“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters,” said former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
There is so much truth to the power of small habits. Our routine behaviors can either foster success – or hold us back.
Consider the experience of three highly successful individuals: Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Mark Cuban. Each had a bad habit he had to break on his way to success.
Microsoft co-founder Gates admits that he was a chronic procrastinator in college. In fact, he had a reputation for putting things off until the last minute during his undergraduate studies at Harvard University. (The now-billionaire dropped out after two years, but that’s another story.)
“People thought that was funny,” he told students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Business Administration. “That was my positioning: the guy who did nothing until the last minute.”
Gates got a reality check when he entered the business world; no one valued or found procrastination funny in the workplace. Gates realized that deadlines had to be met and timeliness was the goal.
“Nobody praised me because I would do things at the last minute,” Gates said. So, he worked to reverse this habit and become more like the students he knew in college “who were always organized and had things done on time.”
Recently, the Tesla founder admitted to putting in 120-hour weeks at work, which left little time for sleep. To compensate for his lack of shut-eye, Musk would drink copious amounts of caffeinated beverages.
He loved his coffee and sodas – to excess. “I used to have so much coffee… I’d get really wired,” said Musk. “I’d get over-caffeinated and it wouldn’t be good.”
“There were probably times when I had like eight [diet cokes] a day or something ridiculous,” Musk told the German automobile magazine Auto Bild in 2014. “I think these days it’s probably one or two, so it’s not too crazy.”
According to health experts, too much caffeine can spike anxiety and stress levels and lead to a toxic cycle of fatigue, which leads to more coffee, which impairs your sleep, which leads to more fatigue the next day, and so on. These days, Musk has cut his caffeine consumption and reaches for water over the strong stuff.
As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. In the business world, one iteration of this truism is that yelling is not an effective way to get your point across.
Tech entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban learned this the hard way during his 20s. “I would yell at my partner [Martin Woodall],” Cuban admitted on “The Jamie Weinstein Show” podcast.
The two co-founded the early computer systems venture MicroSolutions and would butt heads over how best to run the company. Over time, Cuban realized that yelling did more harm than good.
“That just increases stress,” he said on the podcast. “When you increase stress — the people around you, productivity, profitability [and] competitiveness decline.”
Luckily, communication is a skill you can learn. Cuban has lowered his voice as a result of what he knows now.
So, what about you? Are there any habits that you have that may be holding you back professionally? Personally?
As for me, I had to become a more serious list-maker as my career evolved – I write out my to-dos to keep me on track with clients, running a business, and doing my radio show. By becoming more committed to making detailed lists daily, my priorities and responsibilities are clearly outlined.
If you know have a bad habit, consider rewiring yourself out of the behavioral routine that isn’t good for you. And then, replace it with a good habit. It may be difficult at first, but you’ll benefit in the long run.