behaviors?” “What will happen if I cannot overcome myself?”
Feeling powerless in the face of bad habits will lead to depression, despair, and hopelessness. When I wasted time on my phone, I had no time to pursue drawing. I felt ashamed I let a momentary distraction undermine my heart’s desire. If we are incapable of overcoming the flaws we have as individuals, we will struggle to improve and grow. When we struggle to improve and grow, our lives cease to have meaning.
How Do I Change Bad Habits? How Do I Build Good Habits?
Bad habits cement over time. The old rule of thumb is 30 days to develop a new habit. If you’ve invested in your pattern, then you’ll find difficulty in breaking it.
Therefore, the purpose of the habit series is to help you develop good habits and defeat bad habits. Today, we’re going to explore how setting a life goal, declaring an identity, and understanding your legacy are the foundational pieces to better habits.
When you understand where you want to go, you can compare your destination to your journey. If you want to travel North, you can start correcting your path if you’re suddenly traveling East. Similarly, if you want to learn a skill, you can cut back on watching YouTube videos which don’t help you learn. In order to cultivate the best habits you need to know what goals your habits are going to serve.
Let’s Start With A Life Goal: Understanding The Reason You’re Alive
“What is your purpose, my boy, then to be greater than you were yesterday?”
Your life goal is a lifelong purpose which requires a lifetime of energy, time, and resources to accomplish. Your life’s purpose needs to be noble, virtuous, sustainable, inspiring, and accomplishable. Although a life goal is crucial for your happiness, it will take time to define one accurately.
I have three life goals: be the best husband and father; tell stories which inspire individuals to greatness; be virtuous and happy. None of these goals are easy to accomplish. However, each goal challenges me to be virtuous, productive, and impressive. I cannot be the best father if I am petty, short-tempered, distracted, and weak. I can only accomplish this goal and others if I elevate myself and reject everything which makes me ineffective and pathetic.
Life Goals: The Benefits of Having Clear Passions
Furthermore, these goals benefit the world around me. Virtuous people are a bigger boon to society than weak ones. A frugal man who is patient, courageous, and honest will benefit his civilization and culture more than a mean-spirited, self-obsessed, and greedy man. Therefore, your life goals should improve your life and the life of those around you.
Lastly, you must be passionate about your life goal. All three of my goals humble me, and I am determined to accomplish each one. Every day I have to act towards the fulfilling of my goals, and I am more than happy to do so. For example, I love writing and drawing. I also love creating stories full of heroes winning over the forces of evil. Instead of being a burden, my life goals are exciting and inspire me.
As I said, none of this is easy. An excellent place to start with your life goal is to decide to be virtuous and happy. From here, discover what you love to do. Your passion or skill of choice is an excellent foundation to build your character and provide services which help your fellow man.
How To Support Your Life Goal
So what is so important about a life goal? Your life goal serves as a bedrock for determining and deciding your actions. When you chose to do something, you can always ask a simple question: does this action align with my life goals? If the answer is no, then you need to stop heading in your present direction.
Furthermore, having a life goal allows you to better plan your future. With a clear purpose, you can create yearly, monthly, and weekly goals. When you can plan out your future, you can think critically about your actions today. Reflecting on your present actions will help you build habits which will serve your future goals.
The Value of Systems in Building Better Habits
“A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” – Ayn Rand
Additionally, with a definite life’s purpose, you’ll have an easier time building systems. Systems are standards and set of behaviors you must maintain. A goal is to lose 10 pounds in a month. A system is to go to the gym five days a week. A goal is to finish writing a novel. A system is to write 4,000 words a day. A goal is to earn a promotion. A system is to arrive at work on time every day.
Goals and systems need to work together to help you build better habits while you attempt to fulfill your life’s purpose. Never skip creating goals and systems. When you overlook the importance of goals and methods, you fail to thrive as well as you should. Additionally, you’ll struggle to keep track of your challenges and victories.
Life Goals Are Important But You Will Need More
Of course, having a life goal does not magically rid you of bad habits. Knowing you shouldn’t be doing something doesn’t make you stop. However, with a life goal, you can judge whether or not an action benefits you. The ability to judge your actions gives you the perfect stage by which to change behaviors. If you can’t even classify an action as good or bad, then why would you change that behavior?
Here’s an example: maybe you play games too often. Well, how do you know the action is a bad habit? Let’s say you support your family, participate in your community, perform well at work, pay your bills, and act virtuously. However, you can’t shake the feeling that playing your game is a bad habit. Well, if you have a life goal to master the guitar, then your mind is prodding you. It’s reminding you of your commitment, and this reminder comes in the form of anxiety. Because you have a life goal, now you know to set time limits on your game playing. With time limits in place, you’ll have more time to practice.
If you didn’t have a life goal, you’d spend your days in a constant fog wondering why you were anxious. However, since you’ve set clear expectations for your life, you can meet those expectations, then go and enjoy your play time.
Define and Understand Your Legacy
“You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.” – James Clear
Alright, we moved past the heavy lifting. Now, let’s dive into your legacy. Your legacy is what you want to be remembered for. I want to be remembered as a person who took every opportunity he could to be virtuous. By defining your legacy, you can better steer your present actions towards the world you want to leave behind.
Reflect on what you want to be remembered for. What do you want to be said at your funeral? What will they write about you after you die? Do you want to leave the world better than you found it? Such questions are hard to consider, but reflection is necessary. Collectivists thrive on never thinking about tomorrow. As an individualist, you must consider the difficult and painful questions.
It is hard to reflect on your death, but your reflections provide the fuel you need to remain focused as you seek to develop better habits. Your habits have to flow into what you want your life to live up to. It’s harder to maintain good habits if they only serve your fleeting desires in the here and now.
What is your identity? Who Are You? Who Do You Wish To Be?
I learned the concept of identity from James Clear. Your identity is who you are: your actions, your beliefs, your values, your purpose. By defining what you want your identity to be, you can create the habits which align with that identity.
For example, instead of saying, “I don’t want to play games too much,” say, “I’m the kind of person who has a healthy game schedule.” With the former, you’re creating a negative identity. This negative identity is harder to fight against because you’re starting from a weak and pathetic place. Implicit in the statement is the idea you are someone who cannot control their gaming schedule and you’re begging yourself to stop.
In the latter statement, you are making a positive declaration: you are someone who has his gaming under control. Thus, you are more confident in your future and will seek the habits which align with your identity.
Only Pick The Best Identities Which Support Better Habits
Do not tie your identity to immutable aspects of your character. Look past race, gender, sexuality, and other arbitrary identifiers. You’re better than that. Tie your identity to the greatness you want to accomplish and the remarkable life you wish to lead.
Your identity, therefore, must be chosen. You must look at what you want to accomplish then align your character with your goals. Remember, your identity must be positive and an affirmation of what you want and where you want to go. Being negative will not give you the strength you need to overcome challenges.
You need a “why”
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Having a life goal, understanding your legacy, and defining your identity won’t magically help you overcome your bad habits. What we’re trying to do is set the foundation so you can compare your current life to where you should be. This ability to compare reality to the ideal is crucial to helping you reach the ideal. You cannot become a better individual if you do not have a “better” to pursue.
Next week we will dive into the nitty gritty of beating bad habits and forming better ones. Through environmental changes, you can make clear, meaningful progress towards formulating better practices.
- What are your toughest bad habits? What are your best good habits?
- How often do you reflect upon your life goals? How often do you consider your mortality?
- What scares you most about overcoming your bad habits? What kind of person do you think you’d become? How painful do you think the process would be?
- Do you admire an individual? What good habits have they cultivated?
- Atomic Habits by James Clear – The book which inspired this series, Atomic Habits is the definitive book on habits. James covers how to build better habits, overcome bad habits, and the wisdom of controlling your environment to become the best version of yourself.
- Making Life Meaningful: Living Purposefully by The Objective Standard
- 7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose by Mark Manson
- 10 Life Purpose Tips to Help You Find Your Passion by Jack Canfield
Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.
*Image credit to Unsplash.