Advice -> Endorphins or Habit Change?

There are many inspirational posters on many walls across the world.

Most of these posters do not change the behaviors of those who purchase them, frame them, hang them, and look at them.

Rather, most of the posters deliver a sequence of endorphin boosts that very quickly fade.

In a short matter of time you pass the poster and you feel nothing.

Why Do People Seek Advice? 

Most people who seek advice are not that serious about changing their behavior.

They want to change their behavior, and they want to feel the endorphin rush of wanting to change their behavior, but they do not want to put in the work that behavior change requires.

People like to feel that they can change.

People like to get advice on how to change.

People do not like the process of change.

If you are seeking advice, you’d do well to be aware of why you are seeking advice.

If you are giving advice, you’d do well to clearly articulate what it will require to implement this advice.

Or, at the very least, understand an advice session for what it is: a form of human banter that makes everyone feel good at the time but has little lasting effect.

What Advice Have You Received that Has Become a Habit? 

It’s worth reflecting on what advice you have received that has become a mental habit, both to reflect if you’re doing the hard work of behavior change, as well as to understand why some advice leads to change and some does not.

Here are some pieces of advice that have truly change how I think and act:

Nobody promised us anything (my father): As my father was dying from Parkinson’s disease, I asked him if he was sad, and he responded: nobody promised us anything. I think about this phrase a lot – as well as a sister phrase that I’ve incorporated into my thinking: the world is not ordered for my own happiness. When I am feel frustrated, indignant, or consumed with self-pity, I say this phrase to myself and, in the moment, reorient my mindset as best as I can, which is often a good amount.

Workout and mediate everyday (self-help books): Basically every self-help / self-improvement book I’ve read and have hammered home the importance of exercise and meditation. And for good reason! It’s taken time, but I’m not at least 5-6 days a week for both. Working out and meditation have become long-term habits.

Lead congruent organizations / teams (Nancy Euske, NSNO management team): After a few initial failures, I am now very deliberate about leading teams and organizations that have an explicitly aligned mission, strategy, culture, structure, tactics, people management systems, and goals.

I’m sure there are other pieces of advice that have become habits – but these standout to me in that they have greatly impacted my life, five years ago I did none of these three with any regularity, and I continually track my behavior to ensure the habits stick.

The Biggest Mistake I Made with Habits

For years, I would read books for knowledge rather than behavioral change. For some types of books (novels, history, etc.) this is fine. For many other types of books (business, self-help, etc.), this is not fine.

But I get high off learning new information, which is dangerous. I used to rip through dozens of business and self-help books a year – and while this made be an interesting dinner party companion (or terrible depending on your conversation tastes) – it rarely led to behavior change.

Now, I only read a business or self-help book if: (1) I have the time to read it deliberately enough to draw out behavior change possibilities; and  (2) I have the time to practice and implement the behavior changes.

The Ability to Adopt New Habits is an Incredible Competitive Advantage

Most people will spend over forty years working.

Over the course of a career, being able to adopt a few important habits a year will provide an incredible competitive advantage over people who do not adopt important habits.

Growth mindset and intellectual curiosity are amazing mindsets – but it’s the ability to form habits that unleashes their true power.

1 thought on “Advice -> Endorphins or Habit Change?

  1. stevepeha


    Thank you for this one. Not just good. But habit-inducing for me as I see so much of my non-habit-forming self in your own experience and am encouraged by the progress I know you’ve made over the years.

    There’s some I’ve been changing in the way I teach and the way I teach others to teach. In many cases, especially in areas like writing, I’ve stopped teaching new skills as skills and started teaching them as habits.

    Revision is a good example. It’s very hard. It’s hard for me. It’s so hard for kids, it can be overwhelming. And it’s uncomfortable for many teachers to teach.

    I think this not really because it’s hard. I think it’s because everyone thinks they have to do it well—all the time.

    Not true.

    I think, with things like revision in writing, what we have to do is form the habit of revising first. Then, once we know we’re going to revise even before we draft, when revision has become a true habit, we can start from there to ask ourselves, “How can I change the way I revise to revise more effectively and produce better writing?”

    This has allowed me to change my own habit of holding off on revision instruction until I saw some level of skill in the writers I was working with.

    This idea has also helped me, and the teachers I work with, to get started with new behaviors faster.

    You mention meditation and I think it’s apt. I’ve done it for years. And what got me to start it, and to keep at it, was the simple notion that it’s about doing it, not about doing it with a particular level of skill. Noticing, perhaps, that the experience changes over time, but not associating this with any form of achievement—and certainly not with any attachment to reaching a goal.

    I think this stance about “learning as habit formation” has a lot of potential. It’s the thing I’m most excited about these days in my work—along with the books I’m writing now where I get to express this idea.

    Thanks for you work. I read you everywhere I can and I always find your ideas interesting and valuable.




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