The Habits You Stop Are More Important Than the Habits You Start

Solo entrepreneurs will pick up a thousand different habits if it makes us more successful. We wake up before God, exercise like beasts, read a book a week—we even spend tens of thousands of dollars on seminars and personal coaching. But how much of it actually makes a difference?

In my experiments with lifestyle design, I’ve found that what I omit is tenfold more important than what I include.

Because you can say you’ll do x, y and z. But if your time and focus is spent on bad habits, you’ll only feel worse for not sticking to what you know is best, you won’t get shit done, and you’ll condition yourself to feel helpless–which is the worst possible attitude for solopreneurs.

I’ve been there.

Falling Back Into the Wrong Habits

Several months ago I was rolling in it. After a few whale clients, I was having fun making money and doing what I loved. I’d worked like a mule to enjoy the fruits of success, and I’d disciplined myself to stick with the right habits. But there was a small hitch about my latest gigs…

I had to check email every morning.

In order to reach any success I had to cut out all reactive habits (like email and social media) in the morning so that I was 100% proactive. I’d made a career by refusing to check email, in a nutshell. But for this month of large projects, I was fine with breaking my routine.

I still did work I was proud of. I still ended the day feeling accomplished and successful. But the results really started showing after that month ended.

Even though I had absolutely no need to check my email first thing, I kept doing it. And since I didn’t have an all-day project to jump in to, I’d check it again before I’d done any work…and again…and again. And after email checks got boring, I’d jazz it up with a little Facebook, and some Twitter. Doing the wrong thing just gets easier and easier.

Of course I rationalized it, feeling that I needed to respond to comments on my articles and posts. Then I’d progress naturally into texts. And finally, I’d resort to unabashed Internet surfing, thinking it was okay since the day was practically done anyway. And then the day really was done.–Poof. And then the week was over.–Flash. And then half of the month was gone without my having done anything that could even remotely be described as an accomplished.

A month before my confidence was at an all time high. Now? I feel no bigger than an amoeba on a wart on a frog on a log.

I needed to correct course fast, or I’d be back on my mom’s couch.

How I Got Out of My Rut In 10 Minutes flat

I started waking up in cold sweats at three am. I felt my grip on success slipping; and because my days were zipping by so fast, I started to panic. I just couldn’t get any traction.

That all changed on a Sunday night.

Again, I found myself up in sweat-drenched anxiety during the witching hour. I tried reading to get back to bed, and meditation, and visualization; but his problem wasn’t going to be wished away. I’d had the inchoate feeling that I needed a drastic change, but I wasn’t willing to part with the comfort of my new routine. Not until now.

So I grabbed my journal and I wrote down the thoughts I’d been feeling and ignoring: I realized that I was super disappointed in myself and that I’d let myself down. I’d stopped doing good things for myself–just the plain truth.

Then I reflected on the most important question: why?

And before I knew it, the answer was staring me back in the face. I’d abandoned all of my winning routines. I’d slowly given a foothold—and then a stranglehold—to all the habits that prevented me from being successful in the first place.

The Habits I Gave Up to Be Successful

My two weeks of misery were over in an instant. At 3:30 in the morning, I made the split-decision to quit Facebook for a month; to check email only once a day after four hours of real work; and to limit my texting to one round in the evening.

These had all been my primary sources of comfort in the past week. But, paradoxically, they’d brought on the greatest anxiety and discomfort I’d felt in several years. So I sacrificed them without hesitation.

Working back into my normal creative routine wasn’t exactly easy. I had to deflect a thousand niggling thoughts like, “Ah, come on…one little email check couldn’t be the end of the world, could it?” But I persevered. By the end of the day, I’d written my first real article in over two weeks and accomplished a dozen back-burner necessities that I’d abandoned in my hiatus. I went to bed that night feeling an overwhelming sense of pride. And that was a feeling I wanted to replicate.

Within the next week, I’d managed to secure $5,000+ in new business—which was double what I’d made in any week before. Good habits have made me successful. But I wouldn’t have room for the good if I hadn’t eliminated the bad.

Conclusion

So what’s holding you back from the results you want? It’s not a lack of good habits, I can tell you that. It’s the little things that you’ve probably made excuses for over the past weeks and months—like Facebook, or binge drinking on the weekends. You know you best. But when you do figure out that one or those several little things, plan against them. Write them down. Then make a decision to cut them out of your life over the next month. You will be amazed at your success.

And if you need help along the way, check out my coaching package. 

Written by Daniel Dowling
As a "lost millennial" turned solopreneur writer and coach, I write on massive personal development for sites including Entrepreneur, Fitbit and Fast Company, and I teach ambitious people how to become successful solopreneurs and balanced human beings here at Millennial Success.