The Number One Thing that Determines Our Success: How to Form SMART Habits and SMART Habits of the Wealthy

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. ~ Aristotle

Your “habits” are the basis of your success or failures. Did you know that more than half of all decisions you make are actually habits? You don’t consciously think when you make them, you automatically revert to a particular action based on the habits you have developed over time. A habit is something you regularly and automatically do without thinking about it. This is actually a good thing because we can accomplish tasks (or not accomplish them) without spending exorbitant mental effort and wear ourselves down too quickly.

Imagine having to think of every step of getting in your car and driving to work in the morning. By the time you got to work, you would be mentally exhausted! Our brains create these habits to automate activities to free up the mental capacity to focus on higher level activities. Habits help our brain conserve energy and minimize the physical and mental strength needed to conduct an activity. Habits are essentially who you are! Without them, we wouldn’t get much done during the day.

For more habits of the SMART Wealthy, click below!

A habit is something you do regularly and automatically do without thinking about it. This is actually a good thing because we can accomplish tasks (or not accomplish them) without spending exorbitant mental effort and wear ourselves down too quickly. Good habits help you reach your goals and be more efficient and effective in life. Bad habits have the opposite effect of derailing your goals. Given that our actions determine our outcomes, and the bulk of our actions are based on our habits, how do we stop bad habits and create good habits? It is clearly much harder than it seems.  This explains why we snack on unhealthy foods, smoke cigarettes or always are late to meetings, common bad habits that we know we want to stop! Stopping bad habits and creating good ones is much harder than it seems, Many people do not understand the role habits have in our lives, which is why only 8 percent of people reach their New Year’s resolutions.

How Habits are Formed

According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, you can’t change habits by “powering through” them. Your willpower is like a muscle, and it gets exhausted throughout the day. This is why at the end of the day, it is much harder to keep to your diet than in the morning, when your willpower is fresh! Our brains are very powerful. They are constantly looking for patterns and activities in our lives to turn into habits. Since our subconscious mind does not discriminate between good and bad habits, anything that we repeat over time has the potential for our brain to convert into a habit.

Many people make the mistake of trying to change or start just the habit or behavior. Instead, you have to first understand how it is formed and what a habit is made up of. A habit is not just one independent action, but according to Duhigg it is three-part loop consisting of a cueroutine, and reward.

If you want to change a habit, you need to focus on the cues and rewards that keep the specific habit going. Understanding this process will help you be INTENTIONAL and CONSCIOUSLY choose what activities and behaviors become habits.

  1. Cue: This triggers our habit and behavior to automatically unfold. There are five types of cues – a place, a time of day, a certain person, a certain emotion, or a ritualized behavior.
  2. Routine: This is the habit or behavior you find yourself doing unknowingly. It can be physical, mental or emotional. Just like getting in your car everyday in the morning to drive to work, you don’t consciously think of every decision you make. The more you do it, the less attention you need and the more automated it becomes. The habit takes over, freeing up mental space and conserving as much willpower as possible.
  3. Reward: This is the pleasure you get from the habit. The reward “burns the habit into your memory” so it becomes the go-to habit the next time the cue takes place.

How Habits are Changed

If you want to curb a bad habit, you want to find your cue and reward. Identify the full loop, and experiment with different rewards. Try to isolate your cue so you can better control the triggers.

Duhigg from his personal experience found that he ate a cookie every afternoon at 3PM and gained 8 pounds. He thought the reward was to satisfy his sweet tooth, but after experimenting, he found the reward was actually socializing with his peers. He was using the excuse of getting a cookie to talk to his coworkers. After recognizing this, instead of eating cookies, he headed over to a colleague, talked for ten minutes and then went back to work, eventually losing 12 pounds! It was a matter of teaching his brain to associate a reward with the appropriate habit.

Habits have a very important purpose: They save our brain from work by relegating certain repetitive tasks to a walnut-sized area in the middle of our brain called the “basal ganglia.” This area also plays a key role in the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition.

If there are any habits you want to change, you have to properly diagnose and then change them. No one knew the impact habits have better than the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of the bestseller “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Habits are the things we do everyday without consciously thinking about them.

Decisions, meanwhile, are made in a different part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. As soon as a behavior becomes automatic, the decision-making part of your brain goes into sleep mode and the habit-making part of the brain begins to take over. Duhigg states,

“In fact, the brain starts working less and less…and the brain can almost completely shut down. This is a real advantage, because it means you have all of this mental activity you can devote to something else.”

That’s why it’s easy — while driving or parallel parking, let’s say — to completely focus on something else: like the radio, or a conversation you’re having. Because our “basal ganglia” can take a behavior and turn it into an automatic routine, our brain is free to expand and perform higher level and complex behaviors without being mentally aware. Thankfully, studies show that it’s never too late to break a habit. They are malleable throughout your entire life.

Tips to Change Habits

  1. Take a Vacation! Studies have shown that people will perform automated behaviors — like pulling out of a driveway or brushing teeth — the same way every single time if they’re in the same environment. But if they take a vacation, it’s likely that the behavior will change since the cues change and patterns are broken up. That’s one of the reasons why taking a vacation is so relaxing: It helps break certain habits and is one of the best ways to do it. Your old cues and all your old rewards aren’t there anymore. You have the ability to form a new pattern and hopefully be able to carry it over when you get back home.
  2. Understand how habits work. Another way to change our habits is to better understand how habits are formed and removed physiologically within our brains. The reasons changing habits is so difficult is because our habits compete in our brain. Our brain cells (neurons) compete for “cortical space” inside our brains. This space is prime property, just like beachfront property, so there is a strong demand for this brain real estate. In order to introduce a new habit, we must create a new neural pathway inside our brain. This is difficult to do since our old neural pathways don’t want to give up any of the “brain real estate”. The old habits fight to keep that real estate from new intruding neurons (new habits). This is why getting rid of an old habit is so hard. There is a real estate war waging inside our brains when we introduce new habits. Not surprisingly, our old habits often will win out!
  3. Leverage your old habits to build new ones. Instead of trying to declare full war (our brain gets exhausted) we can use and leverage your old habits to build new ones. The best way to do this is to stack a new habit on top of an old habit. Think of an existing habit and neural pathway as a train on a track. If you add your new habit as a passenger to that same train, the brain won’t put up a fight since you’re not trying to take control of the train or the track, you’re just taking a ride. When an old habit does not see a new habit as a threat, there is no brain real estate war…so guess what, a new habit is born! I tend to overeat. Growing up in an immigrant family, we never wasted food. Our family had a habit of never leaving food on our plate to waste. The problem is that even when I am full, I still eat until my plate is empty. By co-opting and using my existing habit as leverage, I can just use smaller plates or put less food on my plate. My habit hasn’t changed, but I am eating less food since there is less on my plate!
  4. Start small and choose wisely. You can’t change all of your bad habits or create good habits all at once. Your brain is very powerful and will eventually win out if you try to force drastic changes. The key is to choose one or two habits to change or build first. Once you are able to successfully do so, then it becomes easier to move to the next one. It is best to start small. The small victories will help motivate you and it is important to be consistent (so you develop the habit of improvement!). It is also important to choose the right habit to get started. We all have limited time and resources, so choose one that has the most impact and can make the biggest differences. For me I learned that developing a healthy lifestyle was one that impacted so many aspects of my life. Treating my body better – eating right, getting proper exercise and sleep – helped me gain more energy, greater focus, and a heightened level of discipline.

Why is this so important?

Our daily habits are a major determinant of our wealth and success. No matter how good our plans, strategies, and investments, it can be easily undone by bad habits. Good habits are a multiplier and by continually building on a stronger foundation, it will separate the good from the great!

By understanding how habits are formed, we need to create wealth-building habits that stick. Every habit we add to our life has a cumulative and snowballing effect (just like compound interest!). How much would you improve by the end of one year from now if you started focusing on just improving just 1% a day?

A. 365%

B. 3,700%

The answer is B, 3,700%! Life, just like money compounds too. Our habits become an investment in our future success! As time goes on, our wealth-building habits move you closer and closer to achieving success in life. The more good daily success habits you add over time, the closer you get to success. And wealth will eventually follow.

Even when it comes to your finances, small habits such has saving and investing can make the difference between financial dependence and financial independence! Even when it comes to your finances, small habits such has saving and investing can make the difference between financial dependence and financial independence!

According to Thomas Corley, the author of Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, habits are like an avalanche. “[They] are like snowflakes — they build up, and then you have an avalanche of success.”

He segmented out what he calls “rich habits” and “poverty habits.” The key is to get more than 50% of your habits to be rich habits. Here are 8 rich habits that the SMART Wealthy have!

  1. Rich people always keep their goals in sight
  • I focus on my goals every day.
  • Rich people who agree: 62%
  • Poor people who agree: 6%

“It blew me away,” says Corley. “I thought a goal was a broad objective, but the wealthy said a wish is not a goal.” A goal has to follow the S.M.A.R.T format (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based) with a specific plan to attain that goal.

  1. They know what needs to be done today
  • I maintain a daily to-do list.
  • Rich people who agree: 81%
  • Poor people who agree: 19%

67% of the wealthy complete 70% or more of their listed tasks each day.

  1. They don’t watch TV
  • I watch TV one hour or less per day
  • Rich people who agree: 67%
  • Poor people who agree: 23%

Only 6% of the wealthy watch reality shows, compared to 78% of the poor

Corley found that “the common variable among the wealthy is how they make productive use of their time…the wealthy are not avoiding watching TV because they have some superior human discipline or willpower…They just don’t think about watching much TV because they are engaged in some other habitual daily behavior — reading.”

  1. They read … but not for fun
  • I love reading
  • Rich people who agree: 86%
  • Poor people who agree: 26%

The wealthy in particular love non-fiction, specifically self-improvement books. They “are voracious readers on how to improve themselves” and 88% of them read for self-improvement for at least half an hour every day, compared to 2% of poor people. 64% of the rich listen to audio books during their commute to work, compared to just 5% of poor people.

Want to know what books I recommend? Click here! Bottom line is to maximize their use of time. You can always make more money, but you can never get back more time.

  1. They make a point of going above and beyond at the office.
  • I do more than my job requires
  • Rich people who agree: 81%
  • Poor people who agree: 17%

86% of the wealthy (compared to 43% of poor) work 50 or more hours a week and only 6% did not like their profession. The SMART wealthy don’t work to live, but live to work. And if they can’t find a career they love, they create one themselves and don’t settle for less.

  1. They aren’t hoping to win the jackpot
  • I play the lottery regularly
  • Rich people who agree: 6%
  • Poor people who agree: 77%

It isn’t about getting lucky and hoping their ship will come in. The wealthy build their own ship. Success is based on outside factors, but only the hard work you put in.

That’s not to say that the wealthy are always playing it safe with their money. “Most of these people were business owners who put their own money on the table and took financial risks. People like this aren’t afraid to take risks.”

  1. They watch their waistline.
  • I count calories every day
  • Rich people who agree: 57%
  • Poor people who agree: 5%

The wealthy understand the value of their health and how it impacts your work and standard of living!

Wealthy people value their health, says Corley. “One of the individuals in my study was about 68 and worth about $78 million. I asked why he didn’t retire, and he looked at me like I was from Mars.”

“He said, ‘I’ve spent the last 45 years exercising every single day and watching what I eat because I knew the end of my career would be my biggest earning years.‘ If he can extend his career four to five years beyond everyone else, that’s about $7 million for him.”

    8. They take care of their smiles

  •   I floss every day
  •   Rich people who agree: 62%
  •   Poor people who agree: 16%

Interested in learning more SMART Habits? Join the SMART Nation by clicking here.