217 – What Matters Is What Happens Every Day

215 - What Matters Is What Happens Every Day
Your daily habits have to exceed coffee drinking

Daily habits can seem ridiculously simple and insignificant. Like brushing your teeth. Stop doing it and you’ll soon realize it’s not so insignificant. There’s high value in daily brushing. The cost of a toothbrush and toothpaste is a fraction of what dental work might cost.

Back in the 80’s I developed an awful, but delightful daily habit. A Twix bar and a Dr. Pepper as an afternoon snack. Every day.

The 2 cookie Twix is 250 calories, 12 grams of fat and 24 grams of sugar. A can of Dr. Pepper is also about 250 calories. That’s 500 calories! Every single day. I wasn’t working out or doing any exercise. You do the math. It didn’t take long before my weight was getting out of control, along with my waistline. This one little daily habit was killing me!

So I had to stop it.

About a decade ago I committed to my health by enrolling at a gym. Okay, enrolling is easy. The real commitment was in going 5 or 6 days a week. I’ve remained true to that commitment. Now, instead of snacking on 500 calories within a few minutes I can invest an hour and burn 500 calories.

These aren’t remarkable daily habits. They don’t seem to be. But, if you examine a daily habit based on the results produced, they’re beyond remarkable.

We all want to do some BIG thing.

During my consulting and coaching I’ve often witnessed the spectacle of people who ignore small daily habits because they think they must do something bigger than life. As a quantum leap guy I’m fond of really big ideas and big execution, but I’m practical enough to know that big progress happens because of the little things we do.

Save 5% of your income with strong discipline (don’t miss a single month) and even if you’re earning $40,000 a year you’ll be saving $2000 every year. Flip it around and blow just 5% of your income with reckless abandon and you’ll lose $2000 every year. It’s a bit like my weight gain and my renewed zeal to get fit. I made a 1000 calorie swing by going from consuming 500 calories in a snack every day to burning 500 calories in the gym everyday. The person who saves 5% can make a $4000 annual swing by changing their habit from spending to saving. And it’s being done monthly at a rate of just $167. Small steps can result in making up big ground.

It’s a compounding effect of sorts. That’s what our daily habits do for us, or against us. Those are the habits that cause us to put on weight, or take it off. Let’s talk about a few areas where we can help ourselves improve our daily habits.

Electronic / Online Habits

Most of these habits aren’t daily. They’re hourly, or minute-by-minute. They can be destructive to our productivity, our relationships and our health (emotional, mental and physical).

Coca-cola-social-media-guard-3-640x340Coca-Cola launched a brilliant campaign with social media guards. It went viral and garnered Coke lots of attention.

The campaign also spoke a truth that we all realize. We’re all on our cell phones too much. Whether we’re texting, checking Facebook or email or playing games. Few things besides Starbucks’ coffee (for the coffee drinkers) are as addictive as the smallest screens in our lives.

I’m not a social scientist capable of discerning why people are addicted to their smart phones, but I am observant. The evidence is all around us. Our family members. Friends. Strangers. There’s a reason we’re seeing TV campaigns warning teens about texting and driving. Here in Dallas/Ft. Worth I regularly see people texting and driving.

I never see people eating a meal together, even in my own home, without having a smartphone in one hand at some point. Some keep their phone in hand, or within reach on top of the table.

Fitness Habits

Okay, maybe I should say LACK of fitness habits. These include our eating habits, too.

I’ve already admitted to my past Twix and Dr. Pepper habit. It’s been many years since I had that habit. Good thing or I’d be gargantuan.

After visiting a elderly gentlemen in the hospital some years ago I got in the car with my wife to leave and told her, “I don’t think I can do that to you.” Of course, it wasn’t entirely a fair comment because it supposed that the gentleman in question had “done that” to his wife. He hadn’t. He simply suffered ill health. But that wasn’t my point. My point was that I knew I needed to take my health more seriously, if not for my sake, then for her sake. So I joined a gym and began going faithfully. That was over a decade ago. I still go 6 days a week!

I’m still a carboholic hooked on crackers and bread. I need to curb it. Old habits are hard to break, but I really should try harder.

Reading Habits

I’ve always read a lot, but am the only person who finds myself reading fewer books because of the ebook revolution? I’ve got hoards of Kindle books that I haven’t read. Yes, you can carry along tons of books. Yes, it’s easy. Yes, the format is very readable. No, I don’t enjoy it as much as I enjoy holding a physical book. No, I no longer order physical books. A mistake? Maybe.

Everything in me knows the electronic publishing revolution is here to stay…and it’s a high efficiency delivery system, too. But, it has had a negative impact on my daily reading habits. How? Time spent reading. I could grab a physical book and read as long as my interest held, or until I ran out of time and had to close the book to do something else. Now, I find myself unable to read more than a handful of pages at a time. And these are short pages, Kindle versions on my iPad.

I’m not sure if it’s negatively affected my attention span, or if I just haven’t devoted myself enough to develop the habit of reading from my iPad. Maybe I’m more tactile than I imagined.

Home Habits

There are tons of these and I won’t attempt to catalog them, but I’m thinking of some that are important, especially if home involves a husband, wife and children. Consider your own list.

  • Communicate – share, interact, be real, be honest, don’t hold back, say “I love you” (and mean it)
  • Affection – kiss, hold hands, hug, be intimate
  • Serve – help out, contribute, be considerate, be surprising (sometimes)
  • Resolve – conflicts, to love each other through thick and thin, to hold each other accountable, to help each other, to exhibit kindness, to be financially responsible, to build a secure home
  • Train (your children) – to respect authority, to be responsible, to give good effort, to be tenacious, to read, to write, to play outside, to think for themselves, to speak clearly, to be persuasive, to be sober-minded

The list could be so much longer, but you get the idea. Our daily habits in our home make our home what it is. If you’re unhappy with your home, then get busy making it what it should be. Stop looking for monumental leaps. That’s not what makes a home successful. It’s the daily habits of kissing your wife in the morning, saying “I love you” and helping her clean the kitchen. It’s reading to the kids. It’s hanging up your own clothes. All those million things we do without thinking every single day. Those are the things that create our home. For good, or bad.

Work Habits

No matter what industry you occupy there are some universally poor habits recognized in every workplace.

  • Showing up late, or just in the nick of time
  • Taking 30 minutes to drink coffee, visit with co-workers and other time wasters before starting the day
  • Failing to get back to people promptly
  • Working too slow
  • Calling in sick too often
  • Bringing family drama to work
  • Always bumming money for lunch (snacks, etc.)
  • And many, many more!

Rarely do you see people change their daily work habits. The people who suffer the things on that list never disappoint you by doing something different. They’re as predictable in their poor habits as those high achievers are in their good habits. You know who the “go-to” people are at work. And you know why they’re the “go-to” people.

Somewhere in their life the slugs developed their bad habits. Without some dramatic catalyst to influence change, slugs remain slugs.

Conversely, high achievers developed their habits for success. Over time they can lean toward complacency if they’re not watchful, but high achievers do things every day that set them apart from the slugs.


It’s not the BIG things that make us who we are. Big things don’t build our personal habits, our home habits or our work habits.

Yes, big things happen to us. We fall in love. We marry. We have children. We get a job. We get a better job. We buy a house. We get a new car. All big events, but our lives are mostly defined by the many little things we do every single day.

We’re who we are because of the things we consistently do. So instead of concentrating on big things we’d likely be much better served by more closely examining all our little daily habits. Not an easy task since many of these things happen on auto-pilot. It’s hard to notice things that are mostly unnoticeable. Well, others might notice them, but it’s much tougher for us to see them in ourselves.

So let me close by giving you a few tips that may help:

1. Start with the things you already know you’d like to change.

Most people will readily admit that they’d like to stop something, or start something. Make a list. What are those things?

Maybe it’s something as simple (but important) as kissing your wife good-bye when you leave for work each morning. Or it could be something more difficult like walking 10,000 steps every day.

These are things already top-of-mind. Write them all down until you can’t think of anything else. These should be things that leap to your mind without much mental gymnastics.

2. Next, move to the things that others will value most.

I’m not suggesting you surrender your entire life to do what everybody else wants you to do. Focus on the people who matter. For starters, the people you love. Then, the people vital to your career. Maybe there are others, too. These are people who really matter to you. Important people.

What can you do to increase your value to them? How can you better serve them?

For instance, a wife may suggest to her husband that she could use some help with house-keeping. If he’d vacuum and pick up after himself, it’d really help her. Is that YOU? Then, will you do it? You should.

Commit yourself to the people. Don’t fret about the daily habits. Think of the people you’ll be serving and how your actions will positively impact their lives.

3. Now, dig deep and think about the things you need to change and the things you want to change.

This is where the heavy lifting happens. Up to this point, you’ve been using relatively light weights. You’re now ready to add more plates to the bar. It’s going to tax your muscles, but I promise it’ll be worth it.

If you aren’t who you most want to be…now it’s time to get busy becoming that person. Aim for your ideal. Why not?

Daily habits are the process to get you where you want to go. Sometimes the tough part is to not get wrapped up in the outcome, or the final result because it’s going to take time. Your patience is going to wear thin if you obsess too much about the destination. For instance, if you want to reduce your waist size from 40 to 36, it’s not going to happen quickly. It’ll be the result of daily habits repeated over time. A quarter of an inch at a time.

You’ll be tempted to defeat yourself before you ever start. Resist. “I’ll never be able to do this,” is the self-talk of defeatists. You’re not going to join their ranks. Instead, I want you to say, “It won’t be easy, but I know I can do it.”

Make your list. Spend time with it. Put it in order of importance. Work it, then re-work it. Do your best to go from most important to least important.

You’re now armed with your list, which is actually 3 lists that you’ve compiled into a single master list. It’s in order of what matters to you most.

a) You’ve taken into account the things you want to change that are top-of-mind.

b) You then migrated to the things you know will help you serve those you love and those who are important to you.

c) Lastly, you dug deep to incorporate the things you realize you need to change and the things you want to change.

Then, go through the list and make only 2 distinctions between all the items. Use any designation you want. I prefer terms that depict the item. Like “sprint” and “marathon.” Sprints are fast. Quick. Marathons take time. My “sprint” items are ones that I know I can implement and execute right now. I don’t need any training or real preparation. I just have to get busy on them. “Marathon” items are ones I can begin, but I’ve got to plan, prepare and train. A marathon is 26 miles and 385 yards long, run in a single event. I’ve never run one, but I know you can’t just enter one and run it without working toward it. That’s how those “marathon” items are. You can start on them today, but you realize it’s a process that’s going to take some time. However, if you stay with it and keep working on it…before long you’ll be ready to run the marathon. 

Use whatever terms work for you.

4. Okay, it’s GO TIME! It’s time to create your strategies.

I’ll warn you what will go wrong in this step. You’ll think you have to do every single item on your list. The result? You won’t get off of the starting blocks. Like a rocket trying to escape the gravitational pull of the earth, you’re going to feel the urge to return to your old norm. Give in to the urge and you’ll crash. Resist it with determination and you’ll soar to new heights. Crash or soar. Those are your two choices.

Your “sprint” items shouldn’t demand sophisticated strategies. You can dive right in and take off running at full speed to incorporate them into your life. Your two biggest challenges to “sprint” items is getting started and sticking with them. Commit to both of those and you’ll have conquered those items.

The “marathon” items will require some planning and strategy. Some more than others. Be careful with very heavy items. For instance, I’ve known people who had a marathon goal of losing 100 pounds who tried to go it alone without any doctor supervision. Big mistake. Don’t tackle something that significant without proper guidance!

A key to marathon items is to not get ahead of yourself. It’s not important that you map out every single step. Get started by devising your first few steps. Just a couple. You’ll add steps as you go, in advance of getting to them. A beginner who want to run a marathon likely runs 1 mile before they run 5. They run 5 miles in a stretch before they run 10. By consistently adding miles they build up their endurance. Eventually, they’re running over 26 miles. They know they can run a marathon because they’ve done it in training. Your marathon items will work the same way. Just run your first mile sooner than later so you can get going.

Wait a minute…this sure sounds like a lot of hard work.

It is. That’s why only extraordinary people do this kind of work. Only the high-achievers are willing to invest this kind of effort into their own lives.

If it were easy, everybody would do it. YOU are not everybody.

And I’m sure not!!


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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

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