What Drives You? Put Your Habits in Cruise Control

(Read this in about 4 minutes)“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”~ Jim Rohn

When I’ve done speaking on topics from entrepreneurship to customer service and team building, I’ve often used a car as a simple model of a business or an organization because it’s something so commonplace. Any person over the age of 6 can relate to what a car does. Because of that, it’s also very simple to create word pictures about the need for a variety of unique parts, each with different functions and each part necessary to make a car start, go, turn and stop. It’s Analogy 101. Easy, peasy.

By now, you know I constantly have my nose in a book or on a website reading something about becoming the very best version of the person we have been designed to be. Lately, my obsessive need to learn more has been focused on motivation and habits, the twin cornerstones of any kind of achievement.

When my nose isn’t in a book, my ear is to the ground, always listening; not only to social media chatter but something much more real, the everyday conversations of people around me. Lucky me! I get to spend time with four generations of people, from grade school to college students, my adult peers and folks from “The Grand Generation.” It’s a great cross-section!

It’s interesting how many conversations contain language like, “I can’t get it in gear”, “I just don’t have any drive”, “I can’t seem to gain any traction.” (Or I can’t resist, “I’m just two too tired.” I know, groan) All around me are smart, good people trying to get rolling or stay rolling on something they really want to do but can’t seem to get out of park, let alone put it in cruise control! And then I think about my rusty old car analogy and realize each of us has to harness different parts of ourselves to get where we want to go!

 “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” ~Mark Twain

OK, let’s start with the start. Obviously, the first thing needed to drive is to start the engine. Wait. Is it really? Or is it that you have somewhere you want to go? Before we even start, we need to know where we want to go and why. Is this road going to take me in the right direction? It’s best if we know our destination before we move a single inch.

James Clear, one of my favorite “wise guys” had a great post about motivation and quoted Steven Pressfield, another of my favorites. Pressfield hit it out of the park in his terrific book, The War of Art, when he wrote, “At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it.”

Motivation is the point of most resistance. It’s when we start to overcome inertia. But the actual process of starting doesn’t need to last very long at all! Think how little time we spend turning the key (ok, or pressing the start button) when we begin the trip to wherever it is we decide to go.

Once we have the engine running, we put our car in gear and start rolling. Check the map or Google for some directions and head toward our destination. Similarly, in habit-building, we want to put as many steps into automatic as possible because it nearly eliminates decision making. Even better, using cruise control gives us one less thing we have to keep an eye on!

I’m really enjoying Gretchen Rubin’s new-ish book about habit-building, Better Than Before.  She swears that habits, once automatic, (which might take three weeks of basically gutting it out), ultimately create freedom. It makes sense to me because when we do things routinely, we often do them without any conscious thought; no drama, no resistance. Nice! Rubin does a great job explaining why we are all so different when it comes to adopting and maintaining habits.

James Clear suggests a different approach than gutting it out. Instead, he advises that our focus should be on removing as many barriers as possible between us and our goal. He advises eliminating distractions, simplifying our routines and setting up small steps, like putting running shoes by the bed so you jump right in them when you wake up.  In an earlier post, I wrote about choice architecture, a somewhat fancy term for making it easy to choose the best options. You might want to go back and take a look.

I must admit I’m reluctantly developing a whole new mindset when it comes to habits. Me, the one who has rebelliously fought for spontaneity and chafed at routines! I’m beginning to think this might be two sides of the same coin! Once my good habits take root and I quit chasing my tail deciding what to do next, I might ultimately have that luxury of time to spend on things I only dreamed of doing. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know what I discover!

“Our lives change when our habits change.” ~ Matthew Kelly




  • Grant Newbold

    Dear Blog Reader. I like metaphors and this blog has such a powerful one for us, the automobile. There is a body of research on metaphors and it speaks to how they make complex subjects easy to understand and they make things easy to remember. I would add that metaphors can easily be personalized to our own world. So you can use Betty’s blog for today as a way to build your own metaphor for habits and how to deal with them both good ones and bad ones. I’m sure that the beautiful automobile shown in the picture with the blog didn’t always look like that. Someone took an old rusted and neglected car and restored it with much time, effort, skill, and expense. So if the habits in your life don’t look like the picture its ok. Just follow Betty’s wise words and those of the people she brings into her work and you too can end up with something to be proud of. Thanks for coming to our website. Talk to you again soon. Doc Newbold.

    • Betty Streff

      How true about the Buick! The trick, in my opinion, is to take care of things along the way so the rust doesn’t form in the first place! Ha!

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