How to create better personal habits

Picture this.

You wake up each morning and you have two choices:

  • grab your phone and start checking social media & email OR
  • drink some water, meditate, then take a 20-min walk

Which one would you choose?

We all know the latter would be better for us, but how many of us have been stuck in some version of the former?

*slowly raises hand*

Have you ever asked yourself how your daily habits affect your goals?

Until last fall, I certainly hadn’t. Mainly because my system for accomplishing goals was working for me.

Until it wasn’t.

(The short version: my business grew but my systems didn’t. Cue the burnout.)

I’d always approached life from a goal perspective:

  • set a goal,
  • reverse-engineer the steps you need to accomplish the goal
  • do the steps

Do you use this method? If so, how’s it working for you?

Chances are if you’re experiencing overwhelm, you need better systems like I did.

And better systems begin by taking stock of your habits.

Systems and habits

In business, systems are the processes or procedures you repeatedly use to achieve a specific result. They should make your life easier and more efficient.

For example, you might have an optimized system for content development that includes:

  • creating an editorial calendar,
  • writing at the same time each day and
  • sending your posts to your VA to upload.

Stick with the system and life is grand. Fall off the system and you’re in the weeds.

On a personal level, systems are simply how you do The Things. 

Your habits (what you do) are the building block of your systems (how you do it).

Make sense?

Success is a habit.

That means habits are the secret sauce to accomplishing your goals. Or, to put it in Instructional Design lingo: our outcomes are the direct result of our habits.

For instance, my best friend works out everyday. Being fit is a lifelong goal of hers, so about ten years ago she developed the habit of daily exercise. 

As a result is she’s in excellent physical health. 

So the question to ask is what outcomes are important to you and do your habits align with those?

This is the question that’s occupied my mind for the past month. Am I doing the daily things necessary to achieve my desired outcomes?

3 habits of successful course creators

How does this connect to online courses?

Over the past two years I’ve seen some trends: successful course creators (and people) develop good work habits. They’re masters at self-reflection, boorish routine, and failing fast.

Here are the 3 habits I noticed after interviewing over 50 online course creators:

Habit #1 - They hit publish, regardless of perfection

Perfection is the enemy of success. (Unless you're a doctor, then be perfect.) Successful course creators and business owners almost always validate then sell an imperfect product. After they make a profit, then they invest in perfecting their course.

Habit #2 - They listen

Want to know what topic to create your next course on? Listen to your audience.

Every single course creator interviewed on The Zen Courses Show said their course idea came from interacting with existing clients or via feedback from their audience.

Habit #3 - They measure & Experiment

Successful business owners focus on doing what works. They know what works because they measure everything, from website traffic to sales performance.

And they're not afraid to try new things.

5 steps for creating better habits

I’m no expert on habits or systems. My goal is to continue to improve and share what's worked for me.

If you’re stuck in a spiral of not finishing your course (or some other goal), ask yourself what habits are you using to accomplish your goal. You might be surprised at what you find.

Here’s five ways to develop better habits in your life.

1 - Write down one of your life goals

If you want to change your life, you’re going to need life long habits. Here’s one of mine: I want to create music. So I’m going to practice deejaying everyday and study piano. What about you?

2 - Take inventory of your habits

What daily actions are you taking to support your goals? What habits have you developed that don’t support your goals? 

When you ask yourself this, you’re forced to reckon with the answers. There’s no gray area. 

And that’s a good thing. You want to feel uncomfortable.

You want to have an AHA moment where you realize the reason you haven’t achieved an outcome. You also want to congratulate yourself for the things you ARE doing.

3 -  Document your processes

It's not enough to think about this stuff, you've got to write it out.

  • How are you currently working to achieve your goal?
  • What steps are you following?
  • How do your habits play a role here?

Writing it out will help you see patterns and gaps.

4 - Brainstorm ways to improve your habits

The goal is to turn your habits into efficient systems.

  • What do you need to eliminate?
  • What do you need to implement?
  • What can you outsource?
  • What can you automate? 

5 - Act and iterate!

Do the things! It's time to put your new habits into action.

Focus on changing one habit at a time.

Want to write your first book? Great. You’ll need to develop the habit of writing everyday. Block out specific writing hours and set an alarm to notify you.

Over time you’ll get adjusted to your new habits and find room for improvement. If you need help, use tools to automate or motivate your new habits.

For example, I use IFTTT to send myself morning and evening motivational text messages.

I’m also a big fan of Asana because it forces me to see things from a project view.

What if you lose steam?

There's a common myth that you can't be creative and spontaneous if you follow a routine.  Don't believe the hype.

One of my favorite writers, Haruki Murakami, wakes up at the same time each day, writes at the same time each day, runs at the same time each day, and goes to bed at the same time each day.

He’s written a dozen books and run countless marathons.

So we can't blame creativity for our lack of discipline (sigh).

If you struggle with sticking to habits, here’s my secret for getting back on track quickly: Prioritization, grace and honesty.

  • We prioritize the things that are important to us. 
  • If we aren’t doing something we said we wanted to do, it must not be that important to us, right? That’s where the honesty comes in.
  • But also give yourself some grace. Acknowledge your progress and don’t be afraid to take a structured break. Keyword: structured. 

What habits are you working on right now?

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