Most of the entrepreneurs I know realize they have some bad habits, like maybe procrastination or not listening well, so they focus on dropping these. New studies indicate that a more productive approach would be adopting new good habits and behaviors that clearly move your business forward, like good time management and implementing customer recommendations.
These two approaches may sound similar, but actually require different skill sets. For example, learning to stop smoking may leave you with a gap to fill, but finding activities that remove your urge to smoke really gets you where you want to be. I recommend the following six techniques for solidifying good habits from “The Compound Effect,” by successful entrepreneur and writer Darren Hardy:
1. Set yourself up to succeed. Any new habit has to work inside your life and lifestyle. If you want personal healthy think time at a gym, don’t find one that is thirty miles away, because you won’t go. For better time management, tell everyone that you will be closing the door to your office during specific times of the day, and ask for their support.
2. Think addition, not subtraction. Instead of focusing on what you have to “sacrifice,” think of what you can “add in” to improve your business effectiveness. For example, most founders find that adding good customer discussions has a more satisfying payoff than just eliminating expensive marketing consultants.
3. Go for a public display of accountability. Put your commitments of a new good habit, like rewarding good performance, on public display by announcing a recognition event to be held each week in the office. Now you will be motivated to follow through, and the whole team will give you the positive feedback you need to keep it going.
4. Find a success partner. There are few things as powerful as two people locked arm in arm marching toward the same goal. If your bad habit is staying late at the office, link with one or more of your other key executives to retire to the gym at 5pm sharp three times a week. You will all get out of the office, feel better, and make more decisions.
5. Use both competition and camaraderie. There is nothing like a friendly contest to whet your competitive spirit and immerse yourself in a new habit with a bang. It’s easy in a new business to inject a fun rivalry and a competitive spirit into improving your marketing programs, or improving production cycles.
6. Celebrate each small step of success along the way. All work and no play is a recipe for backsliding. You’ve got to find little rewards to give yourself every week or every day, even something small to acknowledge that you’ve held yourself to a new behavior. Measure results and promise yourself a real pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Change is hard. That’s why so many people don’t either give up their bad habits, or adopt new good ones. Successful entrepreneurs are the extraordinary ones that make the changes anyway. They just do it, and keep doing it, and the magic of compounding rewards them handsomely.
Another challenge is that your brain is not designed to make you happy. It is programmed to seek out the negative and optimize survival, and is always watching for signs of “lack and attack.” That’s why every entrepreneur spends so much time worrying about failures, lack of customers, and competition. We have to teach our minds to look beyond these, through discipline and being proactive about what we allow in.
But learning and discipline without execution is worthless. In the big picture, the habits you develop and nurture shape your destiny. Little everyday habits will take you either to the life you desire or to disaster by default. Spend more time instilling good ones, and the bad ones will disappear for lack of attention, making you a more savvy and successful entrepreneur.
CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals, Inc.; Advisory Board Member for multiple startups; ATIF Angels Selection Committee; Entrepreneur in Residence at ASU and Thunderbird School of Global Management.