If you’ve ever tried to start a new habit, such as exercising or eating better, you have firsthand experience with habits. You also know how difficult it can be—in fact, it can seem downright impossible at times.
Yet forming new habits is critical to pivoting. In fact, you must change your habits in order to pivot. You can’t start a business, for example, with your old habits. After all:
- Your habit of sleeping in and getting to work just in time won’t leave you any extra time to start a business.
- Your habit of thinking I’m not a businessperson won’t allow you to learn what you need to know to become an entrepreneur.
- Your habit of eating poorly or screen gazing until late at night won’t give you the energy you need to invest in your business.
All those things are habits. And for you to pivot, some of them are going to have to change. But how?
The Two Requirements of Habits
At a neurological level, habits are wired connections in the brain that are strengthened over time and with repetition. When you learned to brush your teeth as a child, you did it awkwardly at first, gradually improving until it was effortless and unconscious. During that period, your neural wiring for that activity was being strengthened by repetition. Now your toothbrush habit is so ingrained that when it’s triggered—say, by getting ready to leave the house in the morning or getting ready to climb into bed—it happens effortlessly and almost without thinking.
Next time you brush your teeth, try doing it with your other hand. What is normally a mindless task suddenly becomes challenging. Not only will you find it awkward, but you’ll discover that your focus narrows to that task alone as your brain tries to process it differently. Whereas you might usually mentally review your to-do list or dream about your upcoming vacation while brushing your teeth, you’ll now find you’re focused solely on trying to get your hand to move in the direction you want it to. It’s a humbling experience.
How can we create new habits? Creating a habit takes two fundamental things: the repetition of the action—thinking or physical— and the actual time to make that happen. You can’t, for example, learn to drive well and automatically without actually driving a lot. And you can’t drive a lot without putting in time behind the wheel. Spend enough time brushing your teeth with your “wrong” hand, and it will eventually be as easy as with the original hand—but you have to put in the time doing the action.
The same applies to your new pivot habits. You’ll need to make time to create them.
But what new habits? Every pivot is different; whether you want to become a landscape painter, a computer programmer, a business owner, or a writer, the job requirements are different. But there are four clusters of habits that are common to almost every pivot.
Education. Personal development is common to every pivot. It’s a part of the journey of every pivoter in this book, and it will be part of yours, too. This book is an example. Taking a course to learn how to teach English as a second language is an example.
Good health. You need energy to pivot. Positive energy, and lots of it. Some of that is going to arise out of your ability to develop healthy lifestyle habits. Exercising daily and preparing your own healthful lunch are examples of health habits that can energize your self-reinvention.
Productivity. Pivoting often requires taking on more work. Starting a small business while you continue to work requires you to be more effective. Writing a screenplay while you keep your day job means you’ll need to develop a habit of daily writing. The good thing is that you don’t necessarily have to do more, you just have to do better. Swapping a bad habit (excessive television screen time) for a good one (daily writing) can deliver remarkable results with no extra time.
Mind-set. Your attitude and how you respond to both opportunity and setbacks are critical to pivoting. You need to develop habits that help you foster a positive mindset, help you understand yourself, and increase your sense of control over your life.
And now the big question: How do you do it? Developing habits requires deliberate practice, and that can happen only if you make space for that practice in your life. But if you’re like most people, space is one thing you feel you don’t have enough of. How can you create the time needed to build the new habits that are desperately important to reinventing yourself? How can you make the time to change your lifestyle and your thinking? To learn new skills? To master a new mind-set around change?
The secret in creating space lies in creating a ritual—a master habit for driving momentum in your pivot.
PIVOT POINT: A ritual is the “master habit” for your pivot that allows you to create other habits.