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What I learned about success from making my bed

Many of my readers know that about 10 years ago, I fell fast and hard into a deep mental funk. I was so low that it took all the mental energy I had just to get out of bed. The mere thought of taking on basic household tasks like doing laundry, washing dishes, or even making the bed was exhausting.

So, the dishes piled up, laundry lay strewn about every room in the house, and the blankets and sheets sat wadded up in a tangled mess at the foot of the bed.

No matter how much I wanted to climb out of the pit, all I had to do is look at the chaos around me and the journey was over before it ever began. I couldn’t possibly see a starting point in cleaning up the mess around me.

It’s a perfect metaphor for the chaos that surrounds all of us at one time or another. Whether you’re facing mounds of paperwork or a mountain of debt, you might feel like you just don’t know where to start to climb from the heap of rubble.

You can’t see the light of success at the end of the tunnel.

For me and my former mess, I knew I had to start somewhere. So, I thought, “what would be the simplest task? What if I just commit to making my bed? Could I focus on that one, simple task without worrying about the rest?

So that was it. I would focus on the one simple task that felt most doable. My plan was to wake up every morning, and if I did nothing else, I would make my bed – something that would require only about 60 seconds.

At first, it took a certain amount of concentrated effort since I already felt overwhelmed before my feet even hit the floor. Eventually though, making the bed became automatic. It no longer took concentrated effort. Once I got to the point where it no longer took mental energy, I then could use the mental effort that had previously been reserved for the bed to do the dishes. If I could get the initial pile of dishes cleaned up, I could make that my next daily task.

And before long, that too, became a habit that would take very little energy. Then I took on the next task, and the next.

What this means for your success

Whether you’re a leader trying to motivate your teams, an entrepreneur trying to scale your business, or a high-performer who wants to be more productive at work, the best way to achieve success is to build as many habits as you possibly can into your day.

Here’s why you need good habits

As human earthlings, we’re designed for self-preservation, and this means conserving energy. So, we’re biologically wired to run on auto-pilot. Acting habitually is a natural state. Depending on what research you look at, anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of what we do all day long is automatic.

Think about how you use your phone, log into your computer, drive to the office or make a cup of coffee. None of this takes much thought or effort.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of discipline and willpower. Believe it or not, it took lots of discipline to start making my bed. Discipline helped me achieve many of my goals including starting two businesses, winning bodybuilding championships, and coaching two teams to win Junior Olympics gold medals.

But here’s the down side to willpower and self-discipline: they consume gargantuan amounts of energy. And since our energy levels are limited, we need to find ways to conserve that energy and run on high-efficiency over the long haul.

Even though I used discipline in my bodybuilding, the key was practicing daily habits of eating healthy and hitting the gym on a regular schedule week after week. There weren’t too many days I had to push myself to get to the gym because it was a habit. So, when those challenging days did come along, I had the energy reserves to kick in to discipline mode.

If you look at the successful leaders whom you most admire, take a look at their schedules. Although I have no doubt they are disciplined, I guarantee you that they have a series of habits that they follow meticulously.

So here are a few tips for developing habits that will help you climb out from the chaos and increase your productivity and success:

  • Chunk it down. Whatever albatross you have to tackle, chunk it down into tiny, bite-sized pieces. If your chunks still feel overwhelming, keep chunking down until it feels like something manageable. If it feels too big, you’ll procrastinate and find excuses not to get it done.
  • Create daily habits. Find as many ways as you can to create short, but consistent daily habits. What can you do every single day without missing a day, that if you do this task every day, you will move the ball down the field over the long haul?
  • You can set the clock by it. The body quickly responds and falls into habit mode when something is done at the same time every day. Think about the time you get up in the morning, or the time of day you get hungry. Your body is quick to respond in auto mode when you repeat a task at the same time each day.
  • Add on. At first, your task will take some energy. But as soon as the task becomes automatic, you can use that energy to add on a new habit. Soon you will have a lifestyle of habits by which you can measure success.

Follow these steps and watch your outcomes soar.

Next week, I’ll tell you some of the top habits every success-minded leader should follow.

2 replies
  1. Michele
    Michele says:

    Great points. I like how honest you are in your writing. It makes readers feel like they are in the company of someone who understands life’s challenges and found a way to conquering them.

    • Marianne Renner
      Marianne Renner says:

      Thank you Michele. I’m so glad the article resonates with you. I think at the end of the day, we all share the same struggles. Wishing you great success and happiness!


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