5 Winning Habits and How to Develop Them

Transitioning a routine into a habit is complex and requires consistent, dedicated effort to accomplish.

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By Brian H. Robb

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The Cambridge English Dictionary defines "habit" as something someone does often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that the activity is occurring. A study by psychologist Wendy Wood at the University of Southern California found that habits account for more than 40% of people's actions each day. Some scientists believe that the human tendency to develop habits — good and bad — is an evolutionary development of the brain. The brain uses about 20% of the body's energy, though it occupies about 2% of a person's body weight. Dr. Marcus Raichle at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis discovered that the average person burns about 320 calories per day just thinking. A 2018 University of British Columbia indicates that the brain is hardwired to conserve energy, thus favoring activities that do not require active thought (habit).

Modern lifestyles, forced to process volumes of information almost non-stop, encourage "cerebral congestion," a condition attributed to data overflow and the brain being constantly on alert. The area of the brain coordinating our voluntary movements works with the brain's frontal lobe to determine the proper actions to take in each situation. Some decisions are instantaneous. Consider the choices one has when meeting a bear in the woods like staying still and silent, running away, running toward the bear hoping to scare him away and climbing a tree. Our brains make such decisions subconsciously based on past experiences, the environment and our physical fitness.

Habits naturally develop in the basal ganglia's neural pathways to save energy and be efficient. As soon as a behavior becomes automatic, the decision-making portion of the brain essentially gets to sit out and take a break. Since your brain is on autopilot when it comes to executing the habit, you can often perform habits while thinking of other things.

Related: 25 Habits to Achieve Happiness

Relationship between habits and routines

A habit is a series of "actions that are triggered automatically in response to contextual cues associated with their performance." Once established, habits require very little mental motivation or attention. Routines are regularly practiced behaviors that often require concentrated effort and deliberation to complete since they do not typically appear naturally. However, practiced consistently for a long enough period, routines can become a habit.

Transitioning a routine into a habit is complex and requires consistent, dedicated effort to accomplish. World-class athletes are examples of a successful conversion so that their reactions seem almost instinctual. After thousands of hours of seeing the movement patterns of receivers and defensive backs, a professional quarterback reacts automatically to developing plays, selecting the ideal receiver to complete his pass. The more repetition involved, the greater likelihood of a habit becoming ingrained. Because of this, habits, good and bad, once formed, can be challenging to change.

Related: 6 Habits That Help Successful People Maximize Their Time

Five winning habits to cultivate

Studies show that billionaires practice similar habits in ordering their lives and activities. Those seeking to replicate their financial success should begin by developing the same habits:

1. Start the day early. "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise." The proverb is best known for its appearance in Benjamin Franklin's 1735 edition of Poor Richard's Almanac, but earlier versions have existed since 1486. Some suggest that the body's natural circadian rhythm — a 24-hour cycle that regulates sleep and wake patterns — is set by arising at dawn and aligning with the natural process of the day. Advocates of early rising like JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon, CEO, wake up at 5:00 a.m. and spend several hours reading, watching the news and preparing for the coming day. Oprah Winfrey is reputed to get up each morning at 6:00 a.m. for reflection, mediation and exercise.

Rising early does not mean staying up late. While billionaires occasionally have extended workdays, most, like Jeff Bezos of Amazon, regularly get seven to eight hours of sleep. "Eight hours of sleep makes a big difference for me, and I try hard to make that a priority. For me, that's the needed amount to feel energized and excited."

2. Practice good health. Most successful people understand that they need to be in good shape to face the rigors of a demanding lifestyle. Consequently, they exercise regularly, follow good nutrition, and schedule time-outs to recharge their bodies and minds. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, walks five miles from his home to his Silicon Valley office for a time to think without distraction.

3. Read. Unfortunately, many people do not read very much. Less than 10% of 18-year-old and older Americans read one book each month. The average 18-24-year-old spends less than 7 minutes a day reading. By contrast, super-successful people are heavy readers. Many, like Bill Gates, read a new book each week. Warren Buffett is said to spend 80% of his workday reading. Elon Musk says he learned to build rockets by reading books. Psychologists claim our brains are wired for stories; they inspire and educate us.

The benefits of reading are proven: Carnegie Mellon researchers in 2009 found that reading increased the quality of white matter, the brain tissue that carries signals between areas of gray matter, where information is processed. By improving the "integrity" of the white matter, subjects could communicate better and express their ideas with more eloquence.

4. Be selective. Winners understand the importance of focus. Rather than being experts in everything, they seek to be the very best in one or two things. They quickly learn how to say "no" and decide when to say "yes" or "no." Successful people receive hundreds of investment opportunities of all types regularly. Without focus and rejecting a great majority of the requests for their time and money, they could accomplish nothing. Most implement routines and rituals to keep them on course, especially in the mornings, to set the tone for the day.

5. Practice self-discipline. Successful people are not born but made. They suffer the same temptations and disappointments as all humans. They succeed because they persist. In the face of obstacles and failure, they continue to pursue their goal until they succeed. Many people confuse self-discipline with obstinance. Exercising discipline does not mean stubbornness, continuing the same strategies or activities that do not work. Discipline is the willingness to seek a way around an obstacle rather than accepting failure.

Self-discipline is learned, not innate. The skill is available to everyone with practice. Discipline begins with motivation -the desire to change the status quo – and grows by learning to function with discomfort and disappointment. Discipline requires learning to view failure as a learning experience, not a conclusion.

Final thoughts

People develop good habits purposely, beginning with a decision and a firm commitment to continue a routine until it is securely rooted in one's life and actions. Implementing a new habit is like moving your furniture through the window of an upper floor apartment with a pulley and rope; one lapse can negate the entire effort. It is always easier to continue a habit than restart one.

Unsurprisingly, cultivating good habits encourages successive adoption of other good habits because each reinforces the other. For example, a person who exercises and practices good nutrition is more likely to associate with those who do the same. Those who practice good money habits — being intentional on how they spend and save — are less likely to make impulse purchases and better investment decisions. They are more likely to have long-term plans and be optimistic about the future. Good habits build self-confidence. Not everyone with good habits becomes a billionaire, but most enjoy life, whatever their net worth. On the other hand, a person with bad habits is more likely to lose a fortune than build one.

Related: 18 Destructive Habits Holding You Back From Success

Brian H. Robb

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

CMO at Reiturn.com & Former CMO to the worlds #1 Marketing Influencer.

Brian H. Robb is the CMO at Reiturn.com, along with the Former CMO to the world's #1 Marketing Influencer, according to Forbes. He received his MBA from Imperial College London and a master's degree in real estate from Bayes Business School.

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