”We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle.
What if I told you that, to achieve excellence in any desired field, you just need to maintain a few pillar habits. Your pillar habits are the 3 or 4 habits that then give rise to other micro habits along the way.
Let’s say you want to lose weight by starting to work out. Chances are, you’ll pick up healthier eating habits at the same time, as well as walk more and be more accountable to yourself. Even on things outside of fitness. Lastly, you’ll practice your planning skills to achieving goals. In this case, working out is an example of a pillar habit; a habit so strong that it sends ripples throughout many areas of your life, changing them for better or worse.
In this article I’ll outline the pillar habits that changed my life for the better. Even years down the line, I’m still experiencing the ripple effect and growing every day.
My 4 mighty pillar habits are:
1. Stay active by doing something every single day that contributes to my physical well being, no excuses.
This sole habit allows me to stay fit and healthy, attractive, determined, strong and consistent in everything I do. You don’t even have to invest a full hour into exercise; just 4 minutes of exercise a day can contribute to your wellbeing so you can:
- Live longer and healthier. To those who’d say “Ohhh, I don’t want to die healthy of old age” – Good luck.
- Respond to challenges better. Persevering through mental and physical obstacles in training will carry over into other areas of your life.
- Be flexible mentally, able to adapt to any shortcomings – because they will happen.
- Inspire and motivate others without trying. Be a leader by example. This is one of the strongest micro habits. You might get hate and jealousy from others, but see it as an opportunity to filter out of your circle those who won’t contribute to your growth.
- Ensure that future generations will have strong, survivalist genes at their disposal. In fact, everything you do will affect not just your DNA but that of your offspring too. Act with caution (this is my 3rd pillar habit).
- Feel your best and give your best, your 100%, every single day. You can achieve this easily with a combination or exercise and smart tweaks to your nutrition. So long ‘monday blues’… I show up fully every day and make the most of my time.
2. Learn always Seek out knowledge; read, listen to audiobooks, podcasts, expose yourself to quality sources.
I no longer listen to music while commuting or walking solo. Instead I choose to spend that static time on active learning. At least two hours of my every day are spent on learning, and they pay off in many ways:
- Being a renaissance man, or an idea machine. Ideas are the currency of the future, says entrepreneur James Altucher. I agree. By reading and staying curious you accumulate knowledge that, down the line, you can form into ideas or use to solve problems. In his book ‘Linchpin’, Seth Godin argues that the easiest way to get ahead and stay at the top of the curve is by learning continuously.
- Listen, note and use cutting-edge information from thought leaders. Don’t look down on it… Someone out there has spent a lot of time mastering a skill. Today you can learn from their mistakes in a 4-minute blog post or a book; both small investments of time for a big payoff.
- Staying humble. Humility is a crucial habit and skill, that everyone should cultivate relentlessly. By accepting that you can always learn more and expand your knowledge further, you ensure that you’re always growing. The genius and incredible humility of Albert Einstein is captured in his famous quote: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know”.
- Allowing people to mentor you. You read that right, it’s all on you. You have to allow mentoring to happen. You are undoubtedly surrounded by people with more experience and more knowledge in their fields and in life.
A buddhist adage says: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. Simply put when you are humble, you are receptive to learning. It’s only when your ego is silenced, that you’re truly able to take in new information.
To finish off, I am inspired by this quote from MMA pioneer and multi-title champion Frank Shamrock who said: “False ideas about yourself destroy you. For me I always stay a student. That’s what martial arts are about, and you have to use humility as a tool. You put yourself beneath someone you trust.”
3. Always decide with intent to contribute to my own goals or those of the business I serve.
Before deciding my direction, I always ask myself:
“Is this going to bring me closer towards my goal of X?”
Let’s say my goal in 10 years is to be the CEO of a company (corporation per se). To make that happen, I have to work backwards, figuring out what I need to achieve in 5, 3, 1 years. If I know my goal for that first year is to be promoted into a team leader, then I’ll be smarter about the decisions I make. For example, will going out for drinks with my coworkers bring me closer to my goal? It will definitely increase my social bonds and improve social dynamics…
By assessing your decisions according to your goals, you also cultivate the following:
- Ability to set your life’s priorities easily. This is one of my favourite micro habits, which is a byproduct of questioning every choice to know if it aligns with my goals. Entrepreneur and author Derek Sivers has a unique strategy to set priorities and make decisions, that you can adopt right away. Here it goes:
If it’s not a Fuck Yeah! Then the answer is No!
Simple as that. Just think of it, how many times have you said ‘maybe’ when you knew your heart wasn’t in it… Use this to evaluate your every commitment.
- Immense curiosity. By immense I mean unstoppable. Just imagine how powerful the drive to persevere, learn, achieve will be if you are only going to do things that make you go FUCK YEAH!
- Natural problem-solving ability. The more you live by playing along with your goals, the more solution-focused your actions will become. In fact, every decision will come automatically with minimal effort.
4. Treat food as fuel not a reward.
This habit makes me think twice before I purchase, accept or consume anything that would make me feel like crap later. We’ve all been there…
You know that dilemma when you’re offered a sugar-glazed donut. So tempting you accept it even though it doesn’t align with your goal to trim down. The regret that follows that last bite sucks. I know how it feels, and I know where it comes from too because often we don’t know why we choose to eat one thing over another. Or what either of those things do to our bodies. Once I found out why we get fat, it transformed how I see food.
As a sidenote – if you struggle with sugar addiction, I created a free course to help overcome cravings.
By treating food as fuel, rather than as reward, you’ll transform more than just your plate:
- Never struggling with weight again. Imagine not having to deal with gaining and losing weight again and again. Sounds awesome, right? That’s exactly the micro habit that will be a result of learning to treat food as fuel. I used to be overweight and unhappy, always planning to go on a diet when the time would be right.
- Quickly, I’d become disappointed with a lack of results, so I’d restart the cycle, living in a constant struggle. In contrast, I now have the body I used to dream of, I perform my best in endurance events, I inspire and coach others and feel great every day. I don’t even have to think about trimming down or bulking up the weight – I live it.
- Eating just right. This means choosing earth-grown nutrients and food that aligns with your ancestral makeup, genetical profile, finally the building blocks that enable you to perform to your best ability without hiccups.
- Avoiding chronic diseases as best as you can. There are of course countless other environmental triggers that can cause these diseases, but eating right is one of the most important ways to prevent them. This especially applies to people who have certain traits running in their family lineage. In mine, it’s diabetes and cancer risk. So it would be nonsensical for me to indulge in sugar or eat a high-carbohydrate diet. I choose to take the power to design my fate in the kitchen.
- Never craving foods, never feeling hangry again. If you develop a habit to fuel up on nutritious and truly rich food, you will by default ignore the crap that gets you addicted to more crap. Studies show that what you eat is literally what you are. The food you eat shapes your gut microbiome, and that gut-to-brain axis can affect your mental performance. Ever felt like you couldn’t focus or perform? Almost like you had a foggy brain…. That is a simple example of you eating something rich in anti-nutrients (e.g. wheat products), which then hurts your gut microflora.
So these are the 4 pillar habits, to which I attribute my achievements to date. As you can see, just these 4 habits create a whole web of microhabits that enrich the life to what I’d consider optimal level.
Depending on what’s important to you in your life, you may choose a different set of pillar habits. Here’s some more examples:
- Putting family first
- Scheduling and blocking time out to do specific things in your life
- Automating tedious tasks
- Delegating things you are not good at and focusing on the ones you are superb at or can grow into
- Automating finances and savings
- Being a connector and introducing people
- Delivering value without any motives (focus on helping others)
- Listening without any intent of contributing to a conversation
- Meditating and being mindful
- Staying present and calm no matter what happens
- Reaching out and following up consistently
- Showing appreciation and giving feedback
- Sharing and giving back to other people in need
- Acting with integrity
- Focusing on long term desires, instead of seeking instant gratification
- Helping others without ego, not seeking credit
And many more.