Lesson 21

Lesson 21: BHFM and The Stoic Advisor

Weekly Habits for Success - Daily Task to The Habits for Success


In a 2005 Q&A session Bill Gates admitted that he is an awful procrastinator. This “very bad habit” reached its worst at Harvard University. “I didn’t do any work,” he said, “I didn’t go to classes and I didn’t care... That was my positioning: the guy who did nothing until the last minute.”

Hard to believe, right? One of the richest men in the world suffers from the bad habit of procrastination. But don’t worry, this story has a happy ending. He dropped out of Harvard and started what would become… well… you know.

But in the meantime, he had to break his bad habit of procrastination. In his case, the bad habit of procrastination wasn’t just bad, it was horrible. What did Gates do?

“I stopped listening to music and watching TV,” he wrote in a blog. “It sounds extreme, but I did it because I thought they would just distract me… I was avoiding music and TV in the hope of maintaining my focus.” TVs and record players were out of the house. Places with TVs and record players were avoided. The pang to watch TV or listen to music was now a cue to get back to work. Gates said it: it was extreme, but that’s what success and happiness required.

Wow, what an extreme measure, right? But Gates had a choice to make. He knew that his procrastination was either going to control his life or he was going to take control of his life back.

Sometimes, you have to go to extremes to take back what is rightfully yours. Think about it for a moment. What’s the one thing in your life that you can never get back once it’s gone? It’s your TIME. Time is the only non-renewable resource that each of has… and we only have a finite amount of it left.

I like to think of my life as a countdown clock. Every second on that clock that I waste is a moment of my life gone, a moment that I’ll never get back. Think about what I’ve just said for a minute. No, I mean stop reading this for a minute and really think about that. Pay attention to your surroundings and note everything that’s happening and then think to yourself, “that was a moment of life. A real moment of my real life, and now it’s gone forever”.

How many more of those moments are you willing to waste due to bad habits? How many of those precious moments of non-renewable time will slip before you decide to fully start the process of reclaiming as much control over your life as possible?

That’s what you are giving up when you succumb to the bad habits that control your life, even bad habits as seemingly innocuous as procrastination.

So what do we have to do to fix this problem?

Let’s start by identifying the triggers that set them off. Just like Gates removed music from his life (albeit temporarily) because it was a trigger, what triggers set you off and what changes do you need to make to fix that problem?

Let’s start by logging our day, most importantly, to log our triggers for our bad habits. When a dietician starts working with someone who has an eating disorder, they have them record every bit of food they eat in a typical day, week, and month to get a feel for what their patterns are. So even if you don’t know what your triggers are, you can start to get clues by logging your day.

Studies have shown that keeping a food journal over the course of several weeks or even months is one of the most surefire ways to lose weight, but more importantly, it forces a person to see on paper everything they consume. And that simple awareness of everything you consume often reveals shocking patterns. Similarly, a spending log serves the same purpose for people that need to make changes in their relationship to money. As Musonius Rufus said, we do a lot of things almost unconsciously by “following wretched habits.”

Chris Bailey, the author of The Productivity Project, says awareness is the first step to behavior change. “Without becoming aware of how you currently spend your time, it’s hard to reflect on whether you’re acting in ways that match up with what your values and highest-impact tasks are.” To become aware, Bailey recommends keeping an activity log for a period of a week or two. But even if you only devote an afternoon to this task, it’s still quite worth it.

This new task for you is to start a process of keeping track of your activities, specifically activities that are triggers for your bad habits. Triggers can be emotional, physical, or situational. Whether getting nervous makes you take a smoke break, or you always go straight to the fridge to “graze” when you get home from work, or you grab a beer when you sit down to watch the news, keep track of the things that precede your bad habits, write them down, and even timestamp them if you can.

Yes, this will be hard, but it’s all a part of the process of regaining control of the time you have left on this earth and making the most of it!

NEW TASK: Start keeping track of what you are doing immediately preceding your bad habits.

NEW HABIT: Focus every day on your touchstone phrases and remind yourself to live up to those standards and how great it will feel when you do!