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Why successful people are obsessed with the power of habit

Tropical islands, drinking, smoking, hustle mode and momentum - Dr Meyers on the power of habit

I just got back from a beautiful trip through the southern islands of Cambodia. If you’ve never been there before, it’s definitely a place to put on your list. Check out this view!

Although the trip was fantastic and I got to spend some precious time with a special person, there were moments when I had to question the ‘holiday’ lifestyle. The island we stayed on felt like it was clouded by a sense of lethargy and sleepiness. People lay on the beach, drinking, smoking and turning themselves into sundried tomatoes! This seemed to be the dream for some, a part of their meaning of life, to work hard to be able to do… nothing.

In this article, I want to talk about the concept of momentum and what happens when you stop working at something. I am relating this to my holiday in Cambodia because of the barriers I faced when I tried to get back into hustle mode upon my return. The most pronounced effect was in the area of health and fitness. But it was also true for business.

Momentum occurs when you work on something consistently, begin to get more and more results, and experience a gradually diminishing requirement of energy the longer you continue the same activity. I like to use the analogy of pushing a big iron ball. You can apply this analogy to any aspect of your life. When you first begin to implement a change in your life, it takes a lot of dedication and energy. You need to push pretty hard to get the ball of momentum rolling. It hurts, it’s a struggle and most people give up because it seems impossible to commit that kind of energy in the long run. But what actually happens, is that after some time, the ball starts to roll and build up some speed. Take exercise as an example. You might start by exercising once a week. That becomes easy so you move to twice, then three times and keep exercising more and more frequently. The ball is now rolling, so taking it to the next level requires just a small push. Every time you push, the ball rolls a bit faster. The key here is that once the ball is rolling at a rate you’re happy with, it’s easy to maintain. You don’t need to commit the crazy amounts of energy you had to invest at the beginning. This is the power of habit. There are huge benefits to this, including making it much easier to get in to the almost magical state of flow.

The rolling ball is never static. Our achievements in different areas of life are constantly in a state of change. We might be on the up and up in one area and if we neglect the rest, they suffer and start to diminish. This is often seen in people who get so career focused that their personal relationships and health suffer. Since they devote a lot of energy into the career, it builds momentum and they gain more and more success. But the neglected areas begin downward momentum. Understanding that everything is always in a state of change is very important, especially in todays world. Goals are important as milestones but the reality is that despite achieving a goal, you never stay there unless you keep working at it. For example, you may have a fitness goal. One day you will achieve it, if you work consistently and build up momentum. But once you do, is that the end? Definitely not. It’s just a milestone. For that very instant in your life you might consider that you are at a certain fitness level but the very next instant it will change, depending on your next actions. If you stop working out, your body will change and you will lose the fitness. If you keep working out, you may improve it further. Anyways, what I am trying to say is that wherever we are in different areas of our life, that point is never static. It’s always changing, and always gaining momentum in different directions.

If you stop working on an area of your life, the ball will gradually slow down. It will get harder and harder to get the ball rolling again, for every day, week and month that you neglect it. Once you get a ball rolling at the speed you want, it’s important to keep it in maintenance mode. Just keep tapping the ball every now and then to keep it rolling continuously. This is the reason successful people are so rigid and uncompromising with certain aspects of their lives. They understand that if they compromise today, it will initiate momentum in an undesirable direction and it will be easier to make the same compromise the next day, and the next, and the next. For example, some writers put something on paper every single day. The quality or quantity of it does not matter as long as something is written down. If they stop writing, the momentum builds up and it gets harder and harder to start again. A book doesn’t happen with one massive all in one effort, it is small subtle contributions to the bigger picture over time. Momentum builds up and the habit of making this daily contribution evolves slowly into a draft or manuscript.

Things naturally keep moving in the direction that they already exist. So if you sit around and do nothing for a week, the natural tendency is to do the same the following week. That’s the easy thing to do because it’s the same direction. Changing direction takes energy. To make a decision, get up and move your body will take a certain commitment in energy and time until momentum is achieved in the opposite direction. Now the natural thing to do each week will be to keep doing the same thing.

So what can you do to build momentum in your life? Choose an area you want to work on. Maybe it’s your career, education, relationships, fitness or general health. Focus your energy on creating a change in that part of your life. Give it everything you’ve got with the knowledge that the beginning is the hardest part. After a month of working on it, the task will get easier and easier. Habits build up and momentum grows. Results give you positive feedback and tell you to keep on doing what you are doing. Finally, after 6 months or so, the ball might start rolling at a rate you’re happy with and you can put it into maintenance mode. Attend to it regularly to keep it moving but with less energy. Now, you can focus on another aspect of your life.

The beauty of momentum is that it resonates across all areas of your life. If you’ve got some upward traction in your fitness, chances are you’ll be feeling better about your career too and will be able to give it more energy. It’s good to split up the different parts of our lives for conceptualisation but the reality is that they are all connected.

So back to Cambodia

Getting into the swing of things after the holiday. The first time I went back to the gym, it took a profound amount of energy. It completely exhausted me, mentally and physically. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to get started again. Everything in my body was telling me to continue how I had been for the past few weeks. Just keep sitting around doing nothing. The state of lethargy was gaining momentum and wanted to keep going. Changing that direction took a lot of energy as momentum builds in both directions.

So what’s my lesson here? Never to relax and to keep on hustling forever? No, of course not, we do need to relax. We need to have moments of expansion and contraction. I think, the main thing I learned was to understand the concept of momentum and the energy commitment required to regain it after periods of neglect. By understanding this, I know that only a small amount of additional energy needs to be dedicated until some momentum builds up and things get easier again.

Remember that the ball is never static and change is a normal and positive part of life which helps us to be objective about our goals, and is reflective of our values. Good luck in building momentum in your life. Just remember, the hardest part is the beginning. It’s also a never ending game, so prepare to be in it for the long term.

Written by Dr Joos Meyer

Dr Joos Meyer

Dr Joos Meyer is a medical doctor and CEO of PRYMD Labs LLC. He has spent the last 10 years in medical training, academic research, and travelling the world seeking insight and adventure.

His main interest is in the application of science and technology to the improvement of human functioning on a biological and psychological level.

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  1. Definitely Alex – We’ve got to learn to balance exertion with rest and recovery though. It can’t be a constant push in my opinion. This applies to the day by day level with moments of focus and flow in your work followed by time spent perhaps reading or relaxing with loved ones. On the weekly level with “work days” and “rest days”. On the annual level hardcore project deadline hustle followed by “holiday”. I put these in parentheses because these concepts of work and holiday are part of the western social narrative and more and more people are breaking this mould resulting in a huge shift of how we structure our days/weeks/years. But in essence I feel the concept is still applicable. There are times when you are ON, and times when you are OFF, times when you are expanding, times when you are contracting. Ebs and flows, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. The point is not to confuse these rest and relax times with lethargy. And not to let lethargy make you loose momentum. Hope you’ve had a great week! Enjoy the weekend 😉

  2. I just left a job a few weeks back and I’ve been lazing at home since then. I know I can do a few things to get back into action but my mind seemed really set on “Taking more time for yourself” stuff. Now that I know what I’ve been missing, and what I should be doing from here, I just wanna thank you for igniting the fire again. The beginning will always be the hardest, that’s why we must work our hardest to overcome that!

    • Hi Hellebore,

      I hope you’re ok after leaving your job. That must have been a big change in your life! It sounds like you’ve found some direction however which is great to hear 🙂 Indeed getting the ball rolling is the hardest part. All the best!

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