6 Insightful Quotes About Habits Which Contain Clues to Success
If I have learned anything in my 10+ years of focused interest in self-improvement and fascination with understanding human behavior, it is this: Habits are everything—they run our lives.
Habits are simply a sequence of actions that our brain has learned to put on “auto-pilot” so that we conserve the energy we need to be able to focus on the new tasks and experiences we encounter every day. The scientific term for this process is called “chunking,” and we “run” (like software programs) hundreds of “behavioral chunks” every day.
Some of these behavioral chunks are beneficial or positive: brushing your teeth, meditating, exercising; and some are likely not beneficial and things we’d rather not do: hitting the snooze button, procrastination, donuts for breakfast (no one is perfect!)
Obviously, we would all like to rewrite our habit “software programs” to have more positive ones than negative, and so that we can accomplish the things we want—yet many people struggle with building and changing habits.
In this article, I dive into and dissect 6 wise and powerful quotes about habits from high achievers/successful people. Not only are these quotes inspiring, but they also provide useful insights on how habits work, how you can build and “break” them, and how they are ultimately linked to “success.”
Quotes can be powerful and serve as useful visual metaphors, which you can hold in your mind’s eye to motivate you and even help you get through the tough times, when trying to build new habits into your life, or break old ones!
Let’s dive in these powerful quotes.
1) ”There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.” – B.J. Fogg
This quote from BJ Fogg, a researcher, author, and director of the Stanford Behavior design lab, highlights the degree to which our environment influences our behavior.
In order to understand the role of our environment fully, we need to look briefly at how habits are formed and maintained.
Behavioral Science research has identified a 3-step sequence that each habit follows. In his book, The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg calls this 3-step sequence The Habit Loop. The 3 parts of The Habit Loop are the Cue, the Routine, and the Reward and they illustrate how a habit functions as a self-reinforcing behavior pattern.
3 Steps of The Habit Loop:
1. The Cue: A Cue or trigger can be anything that signals you to enact a habitual behavior. It can be something perceived by the 5 senses, a feeling or emotion, or even a particular person.
2. The Routine: This is the actual sequence of actions or behavior that is enacted once triggered by a Cue.
3. The Reward: This is the desired result of the habit. The Reward of a habit can be anything from the endorphins released from exercising to the sense of stress release from smoking a cigarette.
Understanding the role of Cues in how Habit Loops work, it then becomes self-evident that: if we can change our environment, we can have some control over the Cues we are exposed to, and so can more easily change our behaviors.
Seek to Eliminate Cues
Let’s say that you want to give up smoking. You are doing well, but every time you see someone smoking it triggers the craving for a cigarette. When you understand that “seeing” someone with a cigarette is triggering the desire to engage in this negative habit, you can make an intelligent decision to try to avoid or reduce your instances of seeing people with cigarettes. This might be a decision to avoid an area of your work campus where people gather to smoke, or to stop watching a TV show like Mad Men where the characters are always smoking.
With knowledge comes power. Changing your “environment” can reduce your instances of getting triggered to enact a negative habit and having to fight and resist temptations.
Although the above example focused on changing a negative habit, the same strategy can be used when trying to cultivate positive habits by increasing the Cues for these behaviors in your environment.
2) “People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” — F. M. Alexander”
Eat fast food now and again and it’s unlikely that you’ll notice any negative effects on your health. Make a daily habit of eating fast food, and the outcomes will be very different—check out the Morgan Spurlock documentary Supersize Me for a good example of this.
Similarly, going to the gym once will not produce any noticeable positive results, but build the habit of working out a few times a week and you are certain to start seeing changes.
Habits compound: Once you extend the time frame of any consistent daily action or behavior—realising that momentum builds and results compound—you can clearly see how the actions you consistently do determine your future results.This is why when you are looking to achieve specific outcomes, results, or goals at some point in the future, you need to be realistic about what the consistent actions you need to be taking are, and focus on making these actions into habits you can “set” into your daily life. This is why in the Reboot Journal we have prioritized Habit-setting over traditional goal-setting.
3) “Success is actually a short race—a sprint fueled by discipline just long enough for habit to kick in and take over.” – Gary Keller
This Habit quote from Gary Keller, famous real-estate entrepreneur and author of The One Thing, also tells us that what we should be aiming for and focusing our energy on is building good habits. From his words, it is clear that he views habits as the prerequisites to “success”.
Effort is Front-loaded with Habits:
This quote also sheds more light on the process by which habits form. For example, when trying to build positive habits, the first few weeks are the hardest because we are in the process of “wiring” the habits into our brains. The behaviors are new, unfamiliar and there is likely going to be some “Resistance.” This stage requires motivation, willpower, and discipline, but the more you do a habit, the more it becomes a hardwired behavior and the easier it is to do.
Do a habit long enough and it becomes part of you and your identity — ie. it becomes something you must do in order to feel good about yourself. At this stage the habit has really “kicked in” and “taken over” and you are on the road to success. As long as we continue doing it, the desired results or success will come as a byproduct.
4) “Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” - Warren Buffet/Samuel Johnson
This quote, whether by Samual Johnson or Warren Buffet, uses the metaphor of chains to paint the picture of how habits form—their power unnoticeable at first until we are “bound” by them.
Of course, the fact that habits become stronger over time and easier to enact is good news for behaviors we want to keep, but bad news when we realize it works just as well for bad and destructive habits we don't want to have.
Using this visual image of chains becoming stronger can help us push through difficult times when we are starting to build a positive habit—the hardest phase, and understandably the phase when most people give up. Understanding that doing the habit will become easier and that we are in the process of “laying down the chains” and reinforcing the habit pathway in our brains can be the much-needed light at the end of the tunnel to keep us on track.
Using this visual image of chains becoming stronger can also make us more cautious when we engage in behaviors that we know will not produce good results, if done consistently over time.
5) “Good habits are hard to form but easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to form but hard to live with.” - Brian Tracy
Brian Tracy is one of the top self-improvement teachers and sales trainers in the world. He has been studying and teaching about the psychology of success, habits, and productivity for decades and has written extensively on these topics.
His quote is one of my favorites, as it highlights a frustrating reality: good habits are harder to form than bad habits. We would all love for it to be the other way around—but then again, wouldn’t that make life boring?
Why is this the case?
Bad habits are usually easier to form because the Reward (part 3 of the Habit Loop) is delivered quicker and is often disproportionate to the effort put in.
For example, it’s much easier to form the habit of eating sugary junk food when you're feeling down than it is to get down and do 10 push-ups because the Reward (the pleasurable sugar hit) is delivered almost instantaneously to the pleasure centres of your brain. But—and it’s a big “but”—extend these two behaviors out into the future and it is quite clear how one becomes a positive force in your life and the other a negative force.
The beauty of this quote is that in it lies a powerful lesson: although positive habits may be harder to form, over time they will add more to your life, serving you day to day and increasing the quality of your life, whereas bad habits, pleasurable in the moment and easier to form, subtract from the long term quality of your life and will likely compound to create problems well into your future.
Viewing our habits and behaviors through this long-term perspective (delayed gratification) can help us to build the right habits and stay on track.
6) “The truth is you don't break a bad habit, you replace it with a good one.” - Denis Waitley
This final habit quote, from motivational speaker Denis Waitley, highlights an important proven strategy for behavior change, which is: instead of focusing on stopping or “breaking” bad habits, you should instead focus on replacing them with a positive alternative.
We all know it can be hard to stop bad habits, this is often because these bad habits have a strong craving associated with them, and so it can be a real challenge to try and resist these cravings. These cravings are really the anticipation for the “Reward” part of the habit loop.
So when we experience these cravings, research has shown you should try to change how we act instead of trying to completely eliminate the habit. In other words, we should focus on replacing the Routine (part 2 of the Habit Loop)—the negative behavior—with something more positive, which still produces a similar Reward.
For example, instead of trying to satisfy a craving for social connection with mindless social media browsing, learn to replace the behavior with a quick call to a friend or family to ask about their day. Or, instead of trying to stop the act of having something sweet in the afternoon after lunch to give you a boost, try swapping your chocolate cookie with a piece of sweet fruit!
Conclusion & Key Takeaways:
So much of the outcomes in our lives are determined by the habits we have, so we might as well put in the work to create positive habits that serve us.
It can be difficult at times—but learning the science of how habits form and remembering the insights about behavior change that we explored in this article can help make the journey a lot easier.
And if you find you are struggling, reading the above quotes about habits from successful people who have walked this road can provide inspiration to keep going. Often, all we need is a little inspiration to help us get over the hump(s), and once we do momentum takes care of the rest.