Upstream vs. Downstream Habits

Habit formation is my life-long quest. I wasn’t aware of it until my 20s when I was selling books with Southwestern Advantage and I was introduced to The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino (see it here on my Best Books list as well as many others that I consider life-changing).

One of his scrolls (lessons from the book) writes “I will form good habits and become their slave. And how will I accomplish this difficult feat? Through these scrolls it will be done, for each scroll contains a principle which will drive a bad habit from my life and replace it with one which will bring me closer to success.” Pretty powerful, isn’t it?

And at this point in my life, I had some habits; however, they weren’t really good habits. Now, lest you think I only have good habits today, let me fill you in on a dirty little secret: I still have habits to which I am a slave, but not in a good way as inferred by Og. Things like binge-watching too much TV, too much scrolling on social media, sloppy morning routines, allowing distractions to cannibalize my income-producing activities, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

If the above doesn’t describe you whatsoever, feel free to stop reading here. But, if you, too, have found some habits have crept in that aren’t serving you, then continue on and perhaps I will shine a light on habit-knowledge that might be useful to you in the future.

We actually have two distinct categories of habits. We have Upstream Habits and we have Downstream Habits.

Upstream Habits make us better, but like rowing upstream, they require work, energy, and consistency. You can’t row for a little bit and then take a break without moving backwards. You can’t keep your ores in the water and not create drag. You must row; you must act; you must keep going no matter what.

Downstream Habits, are just as strong (heck, maybe even stronger) than upstream habits. But they require little to no work to form—yet, TONS of work to break—and they certainly don’t make you better in a particular area of your business or life. Sometimes they take hold, and begin moving us backward without us consciously recognizing it until we catch that we aren’t at a destination we had been hoping for.

They both work similarly in the sense that once something truly is a habit it will have a tendency to continue with the aid of momentum and get easier with the increased muscle mass you have built. Upstream Habits are much like riding your bike uphill where you have to peddle—yet, as you continue on your journey of becoming a cyclist, you may find that a hill that was once near-impossible is almost a breeze now—versus riding downhill which only requires steering but peddling is quite optional.

They both get easier. But only Downstream Habits happen are effortless and thoughtless. Upstream Habits will continue to require your conscious thought, recommitment to your decision, reinforcement of your belief-system, and daily discipline of your Upstream Action. That’s not up for debate.

The only question that remains is where do you want to go and what do you need to do to get there?

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