For a long time, I believed the practices of CEOs that I looked up to were out of my reach. Too fancy, too complicated, or only for the super smart or rich among us. It turns out, after two decades of studying successful chief execs and interviewing thousands of others, the habits of the supersonically successful are amazingly simple, totally within reach and completely doable.
What I have learned over time is that it comes down to the fundamentals. Fundamental habits. And most of the habits that work for the best are not all that complicated. In fact, quite the opposite. Those who master a core foundation of habits that work for them can achieve greatness of their choosing. Here are the three predominant ones that repeatedly surface in my work and stand the test of time:
Have a morning ritual. It turns out that there is tremendous value in mastering your morning. High achievers find this to be essential in getting the best out of themselves and the most out of each day. They realize that their most important commodity is time. Routines, rituals and habits help them maximize use of their time and, in turn, their productivity. Examples of such rituals often involve waking up at the same time each day; having a daily meditation or prayer practice; engaging in movement or some form of exercise; and journaling. The highest of performers don’t deviate from their morning routine in any drastic way except when a true emergency occurs. It’s that important to them and their success.
Take time off. Yep, it’s true. High performers really do step away. In big chunks of time (aka vacations) as well as mini breaks throughout a busy day. To keep themselves fresh and energized throughout the day, many are religious about taking 3 – 6 minute movement or brain breaks every 60-90 minutes. Intentional movement or stretching periodically throughout the day keeps our blood (and ideas) flowing and our brains fresh. Taking bigger breaks for multiple days does the same on a grander scale and many attribute regular vacations or travel as the stimulant for generating new ideas, solving complex problems and providing ideal environments to pause and celebrate their success. Some report that even just a day away in a different environment is enough to replenish and refuel when extended breaks are not an option.
Get sufficient sleep. This is my least favorite as I am in the midst of recovering from my 30-year war with sleep. Even though the highest performing CEOs typically get 6 to 8.5 hours of good consistent rest, I have historically considered it the enemy to productivity and thought it was vastly overrated. Until recently, I was convinced that my 4 to 5-hour sleep pattern (laced with a few all-night work sessions per year) would have no negative impact on my daily intellectual output or long-term health. That was until I started paying attention to the science and it terrified me. Everyone is different and the sleep needs of one person truly do differ from another, however, the connection between poor sleep and declining mental performance, neural degeneration and disease is undeniable and the scientific research that reveals the valuable truths around sleep is on a dramatic upswing. Knowing that good sleep can be key in preventing dementia, Alzheimer’s and other debilitating diseases we fear, I’m working diligently to become a master in getting sufficient rest.
So why don’t more of us practice these insanely simple habits? For me it was overcomplicating what were actually basic modifications I wanted to make to my routine. I also didn’t fully believe that such fundamental changes could yield monumental results. Yet time and again, I have been proven wrong! Here’s a tip that helped me simplify adopting a new habit – when tackling the most difficult challenges, I trick myself into doing an experiment where I commit to testing the new habit for 30 days. Committing to a 30-day “trial” seems less intimidating and more doable than signing-up for a lifetime of perceived habit changing pain. The freedom to maintain something that works and discontinue what doesn’t is remarkably liberating and often results in permanent improvements that prove to be game changers.