Maybe you’ve dreamed of escaping. Leaving your old life behind. Starting a new one with a clean slate.
I did more than dream.
After a decade of intense structure and scrutiny, I bitterly swung the pendulum as far as possible the other direction. I refused to balance my checkbook. I ate whatever I desired. I avoided scheduling recurring events, preferring to keep each day “open.” I struck out on my own to avoid corporate structure.
For a time, I escaped it all.
Soon enough, I was back in the cage. Along the way, I learned some lessons that I believe I’m supposed to share with you.
I learned that escaping whatever you feel has you trapped won’t make you happy.
Making more money, leaving your spouse, quitting your job, or moving to a different city won’t turn your life around. In fact, it will probably make it worse.
It’s the same reason most lottery winners and pro athletes are bankrupt after a few years. It’s the same reason divorced people are more likely to get divorced over and over again. It’s the same reason your last few jobs have been miserable and your last several diets have failed.
Instead of changing what’s going on around us, we’ve got to get to work changing what’s going on inside us.
Freedom isn’t the absence of discipline. It’s having complete trust in your own self-guidance.
Unless you can confidently manage yourself, you’ll always look for a boss to tell you what to do. Unless you can trust your financial habits, you’ll never have enough money. Unless you can win the daily battles with procrastination and fear, you’ll always look for ways to escape the regret that plagues you. Unless you are daring to live an adventurous story, you’ll feel like life is meaningless and boring. Unless you can select healthy foods that nourish your body, you’ll always be burdened with fatigue and disease.
How do we guide ourselves? Through our habits.
After tons of research, I decided that successful people are not much different than you and me – with one exception. In nearly every case, they have purposefully crafted successful habits. They have become Master Chefs, crafting their ideal habit recipes and carefully selecting each ingredient.
One year ago, I embarked upon a quest to get 1,000 successful people to reveal their habits. The first 32 include historical figures, a few prominent leaders, lots of friends from WDS and other online circles, a handful of mentors from my local community, my Dad and Nana, and even Jesus. As I study this sampling, five key themes emerge.
If there was a grandfather of self-study and improvement, it had to be Benjamin Franklin, and that’s where I began. I soon layered on other historical figures – Susan B. Anthony, John F. Kennedy, and Rosa Parks. Adding John Grisham and Dara Torres into their league, it’s clear that consistent effort was essential to their greatness. History may remember one snapshot, but their lives reflect a steely commitment. Gary Vaynerchuk and the Tropical MBA team were willing to admit that they live at the extremes and embrace the grind. Jia Jiang actually seeks rejection.
Another key theme was a willingness to take the road less traveled. Farnoosh Brock, Joel Runyon, and John Dumas rejected life’s standard scripts and created communities that they could serve. In interviewing them, I began to realize my Dad had already taught me the same principles of unconventional living. And just last month, James Altucher explained why we must all choose ourselves. It felt amazing to realize that my Nana had courageously done the same thing in 1942.
Nearly everyone I profiled expressed the importance of their health. As Charlie Gilkey succinctly put it, “our bodies are more than transport vehicles for our heads.” Both Joe Bauer and Joe Magnotti detailed how they incorporate healthy living into each day.
Some, like Melissa Leon, Diana Schultz, Nan Palmero, and Laura Harris, place a tremendous priority on their relationships, shattering the myth that success is a solo endeavor. Among others, David Crandall, Brett Kelly, and Alene Snodgrass shared how their faith was integral to their lives. We even explored the life of Jesus Christ through his habits.
Many of the most insightful interviews included the personal systems they use to overcome any situation and accomplish massive goals. The most detailed are from Sarah Zink, Becky McCray, Rebecca Ryan, and Liza Wisner. Carlos Miceli and Sean Olivares also took us inside their morning routines.
While their inspirational stories are great to learn from, the real key is to figure out exactly how to apply the core ingredients in our own lives, recognizing our own preferences, and understanding how habits are built.
When everything inside you wants to launch into a new life, to start off with a bang, to make tremendous progress with one swift change, resist. That rarely works. Instead, start with just a pinch.
In their profiles, find one small change that will move you in the direction of your goals. It should be so small that it feels almost insignificant. It should also be so small that there’s no doubt in your mind about whether you can do it.
Want to write a book or start a blog?
Commit to writing 10 words every day.
Want to start flossing?
Commit to flossing one tooth each day.
Want to be more productive?
Commit to deciding tomorrow’s top priority before leaving work today.
If you’ll practice your “just a pinch” habit every day for a week or two, you’ll see your momentum develop without any force or willpower.
Once you’ve developed that habit, select another tiny ingredient from the profiles that inspire you. Then, repeat the process, one “pinch” at a time.
You’re crafting your ideal recipe. Over time, you’ll see how the ingredients can compliment each other to provide even greater momentum. Eventually, you’ll realize you’re truly free – and you didn’t even have to escape.
To celebrate our first year, here’s a snapshot of the first 3.2%. Click on any picture to see their profile.