Did you hop in the shower, check your email, or grab a doughnut from the kitchen counter?
Did you brush your teeth before or after you toweled off? Which route did you drive to work? When you got home, did you put on your sneakers and go for a run, or pour yourself a drink and eat dinner in front of the TV?
In 1892, the famous psychologist William James wrote, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” I absolutely love that statement because it’s absolutely true: most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits.
And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we order, whether we save or spend, how often we exercise, and the way we organize our thoughts and work routines have enormous impacts on our health, productivity, financial security, and happiness. One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.
Habits, by definition, are choices that we all make deliberately at some point—and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day. At one point, we all consciously decided how much to eat and what to focus on when we got to the office, how often to have a drink, or when to go for a jog. But then we stopped making a choice, and the behavior became automatic. It’s a natural consequence of our neurology. And by understanding how it happens, you can rebuild those patterns in whichever way you choose.
This brings us to this list of books on how to build better habits. Each of these books are powerful tomes in and of themselves when it comes to the challenge of building habits that stick; but together they become a comprehensive collection of resources on how to create and sustain the habits you need to succeed, both personally and professionally.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
1. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
The interesting thing about habits is that once we develop them, they go totally unnoticed in our day-to-day activities. For example, you probably don’t think about how many simultaneous actions go into reversing your car out of the garage and into the street safely and smoothly. You just do it. That’s a habit. However, so is smoking. The Power of Habit teaches you how to be deliberate about building better habits that serve you both in life and in business.
2. Drive by Daniel Pink
This book will equip you with everything you need to know about developing the habit of self-motivation. In other words, this book will teach you some of the most powerful leadership lessons you’ll ever learn. Author Daniel Pink debunks some of the biggest myths about what really motivates us at work, breaking down the characteristics of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and how far too many organizations rely on extrinsic motivators, even though they’re counterproductive. Instead, Pink explains how we can best motivate ourselves and others by understanding how to utilize intrinsic motivators. Bottom line? You can’t lead a successful life unless you’ve developed a habit of motivating yourself on a consistent basis, and Drive is a cornerstone book on how to figure that out.
3. Mindset by Carol Dweck
Mindset discusses the differences between people with a “fixed” mindset versus those with a “growth” mindset. Our mindset determines the way we deal with tough situations and setbacks as well as our willingness to deal with and improve ourselves. This book demonstrates how we can achieve our goals by changing our mindset and then developing the success habits to help us nurture that psychological switchover the long-run. It’s a very powerful book on personal transformation that’s also backed by sound scientific research to boot.
4. The ONE Thing by Gary Keller, Jay Papasan
I recently had an opportunity to interview the co-author of this book and he told me that one of the biggest reasons why most people fail at keeping their New Year’s Resolutions is because they set way too many of them to begin with. The key to sustainable success is actually simple: focus on one thing and see it through for long enough that you achieve your goals. That’s it. Success is sequential, not simultaneous. This book breaks down the mechanics of that process.
5. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
This book was written over 1800 years ago. Guess what? The powerful principles, written way back in the second century, remain just as applicable today. Just read this quote and you’ll understand what I mean:
“For how could we do what justice requires if we are distracted by things that don’t matter, if we are naive, gullible, inconstant?”
He’s got to be referring to our texting and driving habits, right? The Stoics were known for their disciplined pursuit of excellence, especially when it comes to maintaining emotional stability—which they kept regardless of how stressful a situation they might’ve been dealing with at any given moment. This type of emotional stability wasn’t built overnight. It was built by way of habit. Want to learn about adding some Stoic flare to your own habits? Pick up a copy of Meditations.