There are certainly many habits that make me who I am. I diligently work at being deliberate about all aspects of life and I think that’s a fundamental must. Then I work to create solid habits from that foundation.
Everyone struggles, to some degree, with fear, stress, lack of confidence and various other worries. Then we couple them with a perspective that we don’t have enough time or aren’t equipped to actually achieve our goals. This gives us a solid platform to formulate excuses as to why we can’t achieve something or act a certain way.
Running a marathon is no joke. It takes a lot of dedication, preparation and mental and emotional fortitude. The same is true of starting a new business, writing a book, getting a degree or traveling to a distant country. Humans are quite skilled at justifying and making logical excuses as to why these things are insurmountable or irresponsible.
We’ve constructed a societal agreement of welcoming seemingly intelligent excuses for not straying from the status quo. It’s unsafe, unwise and irresponsible to believe you can climb that mountain, finish that marathon or learn that new language. You’ve got more responsible things to focus on like fitting in, accumulating material wealth and setting yourself up with a great retirement plan.
About eight years ago, I had an epiphany. I’d recently dropped all my belongings and a partnership at a successful private equity firm I had co-founded in Nashville, TN. I was standing on the edge of Lake Kivu between Rwanda and the DRC appreciating the magnificent beauty of the sky, the crystal clear lake, the vast mountain ranges, glowing volcanoes and the rawness of Africa. It was awe-inspiring.
Then I realized something.
It really wasn’t that difficult to get there. The biggest challenge was psychological. I didn’t have any great connections or a long term job there (just a project). I didn’t have much money and I didn’t know anyone at all on the continent. By most anyone’s standards, I was not well prepared. The same was true when my wife and I moved to Mombasa with only $800, no job and we didn’t know a soul in Kenya. But now we’re thriving.
I see this all the time when people finally come to Africa to visit. They’ve been talking about it for years, but they made it into such a big deal that they developed a habit of viewing it as impossible. But then they finally work it out. They take the leap and visit. Then they find themselves back home reflecting on their trip and saying, “Hmm, I guess it wasn’t that big of a deal after all. I’m already back home!” No one died. It didn’t cost their life savings. And it really wasn’t even difficult.
We have a tendency to make things into a huge ordeal. We build things up as if we are about to tackle Mt. Everest. But most of our heroes are just people that have developed habits of not making a big deal out of everything and simply putting one foot in front of the other until they arrive at the goal. We humans can do just about anything we put our minds to.
I see street kids in Africa without a day of formal education that speak seven languages fluently. My friend Chris Guillabeau has visited over 250 countries. We see people like Dick Hoyt running marathons while pushing his paraplegic son in a wheelchair or Philippe Petit walking a tight rope between the Twin Towers with no safety gear. People do crazy, super human things every day. Learning a new language or starting that yoga habit should certainly be within just about anyone’s grasp.
What’s my best habit for productivity? The habit of not making things out to be bigger than they really are. Just start. Take the first step. Repeat.
And remember that whatever you’re wanting to achieve is only as big of a deal as you make it.