Category Archives: Habit Formation

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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Are You Letting Your Muscles Atrophy?

Muscle atrophy is the wasting (thinning) or loss of muscle tissue.
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia Oct 6, 2019.

What are you wasting? What is thinning? What skill is becoming weaker by you not using it? What gift is getting stifled by you not sharing it? What habit is degrading because you neglected to maintain it?

I’m guilty of this. Maybe you are too. And while I’d love to say to both of us “2022! New Year, New You!” I know that’s a lie*. But… BUT! I also know this crazy journey called life is about progress and not perfection.

I know—I KNOW—I can get a little better today than I was yesterday. I know that I can intentionally overwrite habits that aren’t serving me with ones that will. And you can too!

What habits would you like to improve this year? Is it your prospecting habits (I am a sales coach after all)? Or your health habits? Maybe your relationship habits? Or your money habits? Could you improve your habits around communication, or leadership, or recruiting? Do you need to shore up your habits around how you spend your time?

If your answer is “Yes!” then I encourage you to write out all of the habits you would like to improve. Brain-dump everything at which you want to be a little bit better. But don’t stop there because a confused mind says no; an overwhelmed mind won’t go.

So, pick one. Just pick one for now. Maybe it’s the keystone habit on which the other habits will be easier to execute. Maybe it’s the one that is the most painful right now. Maybe it’s the one that will have the biggest impact on your business, your marriage, your spiritual life, whatever. But pick one and only ONE.

Next, schedule it in your phone, Outlook, your Google calendar or your paper planner. Put it where you will see it. And, set an alarm if needed or strategically place a post-it note somewhere visible to remind you of your commitment. For bonus accountability tell someone, tell one person who you are closest to, or the person you know you won’t disappoint, or the person that you know will bust your chops if you don’t show up. But tell just that one person as some studies suggest that broadcasting our change short-circuits the work-component by delivering gratification immediately making us less likely to follow through.

Then start as soon as possible. Repeat as often as possible. If you wait too long (the basic premise of Mel Robin’s book The 5 Second Rule) or if you have too much loss of momentum in-between, the habit won’t catch. We need spaced repetition to grow our habits—and not-surprisingly, our muscles.

*The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell is a phenomenal read on this concept as is Atomic Habits by James Clear.

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