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A Short Outline To Success

Part 1: Implementing successful behaviors

This is a quick overview on how to become more successful, in the sense of being able to achieve the goals you set for yourself. Both actions and luck are involved in success-but we’ll focus on behaviors and thought patterns, since those are what you can control. The problem that most people face isn’t knowing what they should do-the real challenge is taking the right actions. Everyone knows that to lose weight you need to eat less and exercise more, but few actually do it.

There are two main types of behaviors, conscious and default:

Conscious behaviors

Conscious behaviors are the actions that you step back to think about, such as when you’re learning to drive for the first time and have to keep track of everything you’re doing or when you spend 10 minutes comparing different courses at a restaurant to decide which one you want.

Default behaviors

The actions that you don’t think about, such as breathing, driving, or writing. It’s been repeatedly shown that willpower is limited and that these actions account for >95% of your behavior, and therefore your habits account for 95% of the results in your life. So how do you acquire the habits that will get you to where you want to be?

Behavioral Mobility

There are plenty of things that we know we “should” do, but have a hard time actually doing. A few examples are starting to exercise, quitting smoking, learning to get work done without procrastinating, learning how to network, and so on. The good news is that learning how to change your behavior in ways that you want is an acquired skill, which I’ll call behavioral mobility.

Note that you don’t necessarily need behavioral mobility to achieve success. You may have developed the behaviors you need unconsciously during childhood. However, you need behavioral mobility if you want to improve your current trajectory. Warren Buffett is the best example of this-as the one-time richest man in the world, Buffett clearly knew how to make money and had all the habits he needed to become a successful businessman. But Warren Buffett continuously suffered from bad habits regarding his relationships and health that he was never able to fix, which led to the erosion of his first marriage, one of the biggest regrets of his life.[1]

Levels of mobility

Level 0 is trying to control individual actions through sheer willpower or resistance. For example, if you’re on a diet, and you try to will yourself not to eat any of the snickers lying out on the counter whenever you walk by the kitchen. This is ineffective and consumes huge amounts of willpower, which is a finite resource.

Level 1 is when you change habits instead of individual actions. This is very effective because you only have to repeat an action for about 30 days in a row for it to become automatic. For example, if you get up at 5:00 AM and exercise every morning, after 30 days it’ll be easier for you mentally and emotionally to continue than it would be for you to sleep in and miss your workout.

Level 2 is learning to identify the thought patterns that lead to habits, and changing those instead. Say you want to get paid more, but deep down inside you believe that money is the root of all evil. You’re going to be in constant conflict and repeatedly sabotage any attempts you make to earn more. But if you manage to change that belief, it’ll almost automatically change most of your habits related to making money.

Level 3: just as there are beliefs that affect your actions, there are stronger beliefs that determine the rest of your thought patterns. These strongest of these are the beliefs that form your identity. These are typically characterized by the word “I”. Negative identity beliefs include “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not smart”, “I’m not creative”, and so on. Positive identity beliefs include “I’m capable of anything”, “I love being alive”, “I’m extremely lovable”, etc.

A major key to success is being able to tie your behaviors and identity to your goals. Many of the most powerful people in history are characterized by a strong vision-who they *are* is practically the same as what they’re trying to achieve. Look at Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, and Alexander the Great for some examples-it’s impossible to separate the person from the purpose.

You can change behaviors either by changing your identity or by tying a behavior into your current identity. One example is the extremely successful anti-littering campaign “Don’t Mess with Texas.” In the ’80s, the state of Texas found that littering was a huge problem, and the main culprits were 18-35 year old men who drove trucks. Government officials tried many campaigns, including posting “Please don’t litter” billboards and raising fines. Nothing worked, and some of these even backfired. The truck drivers saw themselves as proud and rebellious, and pleas or threats weren’t going to shake them.

Then advertising agents Mike Blare and Tim McClure realized that to get the truckers to stop littering, they had to make littering seem unmanly. They aired commercials with Texan icons such as Chuck Norris and Lance Armstrong speaking out against litter. Truckers who saw the ads quickly decided that littering went against their Texan pride, and in just 4 years littering in Texas went down by 76%.[2]

Now, how would you apply this to your own life? What are your dreams? What do you need to do to get there? And what would your life be like if achieving your dreams was a core part of your identity, thoughts, and actions?


[1]: The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder

[2]: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Die and Others Survive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Categories: Focus, Learning, Productivity