We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.Will Durant
The internet is rife with conflicting advice.
One guru claims that waking up at 5 am is the key to success. Another considers early rising to be an unnecessary stressor.
One expert claims that “Email is dead” another that “Email is King”.
Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded by contradictory prescriptions and mandates for achieving the life we want.
The reason is simple.
All too often, the gurus, experts, and self-help pundits forget the simple truth that we humans are complex creatures.
The specific tactics that work for one person won’t necessarily work for another (low carb vs. high carb diets for example).
We are all unique individuals playing the game of life with our own set of circumstances, advantages, disadvantages, and predispositions.
So instead of giving you yet another article filled with specific prescriptions and dogmatic instructions (that may help or hurt your chances of success), I want to offer you something more valuable.
A list of seven keystone habits, or themes that nearly every successful individual follows.
No matter your profession, ambitions, or personality, these principles–however you choose to practice them–will help you improve your life and achieve the success you’re after 10X faster.
1. Make Time for Stillness and Introspection
When you examine the lives of history’s most prolific thinkers, creators, and leaders you will notice an interesting pattern.
Their successes were not a byproduct of aggressive action or frantic hustle, but rather one calming habit: intentional contemplation and stillness.
During the most stressful and intense times in Microsoft’s growth, Bill Gates would retire to the woods in a secret cabin (not even his wife knows where it is) for 7 days – with nothing but a journal and stack of books.
As the Minister of England, Winston Churchill took up the hobbies of brick-laying and oil painting to find refuge from the demands of public office and give his mind time to process the challenges facing him and his country.
The ancient stoics like Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius all extolled the virtues of solitude, silence, and deliberation in the face of adversity.
But these themes run counter to the current of our modern times.
Notifications chime at every hour of the day. Our social media feeds bombard us with irrelevant updates.
Clients email us late into the night expecting expedient replies. News headlines remind us of the pending climate disasters, egregious human rights violations in other countries, and the latest political scandals on our home turf…
These are all things over which we have no control and limited influence.
Everywhere we look, we are surrounded by noise.
But to achieve great things, we must tune out the noise. We must find stillness and peace and open up room for reflection and introspection.
As Ryan Holiday says, “Stillness is the key.”
To break through to the next level of success and fulfillment in your life and business, you must make time for stillness as one of your keystone habits.
Whether it takes the form of journaling, a daily meditation practice, walking, or an artistic hobby, you must step back from the chaos and quiet your mind.
Because it is in stillness that you will find your breakthroughs. Only when you shut out the noise of the outside world and turn inward can you solve the problems plaguing your life and holding you back from your goals.
2. Daily Movement
“It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worthFredierich Nietzsche
Show me a man or woman who changed the course of history, who produced truly perennial work, who achieved the pinnacles of success…
And I’ll show you someone who understood the power of daily movement as one of their keystone habits.
Charles Darwin, Nikola Tesla, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King Jr., and Daniel Kahneman all credited many of their greatest ideas to their daily walking routine.
When asked about the most important habit for achieving success, billionaire philanthropist Richard Branson responded with one word, “Exercise.”
Mark Cuban, Oprah Winfrey, Jack Dorsey, and Mark Zuckerberg all consider their regular workouts to be one of the most important contributors to their success.
And I can tell you from personal experience that a regular exercise routine has been paramount to achieving success (and more importantly happiness) in my own life.
When I move, whether it’s a heavy CrossFit workout, a long walk with my dogs, or an aggressive boxing session, life makes more sense.
Problems are put into perspective. The niggle of anxiety that was plaguing my thinking and stealing my peace, disappears.
On the days when I’m too “busy” to make time for exercise, my emotional state inverts itself. My overactive brain will fall into a perpetual loop of anxious and depressive thinking that no amount of logic can assuage.
And, if you look at the emotional, spiritual, and psychological patterns in your own life, you’ll likely find that this theme holds true for you too.
To achieve the highest levels of performance and fulfillment, you must commit to regular movement…whatever form it takes.
You don’t need to lift weights or crush a CrossFit workout every day (more often than not, this is actually counterproductive to your success), but you need to move every day.
Go for a swim. Take a long walk. Do 30-minutes of yoga. Play a rec league sport.
Get out of the office and do something to get the blood flowing every day and you will be amazed by how profoundly (and quickly) this keystone habits changes your life for the better.
3. Open Your Mind to New Ideas and Expand Your Horizons
The fact that you’re reading this article tells me that you are already committed to your personal development and education.
And, if I were a gambling man, I would wager that you probably read at least 1-2 books each month (possibly more).
But, more often than not, entrepreneurs and high-performers make one critical mistake with their reading habit.
A lack of diversity.
Instead of consuming a wide breadth of knowledge and ideas, they myopically focus on business/personal development books that share the same ideas over and over again.
These books (as amazing as they are) were not written to be compulsively consumed. They were intended to be prescriptive. To solve specific problems and provide salient answers to big questions.
You already know that you should set and track your goals, clean up your self-talk, make plans, and exercise every day.
You’re likely familiar with 90% of the most important personal development habits and business growth strategies.
In this regard, you don’t need more information. You need more implementation.
And, more often than not, you’re already doing most of the things you need to do anyway…but the lack of immediate results has led you to believe you’re missing some “secret” that other people know (hint: you’re not…success just takes longer than we’d like).
To get the most out of yourself and your education, you must expand your horizons and consume content that diverges from the standard fare.
Read books on science, history, and philosophy. Read biographies and works of fiction.
To create truly unique and perennial work you must draw from a deep well of inspiration.
When you read the writing of the greatest thinkers of our generation, individuals like Ryan Holiday, Mark Manson, Robert Greene, and Malcolm Gladwell, you will find anecdotes and lessons from particle physics, Greecian history, ancient philosophy, religion, and comedy.
These men are exceptional because of their willingness to consume and synthesize seemingly disparate ideas.
And if you want to unlock your creative potential, stand out in a noisy world, and create something that stands the test of time, you must do the same with this keystone habits.
4. Prepare for Your Days the Night Before
Failing to plan is planning to failBenjamin Franklin
Greatness does not happen by accident.
It requires proper planning and preparation on both a global and local scale.
You wouldn’t go on a cross-country road trip to a new state without the help of Google Maps.
You wouldn’t get on a plane with a pilot who said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not following any directions today, we’re just going to wing it (pun intended) and see what happens.”
So why would you go through your life without a clear roadmap for success?
While Craig has created profound and proven systems for effective planning (systems that have helped his clients literally 20X their revenue while working less), you must find the solutions that work for you.
What matters less than how you plan is that you plan.
Whether you use our 7X7 grid to plan your week or rely on a simple brain dump (like I do), you must set aside time every week and day to plan and prepare.
Planning gives you a psychological edge over your competition. It helps you act as the architect of your life and business instead of the builder.
By setting aside time every day and week to map out your most important priorities and how you are going to handle them, you will eradicate the “time vampires” from your life, improve your efficiency, and make time for the things that matter most.
5. Invest Your “Free Time” Into Growth
The modern Western definition of free-time or “leisure” has been thoroughly bastardized and diluted over the past century.
Finding its roots the Latin word, negotium, meaning “freedom from one’s daily business”, the term “leisure” was never intended to signify idleness or the mindless consumption of entertainment.
Rather the freedom from obligation to pursue artistic and intellectual endeavors.
But in our modern age, a time where work is done predominantly with our minds (leaving little in the tank at the end of the day), we do not use this freedom to foster growth and creativity but to compulsively consume television, video games, memes, and other stimuli that do little to better our lives.
To achieve lasting success and fulfillment, you need to use your free time effectively. There’s nothing wrong with catching up on your favorite Netflix original or watching a few hours of stand up comedy each week…
…But these mindless distractions should be an occasional vice, not your default activity.
The average American spends five hours and four minutes watching television each day and another 2.5 hours on social media. An entire workday wasted in a state of unconscious consumption.
By using this time productively–to learn new skills, explore new ideas, cultivate new hobbies, and spend time with people you love–you will not only reclaim control of your life, but you will enrich your life in ways you can’t currently imagine.
In my own life, I found that committing to weekly guitar lessons, daily reading (outside at a local park), and date nights with my fiance assuaged my “high-performance anxiety” and allowed me to be more focused and disciplined in my career.
More often than not, stress and overwhelm in your career are a byproduct of the things you’re not doing in your personal life (instead of the things you are doing in your work life) and by making more time for intellectual and artistic pursuits, you can show up to work with less stress, more creativity, and greater focus than ever before.
6. Sleep…A Lot
I’m going to be blunt.
95% of you reading this right now are not sleeping enough. Period.
I know, I know…you’re “Too busy” to get a full 8-hours every night.
And I understand your concerns. I’ve been there before.
But even the most perfunctory glance at the research will reveal a simple fact that you probably already know…
Sleep deprivation is killing you. Both physically and metaphorically. When you regularly sleep fewer than 7 hours a night, your brain and body begin to function at a lower level.
Your productivity drops. Your happiness declines. Your impulse control weakens. And to make matters worse, research has shown that sleep-deprived individuals don’t even realize the impact their sleepless nights are having on their performance.
So I’ll keep this simple.
Get at least 7 hours of sleep every day. No ifs, ands, or buts.
If you have to take a nap. Do it. If you have to cut out TV so you can get to sleep earlier, do it. If you have to start your workday a bit later, do it.
Get more sleep and every area of your life will improve as a result.
7. Connect with People You Love
In one of the longest-running studies in human history, a team of researchers at Harvard University set out to uncover exactly what it is that leads to a “Life well lived”.
Their study spanned more than 8 decades and included everyone from U.S. Presidents (like JFK) to millionaires to best-selling authors to your run of the mill alcoholics and schizophrenics.
And what they discovered flew in the face of everything our society teaches.
After analyzing the lives of more than 1,800 people over nearly a century, they found (on no uncertain terms) that the quality of one’s relationships…not their socioeconomic standing, professional success, or fame…was the greatest arbiter of fulfillment and happiness.
Listen…I know you have big goals and dreams. I know you want to build an empire, leave a legacy, and make your own dent in the universe.
And I do too.
But don’t allow your ambitions and aspirations to deprive you of love and connection in the present moment.
The only reason life is worth living is because it’s shared. Without our friends and family, our accomplishments would be meaningless.
Always remember that and always make time for the people who matter most.
When you’re on your death bed, you won’t be thinking about the extra ‘0’ you had in your bank account or that killer sales funnel with a 7% conversion rate.
You’ll be thinking about the people in your life and what they meant to you – this is probably the most important of the keystone habits.
So connect with them now.
Your business is not more important than date night. Your clients aren’t more important than your children. And no amount of success or acclaim can ever replace time lost with those you love.
Use these keystone habits to improve your life and achieve the success you’re after faster – while feeling happier along the journey.
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