Article | Mastering the Art of Habits

The buzzwords self-optimisation and maximum productivity have everybody on the road to constant improvement. Every entrepreneur knows that to achieve success, sole motivation is not enough – it’s the perseverance that keeps you going and working despite the difficulties of managing a company. However, keeping high levels of productivity up can become a solid part of your daily routine, if you manage to flip the magic switch and make certain activities into habits.

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.

Jim Ryun

What are habits?

According to Wikipedia, a habit is a routine of behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. The thoughtless aspect is what makes habits so desirable. Think back to the times when you were trying to start cutting down on sugar or get up at 5 am every day to go to the gym. Initially, every time you were faced with a decision, either to skip your regular spoonful of sugar in your coffee or wake up at this ungodly hour to fulfil your promise, your mind would spill a considerate amount of pros and cons giving you a choice. Sometimes it’s not beneficial to be given a choice, because our resolve can be weakened by naturally occurring internal questioning. Inner monologues waste cognitive involvement in something that should not have been so engaging; sometimes you even allow yourself to be talked out of your resolution.

Habitual behaviour assures that you do things without paying too much attention to them, therefore the opportunity to back out does not present itself.

The main reason we need habits when working is to create a solid set of behaviours, which automatically keep us on track and in control. It is easy to slip when we let ourselves debate between working or not working. It’s completely painless to form a bad habit because with bad habits we tend to just play along. It’s the positive habits that bring benefits for us, that require more work.

How to create a habit?

When I started my hunt for the best methods to reinforce good work habits, I was googling ‘habits that generate success’ to emulate what the biggest achievers did to stick to their plans. Ultimately…I could not find an answer. I read about how Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs reached their success and created amazing companies, led countless numbers of projects to successful end results and became legends of entrepreneurship. But how did they actually establish their exercise, analysis, teamwork, innovation, and creative thinking habits?

Then I came across the book ‘Better than Before’ by Gretchen Rubin. In her book, Gretchen debates different types of personalities that naturally predispose us to be susceptible to certain habit-forming tactics. Did you notice that some people are able to seamlessly stick to a routine and work themselves into a habit? Maybe you consider yourself chronically unable to establish a routine for a longer amount of time? If you fall into this category, Rubin’s 4 Habit Personalities will be especially insightful for you.

Types of habit personalities

We often forget that there is no magical cure-all because each of us is different. We have different aspirations, characters, and learning styles. This idea also applies to habits! There is no all-in-one solution that will reinforce your habit. No mantras, spells, or exercises, just plain knowing yourself and how your mind works before embarking on a life-changing project. Gretchen Rubin came up with a habit tendency framework, which distinguishes four types of habit personalities. These personalities pinpoint conditions that have to be met for a habit to stick:

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

This simple framework points towards the right external and internal circumstances for a habit to settle in. For example, a friend of mine has no issue fulfilling her promises to someone else, but whenever she decides on a new workout routine, she drops it within a week. She is a classic Obliger. I suggested she hires a personal trainer, who will hold her accountable. I checked in with her three weeks later and she is continuing her training!

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

Buy it on

This is an affiliate link – if you click on it and decide to purchase the recommended product, I will earn a small commission.

After reading the book and finding out all about the four tendencies, I realized that my personality matches that of a Rebel. Initially, I was worried about being against any type of binding commitment to myself and other people. Then I worked out that I can only truly commit when I am 100% convinced the habit I am trying to set in stone is worth working on. This encouraged me to be less harsh on myself when it comes to committing to long working hours. The result was letting myself be flexible with my schedule. Ironically, this caused my productivity to go up and I stopped complaining about never having time for myself.

If you are struggling to implement a positive work habit, maybe it is because the strategy you took is not matching your habit personality? To find out your habit tendency, take the quiz here!

This article was originally written for the Impact Hub Vienna blog and published on the 21st of July, 2016. Access it online here.