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The Power of Habit

During a recent blog interview, I was posed this question:

"Phil, if you had to pick one thing that was most responsible for the success you've had thus far in your life, what would it be?"

My answer was simple - good habits.

"Good habits", she replied. "That's it?"

She seemed a little disappointed.

"Yes, good habits," I continued. "While our lives are certainly complex with an infinite number of factors that influence our paths, in some respects, we are nothing more than an accumulation of habits - both good and bad."

The Power of Habit
Habits are a powerful force in our lives, yet we rarely pay attention to them. Here's an old story that illustrates this disconnect:

Two young fish were swimming side-by-side in the ocean when an older fish swam by in the opposite direction. The older fish saw the younger two and greeted them, "Hey guys, how's the water?" he asked. The two younger fish just kept on swimming. A few minutes later, one of the fish looked at the other and said, "What the heck is water?"

Habits are so prevalent in our lives that we sometimes don't even recognize that they exist. Scientists estimate that unconscious habits are responsible for 95% of what we do every day. Yikes!

Habits determine when we get up in the morning, how we brush our teeth, what kind of clothes we wear, how we speak to our children, which way we drive to work, how we sit at our desks, etc.

For fun, I did an inventory of my daily habits and separated them into "good" and "bad" categories. If you want to blow your mind, give this exercise a try.

Most of my day was indeed filled with things that I did on autopilot with very little conscious decision-making. This is okay, I guess, as long as your "autopilot" is taking you where you want to go. If you are not happy with where your life is going, however, then it's time to dig into these habits.

High Value Habits

Here are some of my most valued "good" habits and their origins:

Attention-to-detail: (Goldman, Sachs & Co.)
As a Financial Analyst fresh out of college, my job was to find, fix, and report back on discrepancies I found in financial models, presentations, trade tickets, and any other work product that my group produced. It was highly stressful given the financial stakes that were on the line. Today, I can't read a book, flip through a magazine, or watch a presentation without looking for errors. This habit has served me well for decades.

Saving money: (my dad)
Starting at age 14, when I worked as a face-painter at corporate picnics in NYC, my dad encouraged me to create a savings plan that automatically invested some percentage of my money before it ever hit my checking account. This is one of the most influential habits that I still do to this day. You can't spend what you don't see in your account. Thanks, Dad!

Smile in the face of hardship: (Navy SEALs)
One of the habits that helped me get through SEAL training was to smile and laugh when things got hard. The training was so absurdly tough, that it was almost "laughable" - so that's what we did. The tougher the assignment, the more we smiled. By smiling, we tricked our minds into thinking that this insanity was actually something we should look forward to. Many times, our body language and physiological responses can "trick" our minds into believing that it's not that bad. I apply this habit almost daily.

Keystone Habits

There are certain habits that have outsize influence on our lives. These are called "keystone" habits, because if you adopt them, they will influence many parts of your life. They become the "key" to so many other habits.

Scientists have studied children who made a habit of making their beds every morning. Twenty years later, compared to the children who did not make their beds, the neat "bed-makers" had become significantly more successful and well adjusted than their less neat peers. Of course, the scientists didn't claim causality in this case, but there was something about a habit of tidiness and conscientiousness that fueled achievement.

Building Keystone Habits

At PrepWell Academy, we teach your children the importance of habits and encourage them to build a few keystone habits of their own. The earlier these habits start, the greater their impact downstream.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Do the hardest assignments and projects first
  • Always call people by their name
  • In a group setting, talk to the kids who seem most out of place
  • Turn off all electronics 60 minutes before bedtime
  • Make water your primary beverage

If you'd like to explore the magic of habits further, I highly recommend the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Help your child build strong habits by enrolling in PrepWell Academy's weekly mentorship program.

Prep On,

Author: PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank, etc.

Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.

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