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Establishing Winning Habits

On the go? Listen to and/or download the audio version of “Establishing Winning Habits!”

I had the pleasure of working in General Austin Miller’s (U.S. Army) command for a few months, and there is one thing that I heard him say over 100 times (that’s no exaggeration): establish repeatable processes. Sometimes, when you hear something so often, you become numb to it; however, that would’ve been a bad idea for me for a couple of reasons: 1. He was a commanding officer, so becoming numb to his orders is a sure way to get you fired. 2. More importantly, every time he said it, he caused me to reflect on my own “repeatable processes” or as most of us call them, habits.

Since then, this idea of habit creation and sustainment has become a critical part of my personal and professional philosophy. Why? Well, I can summarize why with this quote:

If your habits don’t support your goals, your goals are just a wish list.

Olaolu Ogunyemi

What are habits?

Most times when we talk about habits, we are either confronting about or being confronted about bad habits. Don’t get me wrong, I believe this “confrontation” or accountability is a crucial part of habit creation, but it is only part of the equation. We will dive into my principles soon, but first, let’s define “habits.”

Oxford Languages says that a habit is, “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” My love for food was the first thing that came to mind when I read this definition. Like most people, I’m still working towards that beach body six pack, but there’s a cliche that closely relates to my eating practices and delays my results: “you are what you eat.” I want to slightly modify this cliche to give you my own simplified definition of the word “habit”:

You are what you repeat.

Olaolu Ogunyemi

My winning habits principles

1. Winning habits begins with math.

Oh no… I’m becoming my parents! When I was young, I was one of those in class telling my math teachers, “I will never use this again!” Now, aside from the fact that i refuse to use a calculator to determine my tips and I solve two math problems every morning to shut off my alarm, I am telling you that winning habits begin with math. It’s actually pretty simple math.

There are twenty-four hours each day. Most of us spend 6-8 of those hours sleeping and another 8-12 of those hours “working.” (You’ll find out why I put “working” in quotes a little later). That means that about 14-20 hours of our day are usually accounted for. What are you doing with the other 4-10 hours each day? Are you intentionally investing every minute?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions to make a point; I truly want you to reflect on what you do during those hours. Although many won’t admit it, a lot of us have formed habits that simply drain our time. So much so that we can seldom recall what we did the day before. If you’re anything like me, you went back to double check that math. That can’t be right! Well, it is.

I reflected on this in one of my very first blog posts where I outlined how many habits I had formed that completely drained my time, and get this: a majority of them were somehow related to the device I carry around in my pocket every day. I challenge you to do your own reflection and record your daily habits.

2. Focus your habits.

Were you shocked by your daily habits list? That’s ok. Let’s do something about it! How do your daily habits align with your goals? Don’t lie or try to use some kind of “butterfly effect” justification. Don’t worry about how much effort or energy you put into each habit. Just have an objective review of what results your daily habits produce. Results are all that matter; there is no “A” for effort–make sure your habits support this fact.

3. “It’s called work for a reason!” -Larry Winget

I recently read and enjoyed this book by Larry Winget. Some may not like his style, because he refers to himself as an “irritational” speaker. In other words, he strives to make you so uncomfortable where you are that you desire to change.

I think my favorite part of this book is the fact that it was aptly named. One would assume that once you get a job, you would show up to perform that job; however, many of us have formed extremely bad habits in the workplace from doing personal chores to not doing anything at all. Of course this causes a ripple effect throughout any given organization and severely impedes processes. Your habits in the workplace are a reflection of your character, values, and professionalism. In other words, if your habits aren’t contributing towards the company’s desired results, you are part of the problem. Let’s focus on making our companies better!

4. Sleep is a must!

I actually don’t know where I got it from, but I remember saying, “sleep is for the rich, so I can’t afford it.” I don’t know; it just sounded cool to me. Nowadays, I don’t know if it’s maturity, a realignment of priorities, or a little bit of both, but I absolutely love sleep! There’s nothing like racing to my bed after a long day. (I’m yawning just thinking about it.)

Listen, numerous studies have shown that our sleep habits impact our mood, performance, attitude, and brain function. Temporarily reducing sleep to accomplish a specific goal is ok, but the key word is “temporarily.” Create a set time, routine, and location for your rest. This is one of the most important habits you can form.

5. Accountability is continuous, but give yourself grace.

Earlier I mentioned that confrontation and accountability are a huge part of habit creation. Let’s use my dietary habits as an example. I can claim that I want to eat better all I want, but without external feedback mechanisms like my wife or the MyFitnessPal food tracker, my goal is a well-intended wish.

However, the other part is grace. We spend decades forming habits, but then we expect to immediately break those habits and form new ones over night. Listen, that is highly unlikely, so give yourself a little grace. Implement a “clean slate” policy meaning you get to mess up every once in a while. Just reflect and implement a couple more accountability mechanisms to prevent repeating the same mistake.

Notice I used the word “repeating” here. You remember where I used that word before? That’s right. “You are what you repeat.” So don’t form a new habit of making more mistakes than progress. This is where a lot of us get stuck. Then we disguise this “one step forward, two steps back” approach as progress as we celebrate the one step forward and apply the “clean slate” policy to our two steps backwards. Let’s break that habit, because it will never work. Accountability and grace go hand-in-hand–you can’t have one without the other.

My winning habits

Now that I’ve outlined my principles, here is a quick list of habits I consider important in no particular order:

  1. Read and learn to experience the world from a different perspective.
  2. Take care of yourself: dedicate time each day to building your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pillars. At least 30 minutes per pillar per day.
  3. Work hard when it’s time to work. Play hard when it’s time to play. Rest well when it’s time to rest.
  4. Spend uninterrupted time loving on friends and family. I cannot stress this one enough. Forgive if you need to forgive. Life is too short.
  5. Schedule time for the “time drainers” like social media, TV, window shopping, etc. These will likely always exist, but you need to manage them.
  6. Prioritize your day. Like Dr. Covey said, “keep the main thing, the main thing.” Or maybe I’ll add a little spin to the famous TLC line, “don’t go chasing waterfalls” (my spin) when you are supposed to be swimming at the lake. Yeah I know that was cheesy, but you get the point. Establish and align your habits to your priorities!
  7. Allocate time to reflect on the day. What did you do well? What are some opportunities for improvement?
  8. Smile, have fun, and remind yourself that you are valuable and have a purpose. Your daily habits support that purpose!

Thanks for reading! Have a great week!

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How do you Respond to Rejection and Failure?

IMAGINE THIS: You are a basketball player preparing for your first big game in a month. You are not the best shooter on the team, but you have accepted your role as the slasher–the one who zips past the defender to finish at the rim every time. That means your go-to scoring method is the highest percentage shot on the court, the layup.

In the month leading up to your game, you have practiced numerous creative ways to score your layup regardless of how the defender responds. You have rehearsed several countermoves, completed over 1,000 layups, and done countless scenario-based drills to include scoring through contact and making midair adjustments. Saying you adequately prepared to score during your big game is a severe understatement.

Game Day!

It’s game day, and you are having a phenomenal 30-point game doing what you do best. You could not be more confident as the game nears the end. It is now the fourth quarter with ten seconds left; your team is losing by two points. As expected, your team passes the ball to you–the slasher–to score the ball and send the game into overtime. You make an exceptionally elusive move to pass your initial defender.

As you drive to the hoop, you see another defender appear in your peripheral vision. You smirk because this is one of the drills you have rehearsed numerous times, so you are expecting the defender to make contact, foul, and send you to the free throw line to attempt an extra point after you score your layup. First you jump, then the defender jumps. You make a nice, midair adjustment and release the ball close to the rim. Without touching you, the defender swats the ball to the other end of the court. “Rejection!” The commentator yells, “…and that’s the game!” You retreat to the locker room as the crowd erupts in excitement.

Have you ever been there?

Not everyone is an athlete, but we all have experienced some form of rejection and failure. Rejection and failure sting a little more when we feel we were fully prepared to succeed. I believe we usually do an excellent job preparing to succeed but very rarely do we adequately prepare for rejection or failure.

Those who know me know that I view rejection and failure as opportunities. Though we strive to avoid them, we should never fear rejection and failure. One of my favorite quotes from Michael Jordan is, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” This leads me to my first point:

Learning how to respond to rejection begins with properly preparing for both success and failure.

Michael Jordan 1997 “Failure” Nike commercial

With all that in mind, I am not suggesting we attempt to fail in our daily endeavors, because like Theodore Lindsey Templeton said on Boss Baby, “aim for failure, and you’ll always succeed.” Instead, I submit that we should aim for success but recognize that failure exists on each side of our target. So when we miss, we should identify where/how the shot impacts the proverbial basketball hoop (target), make the necessary adjustments, and shoot again!

How should we respond to rejection and failure?

Now that the preparation is done, how do we respond to rejection and failure?

Validate your own feelings.

Your feelings are natural, so it is ok to feel an array of emotions when you are rejected. Avoid downplaying your feelings; instead, embrace them, and indulge in some healthy coping activities like taking a walk, listening to music, writing, connecting with friends and/or loved ones, and talking to your counselor (just to name a few).

Identify what (not who) is causing those feelings.

I recognized that focusing on “who” causes animosity, distrust, and conflict with others. This does little to help you adequately respond to rejection and failure; thus, we will maintain an introspective viewpoint. When I feel rejected, I like to use the “5 Whys” business technique that I learned from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_5W.htm. Simply put, you ask “why” five times then develop a countermeasure. Use this tool to your advantage. Let’s use the above basketball scenario as an example:

  • I am sad.
    • Why? (One)
  • I am embarrassed that someone blocked my layup.
    • Why? (Two)
  • I was having such a great game.
    • Why? (Three)
  • I practiced extremely hard to prepare for this game.
    • Why? (Four)
  • This was a really big game.
    • Why? (Five)
  • This was my final opportunity to play in front of my family and friends before the season ended.
    • Countermeasure: I will connect with my family and friends, discuss my feelings when I feel comfortable, and celebrate a great game and fulfilling season.

Shift your PERSPECTIVE.

In a previous blog, I challenged you to maintain laser focus on shifting your perspective in eleven key areas. Learning to shift your perspective in these areas will help you develop the resilience you need to respond to any rejection or failure:

Pressures of life

Energy

Relationships

Seasons

Patience

Endurance

Chance

Time

Inspiration

Victories

Emotions

Learn from it and make the necessary adjustments.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Ask yourself, “what can I learn from this?” Then apply those lessons when you are ready to try again.

Take another shot!

This is one of the most important steps. You will recover from your rejection. Your failure is not final. Go out and win!

Olaolu Ogunyemi: U.S. Marine Officer| Mentor | Best-selling Author

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