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I went five years without missing a single day of working out. – Michael Phelps, swimmer

The most successful Olympian ever was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 12 – a condition that affects concentration and discipline. Despite this limitation, Phelps won 23 gold medals in the pool.

In this revealing interview with Forbes’ Kurt Badenshausen (skip to 1 minute 45 seconds and watch for a minute or so), the swimmer gives an insight into what it takes to become great.

While few of us have such big ambitions, the obvious lesson we can learn from Phelps is the power of forming great habits and the discipline to practice them religiously.

Probably the most famous book on habits is Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. (Here’s a fantastic infographic on this.)

The internet, meanwhile, is littered with well-meaning people trying to distil the habits of successful people into soundbites I don’t think tis is helpful. Generic advice like “be positive” or “be proactive” is to vague. Meanwhile, specific ideaslike “meditate before breakfast” or “exercise in the morning” don’t suit everyone.

The truth is that our habits should be like our fingerprints – unique to each of us, and unique to our individual goals. This is crucial. Michael Phelps succeeded because he lined up his habits with his vision. Every time he lacked the motivation to go to the weights room or practice his tumble turns or run a 10k, he thought about his ultimate goal and it gave him the discipline to get the training done.

This process can and will work for you too. If you want to achieve your vision badly enough, you’ll roll your sleeves up.

A process for setting new habits that’ll stick for good

So instead of sharing our list of the top habits of gazillionaires, we’ve designed this step-by-step process for you to create your own new habits – based on your individual vision and goals.

1. Define your vision, 2. Set goals relating to your vision, 3. Form new habits to meet your goals, 4. New habits make new outcomes, 5. Outcomes help you achieve your goals, 6. Hit your goals and achieve your vision.

So how might this work in practice?

Let’s say you have a vision of your company becoming the market leader for widgets by 2025.

To realise that vision, one of your goals could be to become the leading authority in the widget market.

To achieve that goal, you need to create new habits. These might include: creating a new piece of content (a blog, podcast or video) every day; setting aside two hours every morning to write or record; setting aside your afternoons for emails, phone calls and meetings; getting up at 6am to start writing; or working on your social media channels every lunchtime.

By consistently sticking to your new habits, you’ll eventually produce new outcomes (more followers, more customers, more sales).

In turn, you’ll achieve your goals. And eventually, you’ll realise your vision.

How long does it take for a new habit to stick?

The typical answer to this is 21 days. But this has become an urban myth. The reality backed by science shows a much bigger variation – from 18 days to 254 days, depending on what it is you’re trying to change.

There are days you’re not gonna want to do it. ut it’s what you do on those days that helps you move forward. – Michael Phelps

We break our habits because we’re not emotionally attached to them. We don’t want them enough, especially if they’re going to take 250 days or more to take root. Think about those New Year’s resolutions you gave up after a week. How did ‘Dry January’ go? Not great – because you didn’t have a clearly defined and passionate goal at the end of it.

Michael Phelps trained 1,825 days in a row because he wanted to win that gold medal in 2016 more than anything else. The passion underlying his vision gave him the discipline to stick to his habits and make them unbreakable

So what’s your “gold medal” vision? What are the goals that are going to help you achieve your ambition? And what new habits will you need to start if you’re going to hit your goals?

Your action plan

Our top three take-aways are:

  1. Does your vision excite you and obsess your waking hours?
  2. Are you clear about the stepping stones that will get you there?
  3. What new habits do you need to start if you’re going to smash your goals?

Tweet Pete at @petewilkinson and tell him the new habits that are going to help you win gold.

Posted by Pete Wilkinson

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