What Went Right? You Focused On One Habit!


Occasionally I meet someone who did a 'total personal makeover.' In the space of a few weeks or months, they: 1) started exercising; 2) ate better; 3) read more books; 4) learned a new hobby . . .

Good for that person, I say. Here's the problem, though. That's not how it works for most of us most of the time. That's because effective self-change relies on habit change. Habits are highly ingrained behaviors. They are almost automatic. Changing one habit is hard enough. Trying to change more than one at a time is often a recipe for disaster. So, despite the occasional example to the contrary, my advice is to focus on one habit at a time.

What Went Right?

Almost certainly, that's how you managed to change yourself last time. You decided to get a new habit, and you worked on it. Hard. There were 'back slides' and there were times that you didn't think you could do it. But you did. Getting that new habit was the key to your success. If you wanted to do better at work, perhaps your new habit was an early arrival. If you wanted to be healthier, maybe you worked on cooking from scratch more.

Regardless of what the habit was, focusing exclusively on it was a good idea.

That's because habits are highly ingrained behaviors. They're almost automatic. That means that they are extremely hard to change. They're hard to change because they are supposed to be hard to change. Normally, we depend on them not to change. That means it's going to take a lot of effort to replace an old habit with a good one. That's also why it is hard to get a new one. If new habits 'took' the first couple of times, we could have a lot of less than useful habits cluttering up our repertoires!

Also, because habits are virtually automatic, they do something else for you. They free up your will-power so that you can focus on other matters. If you want to change a habit, or introduce a new one, that's going to take a big bunch of will-power. The problem, as I've written about before, is that will-power is a limited resource and that's where the challenge lies. You're going to need to decide to focus your energies on the habit-change. I'll have more to say on how to use your will-power, and how to get more of it, in coming posts but it does behoove us at this point to remain mindful of the fact that changing a habit, or getting a new one, is a tough business. Why on Earth, then, would you try to change more than one at a time?

What Went Right Last Time? You didn't spread yourself too thin. You worked hard, consciously and deliberately. You got your new habit and self-change was your reward.

What Roy Halladay Can Teach Us About the Importance of Habits


Roy Halladay is a great pitcher. Of this there can be no doubt. While he played for my beloved Toronto Blue Jays, he was phenomenal. He won the Cy Young award (best pitcher of the year in the American League). He was our ace. Halladay is as close you can come to a 'sure thing' in baseball. This year, Halladay's first in the major leagues with another team, he was even better. I'm not bitter. Really, I'm not.

I'm in awe.

He pitched a perfect game. That means that Halladay faced the minimum number of hitters (27) with none of the opposing team getting on base. That's only happened 19 times before in major league history.

Fast forward to the playoffs, and Halladay pitched a no-hitter (he walked a guy, so it wasn't a perfect game).


How does Halladay do it? How does he distinguish himself like this? Remember, he's not playing against slouches. He is playing the best of the best.

Halladay is Halladay for all sorts of reasons. His intelligence, his ability to focus on the next pitch regardless of what is going on around him, and his physical stature and prowess.

But there's something else.

Roy Halladay has rock solid habits. The day after a (rare) loss, Halladay goes through his routine. The day after an okay start, he goes through his routine. The day after an amazing performance, he goes through his routine. Halladay is Halladay partly because he grinds it out. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year. And there are distractions aplenty. After his no-hitter during the playoffs, for example, the invitations for media appearances were in abundance. He declined, politely I'm sure, and got back to work.

It's that kind of dedication that brought him back to the major leagues early in his career when he was having trouble with his game. It's that kind of hard work, I would argue, that made him able to come back from an appendectomy faster than anyone had thought possible.

There is only one Roy Halladay and his level of achievement is extreme. But we can all take away a fundamental lesson from this phenomenal athlete: People who are habitual about their habits, who keep on truckin regardless of what happened, is happening, or is going to happen, are the people who are more likely to succeed. I wish Halladay a restful off-season. I can't wait to see what he accomplishes in 2011!