Episode: Your Habits Should Change with Seasons
Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.
Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.
Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. This week, we want to talk about habits in the various seasons of life.
Megan: I am pumped about talking about this, because every single time we do a live event… That now feels like ancient history. We haven’t done that for a long time. But anytime we’re together with people from our audience in person, I always get asked what my daily rituals are, particularly my morning ritual, by parents or people who are just in a different season of life, Dad, than your season of life, which is kind of the idealized empty nester season.
I think what people are really asking is, “How does this get adapted to people who don’t have as much control over their time? If I can’t be Michael Hyatt, is that okay? Does it still count? Can I still make a difference with habits in my life?” I always like to share my personal stories, because I, of course, have five kids, a very busy life.
Things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes it’s a mess, yet I have consistent habits that I think are realistic for anybody to try to adopt. So, we’re going to talk about some of that today, as well as your history with habits and what that has looked like over time, because you haven’t always been an empty nester. So I’m excited to get into this.
Michael: I think we should start with me making a confession.
Megan: Oh good.
Michael: The reality of who I am versus maybe people’s perception are two different things. The perception is that I’m this highly focused, very disciplined, almost robotic character. I’ve had some of my close friends say that to me. That is absolutely not the truth. I’m here confessing it in front of God and everybody who’s listening to this. I’m not that person. I struggle with focus. I’m easily distracted. I can have large periods of time when I’m not very productive.
It happened yesterday. I was supposed to be working on a webinar script yesterday, and I found a thousand and one reasons why I wasn’t going to do it. So, I struggle with all this stuff, which I think is why I write about it. I’m mostly just preaching to myself, hoping that maybe some other people struggle with this stuff as well. So, if you struggle with focus, if you struggle with productivity…
Now, I do believe I get an enormous amount of work done, but it’s not because I don’t struggle. It’s not because it comes easily to me. I stumble and fall. I fail on my habits. I’ve said to Gail before, “The one thing I’m the most consistent about is starting over.” Every Monday is a new day to start over. So, if my workout routine kind of failed me the last few days of the previous week, great. Monday is a day to jump-start that and get started again.
Megan, I just felt the need to say that, because, honestly, I was pretty self-unaware of that in the past. I kind of felt like whatever I was experiencing I could just kind of put that out and share it with the world and people would adjust for their season in life. But no. I think by sharing that without a disclaimer it kind of puts people in a position where they feel guilty or feel like they’re failing all the time, and that’s the opposite of what I want.
Megan: Really, the season of life you’re in, which can change with major events (which we’re going to talk about a little bit) and can also change with just smaller things, has to be considered when you’re thinking about habits. Otherwise, you either become kind of a tyrant in your own life, where you expect everybody in your life to make your habits possible that are, frankly, unrealistic for the season of life you’re in…
We’ve heard from folks that that has happened from time to time, that they expect their spouse to make it possible to have these extreme habits that are more appropriate to a season of life in which there are no young children, for example, or things are just different. Or you just totally give up, because you think, “Man! Unless I’m at a place where I have total control over my time and I have several hours in the morning, or whatever, then this whole habit thing is not really relevant.”
We are here to say neither of those are true or necessary, and you can absolutely have habits that are realistic to your season of life that you can be reasonably consistent with and get all of the benefits from without having to be perfect.
Michael: Exactly. Okay. Can I start with a story about a season of life?
Michael: True story. When I was in college, I really wanted to grow spiritually, so I got up and read the Bible and prayed, a practice I’ve continued to this day. But somebody handed me The Journal of John Wesley. John Wesley was the founder of Methodism. I read that journal. I devoured it. But here’s what I discovered in that journal. John Wesley got up at 4:00 a.m., and he prayed for the first four hours of the day.
Michael: Okay. Well, that’s his profession. I’m a student. You would think I would accommodate that. But then here’s what he said. He said, “I doubt seriously if you can grow spiritually unless you’re praying four hours a day.”
Megan: Well, I guess I’ll just give up.
Michael: Honestly, it made me feel like I suck. It’s like, “There’s no way I can attain that, no way I can grow into that,” and it made me give up. So, we have to consider our own circumstances. We have to consider the season of life we’re in. We have to consider our vocational differences. It’s not just a season of life thing. I talk to people, for example, who work shift work. They struggle. Those people sometimes struggle to do the kinds of habits I do because they don’t have a normal routine.
Megan: Think about, right now, our first responders, our folks in the medical profession who have been dealing with COVID now for months and months and months and months, who are in an emergency every day. That’s a very unique challenge to developing habits that a lot of the rest of us don’t have.
Michael: That’s right. All that has to be considered. Otherwise, what we’re going to do, if we’re not careful… We’re going to either impose upon other people or impose upon ourselves this standard we can’t keep, and we just end up quitting. Then we don’t make progress, and nobody wants that. So, we have to talk about the different seasons of life in particular.
Megan: Okay. Let’s talk about that. What are some of the big life transitions people experience that should prompt a reconsideration of your habits and your rituals?
Michael: I think any major life change. For example, the rituals you have in college, when you get your first job… I can remember thinking in college, “I will never be busier than I am right now.”
Megan: So true.
Michael: Honestly, post-college, college looked like a vacation, because once you start… I mean, marriage was great. I had a job, and Gail and I were married for the first time. That was idyllic. We didn’t have a lot of demands on our lives. It felt like we had a bunch of extra money. It was amazing. We had time to pursue habits. I was a huge reader during those days. I was reading several books a week. So much so that it was annoying to Gail.
I had all of these habits, but then we had you. You are our first daughter. We have five daughters. We had five daughters, at one point, under the age of 10. With each one of those, exponentially, the complexity of our lives grew. Having kids changed everything, so that was a major turning point, and then when we had more kids than we had hands, that was a major thing. Especially when you get five. You know this, because you’re the mother of five. Between the two of you, you have four hands, so it’s…
Megan: Yeah. We’re way outnumbered.
Michael: Yeah, you’re way outnumbered. Really, when we got three, that was a major difference between having two kids and three kids, and then when the kids moved into the various stages of school… Having toddlers start school was a little bit of a relief. We kind of got our lives back a little bit, but then you get into all the stuff where you’re having to supervise homework. Anyway, all I’m saying is that all of these major life changes (and we could catalog them ad infinitum) are an opportunity to rethink our rituals and ask, “Is this habit I was doing up until this point appropriate for this season of life?”
Megan: For example, if you… This is maybe not relevant as much right now, but if you have a job where, all of a sudden, you’re traveling for a season… Maybe you’re starting a new division for a company at another satellite location or something like that. Well, all of a sudden, if you think about it, if you’re traveling, living out of a hotel and commuting on the weekends, that’s going to change the habits you have. They’re not going to work the same way as when you’re home seven days a week. Totally different. That’s kind of what we’re talking about here.
Or, for example, when all of a sudden your kids start playing sports in the evening or they go to school an hour earlier, like when our kids went from elementary school to middle school and, all of a sudden, instead of going to school at 8:30, they went to school at 7:30. Well, that’s going to change the habits in the morning. These are kind of little things, seemingly, that if you don’t take into account and you’re just like, “No, I’m sticking with my habits,” and you don’t readjust, then you can fall out of the workability of those things.
This is one of the reasons, by the way, in the Full Focus Planner, that we have in the Quarterly Preview a process for you to reevaluate your rituals. A ritual is just a collection of habits. So, you have a collection of habits in the morning, and that’s your morning ritual. You have an evening one, etcetera. Reevaluating those on a quarterly basis is a great discipline.
You may not need to make major changes on a quarterly basis, but there are times… Like, when we adopted our youngest daughter Naomi, who’s now 18 months old, my whole morning ritual changed. What I used to do made no sense anymore. That’s what we want to allow for: recalibrating when those kinds of things happen.
Michael: Have you ever had a habit that you stopped, maybe intentionally or even unintentionally, and then picked it back up?
Megan: Yeah. I think exercise is a good example of that. It was around Naomi coming into our family. A lot of you guys know the story of us adopting her. She was born very, very prematurely at 27 weeks. We became her family when she was 5 weeks old. We spent nine weeks in the NICU with her, as she had already been there five weeks by the time we got to her, and then when we came home, she had some special needs around feeding. It just meant our schedule was extremely demanding.
All of a sudden, our focus went from all of these areas of self-care and habits to just trying to get cumulatively enough sleep to function, which a lot of you guys can relate to. That’s a tough thing. And when she was in the hospital for that lengthy period of time, there was no time to exercise. Basically, I would get up first thing in the morning, I would drive to Nashville where she was in the hospital, and then, at the end of the day, I would come home and trade with Joel, and he would go for several hours at the end of the day. So there was no time.
Consciously, we decided to put that on hold for several months and then got back to it later on, but that was appropriate for that season. So, during that season, my morning ritual looked like a five-minute devotional (this is what it looked like for quite some time), and then once I was back from parental leave, I would do my Big 3 for the day in my Full Focus Planner, just quickly create a plan for the day. The whole thing was 10 to 15 minutes long, because that’s all the time I had before it was time to feed her again.
Michael: I remember back when I started blogging in 2004. I kind of did it hit or miss for a while, usually about three times a week. I remember about two years into it (this would have been about 2005), I said, “I’m going to pick up the habit of writing every day and post something online.” My goal was 500 words a day. Also, I was the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers at that time. So, I had a very big job, I had a very busy family, but now I wanted to take on this writing habit. This is kind of weird, kind of counterintuitive, but it was actually the busyness of my life that enabled me to focus.
I knew I had to get that knocked out, and I timed it. On average, it would take me 70 minutes sometime in the day to write a blog post and post it. In fact, I even wrote a blog post about that methodology of writing a blog post in 70 minutes. I got very proficient at it. The more I did it, the better I got at it. I really feel like, as a writer, it helped me find my voice. But then, when I started Michael Hyatt & Company, there were a lot of other things that demanded my attention, and I decided I was going to give that up.
Megan: It was probably far less structured too. Right? You went from having non-stop meetings all day and a super structured schedule to having a lot fewer hard edges on your day, I would assume.
Michael: Yeah, and it kind of worked against me, because I kept thinking, “Well, I can get to that writing later, because I have nothing on my calendar. I don’t have the demands.” I just fell out of the habit. At various times I’ve kind of taken it back on, and I love that when I do it, but it’s not always appropriate. Like right now, I spend so much time on the front stage delivering content. I have a team of writers who work with me, and I’m still involved in the process, but not the way I was in the past, because this is a different season of life.
Megan: I think that’s so important and such a helpful example. I want to know how your habits and rituals have changed over time, especially around your morning rituals, the collection of habits that always occupy some block of time for you. What did that look like, for example, when we were all young, like when you were in your 30s?
Michael: Well, kind of like you. It was sort of the minimum effective dose. I wouldn’t say it was five minutes, but literally, I would try to read something from the Bible for about seven minutes, and then I would spend maybe a few minutes in prayer, and then I was off to my day. So, literally, my goal was to get it in 15 minutes. That was what I could do.
Now, here’s the trap a lot of people fall into. They think, “Oh, well, today I can go for an hour, so I’m going to make this a goal when the situation is ideal, the circumstances are perfect… You know, I’ve had a full night’s sleep. I have nothing early on the agenda.” No, that’s not how you need to set a habit like this. You need to ask, “What is a sustainable amount of time that I can spend when I don’t have optimal circumstances?”
Megan: Exactly. When people ask me this question during a Q&A or something we’re doing, a live event, I always say, “Set the bar so low you can get over it even when the baby was up all night, even when the babysitter can’t show up, even when the project is due that morning for work, even when you have a trip.” Really ask yourself the question, “What can I reasonably do almost every day no matter what?” and then start there.
You can always dial it up if you have found that you set the bar too low, but if you set it too high, then you get discouraged and throw in the towel. I’d rather you set it for 5 minutes or 10 minutes, whatever is the most essential part for you of your morning ritual, those habits that you really don’t want to live without, and then always tweak it up and add things on top of that, but don’t set yourself up to fail by assuming the stars are just going to align, and it’ll be amazing, and it’ll happen over and over again, because it won’t.
Michael: I totally agree with that. When I’m talking to my coaching clients…they’re all high achievers…nine times out of ten, I have to get them to back down from the habit goal they’ve set because it’s too ambitious. What they’ve forgotten, and what I sometimes forget, is the metaphor of compound interest. The way to save a ton of money for retirement is to do a little bit every month and to start early.
The same thing is true when it comes to any habit that’ll change your life. If it’s exercise, it’s not getting all excited and going to the gym and having a two-hour workout session for five days and then not doing it again for 90 days. No. It’s get there for 30 minutes a day. If you do that every day or even five days a week or even three days a week and you’re consistent, that’s enough to preserve your fitness and get you in shape.
No, you’re not going to get a six-pack, but leave that to the people who professionally get paid to be on magazines and have airbrushing. For the rest of us, just that minimum effective dose is what we need to be working toward, because there’s real power in incremental change over time. Okay. Some people may be wondering how what I just said fits in with my whole philosophy that your goals, using the SMARTER framework, need to be risky. Do you have an opinion on that, Megan?
Megan: I do have an opinion. My opinion is this: if your life is very busy, like most of ours are, then habits, period, are kind of risky. I mean, putting a habit into your life and committing to it on a daily or frequent basis, whatever your intervals are, is inherently risky. It’s inherently out of your comfort zone. Otherwise, you’d already be doing it. Adding habits is necessarily going to check the box of you’re not in your comfort zone. I think what that means is you don’t really need to worry about pushing yourself hard here, particularly at the beginning.
Now, if you’re like, “I got it. I got all of the basic habits, and I’m wondering how I could dial it up and maybe get an even higher level of performance for myself. Maybe I’m going to hire a trainer. I’m going to train for some kind of serious athletic event as a part of my exercise,” great. Go do it. That’s one way you could dial up the risk in your day-to-day habits if you want to, but for a lot of us, just installing habits, period, puts us outside our comfort zone. And my daughter is screaming. She is outside of her comfort zone.
Michael: I think we should include that in the podcast. Don’t edit that out. That’s awesome.
Megan: That’s my life.
Michael: Here we are in 2020, you know, the reality show of your life.
Megan: That’s right. I have an 18-month-old in the kitchen right now who’s probably about to go down for a nap and is not happy leading up to that.
Michael: Okay. I have a different answer to that same question. Your answer was awesome, but I have a different answer, and that is that a habit is usually a means to an end, and the end is often where the risk is. Let me give you an example. If you’ve never written a book and you decide that one of your goals for 2021 (or some subsequent year if you’re listening to this later) is going to be to write a book, that’s a risky goal. You might not complete it, or even if you do complete it, you might not get it published. So, there are a lot of different things that create risk.
But here’s the thing: you could use a habit goal as the major way you get to that achievement goal. While the achievement part of it needs to be in the discomfort zone and needs to include risk, each step should be inside your comfort zone. Let me give you another example. If I decide I want to run a half-marathon, that’s very risky. The first time I ever did it, I’d never run that far. I’d never even run a 10K. I thought, “Holy smoke! That’s a long way.” I at least had the good sense to not take on a full marathon initially, but I took on a half-marathon.
I found this site. I can’t remember what it was called, but it was basically called “From Couch to 5K,” or something like that. It was like, “Okay. The first day, I’m just going to walk a quarter of a mile, and the next day, I’m going to increase that by some small distance.” That was super easy. In fact, I was tempted to bypass that and say it was too easy, but I stuck to the plan, and it was never a big deal, all the way up to running that first half-marathon, which I successfully completed.
It didn’t kill me. I didn’t think about dying. I did think about quitting, but I didn’t think I was going to die, and I made it, because each step along the way in my preparation to achieve that very risky goal was manageable. That’s how you need to think of your habits. Again, the power of compound interest. I don’t know what the figures are, but if you are in your 20s and you start saving $100 or $200 a month, by the time you get to retirement age, that’s a pot load of money. You thought I was going to say something else, didn’t you?
Megan: That’s the technical term. Yes, I did. I was like, “Okay. Where are we going?” I totally agree with that. I think yours was even better than mine. I love thinking about it that way, because I think that frees a lot of us up. It just takes the pressure off. I feel like if we have one message of this episode that we want you to take away, it’s “Take the pressure off. You can do this.” Habits are for everybody. You can make it realistic. You can make it something that fits into your day-to-day life and really improves your life without having to be in a different season.
Megan: Okay. So, Dad, one other question I have for you is…How often should you reevaluate your habits?
Michael: Well, in the Full Focus Planner (and I’m not intending for this to be a plug for the planner, although, obviously, I really believe in the product), we’ve built in a couple of times when you could revisit this. First of all, when you’re setting your annual goals, you can decide out of the 10 to 12 goals you’re going to set for this upcoming year, maybe some of those are going to be habit goals as opposed to achievement goals. You can look at my book Your Best Year Ever for the distinction between those two. I have a whole chapter on that.
You can do it then. You can do it every quarter when you do your Quarterly Preview and you say, “Okay. I’m going to revisit my annual goals. I’m going to decide which goals I’m going to pursue in this quarter. I might even revise some of what I thought at the beginning of the year, and maybe I’m going to pursue some habit goals.” You also have the opportunity to do it when you’re revisiting your daily rituals. Like you said before, Megan, our daily rituals (and we recommend four rituals: morning ritual, workday startup ritual, workday shutdown ritual, and an evening ritual) are basically bundles of habits.
By the way, be very careful about adding too many components in those rituals. If you’re taking on a bunch of new habits you’ve never done before, this is a recipe for failure. Add them one at a time. Again, you could completely change your morning ritual over the course of 12 to 24 months by just adding a new habit every quarter. You don’t have to do that, but I’m saying it doesn’t have to happen all at once.
Megan: The other time is if, all of a sudden, you realize your habits are not working. If, instead of 80 percent or 90 percent of the time you’re consistent, all of a sudden you notice, “I’m at 50 percent, and that wasn’t just a week; that was four weeks in a row” or “I’m at 20 percent” or “I just totally fell off the wagon completely,” that’s an indication that you need to reevaluate your habits, because it’s possible that what happened is you had some kind of a life season change and you just didn’t take the time to connect the dots between that and your habits.
So, you got a new job. You had a baby that was born. You had new responsibilities in another area of your life. You’re all of a sudden caretaking for an elderly parent who has a significant illness, or whatever. Those kinds of situations need to be factored in. If all of a sudden you notice you’re dramatically less consistent than you have been, take a second and ask yourself, “Hey, wait a second. What has changed? Do I need to make some adjustments? What might those adjustments be?” When in doubt, remember the low bar. If you’re struggling to be consistent, lower the bar, and then gradually raise it as you’re successful with that.
Michael: That’s good. And don’t be afraid to quit on a habit that’s no longer serving you.
Megan: Okay. You have to say more about that, because I don’t know that people feel like they can quit, especially if they’re oriented toward performance and productivity. It’s like, “We’re never going to quit anything.”
Michael: Let me give you an example. For well more than a decade, probably 15 years, I was running. I considered myself a runner. I ran numerous half-marathons, and that was part of my identity. But then I injured myself. I injured my foot, and I couldn’t run, so then I took up walking. Initially, I thought it was a temporary thing, but then I started reading the research that basically said a vigorous walk can be just as advantageous as a run.
Some people listening to this will dispute that, but I was convinced that it was actually better for me to do the walk. It was less strenuous, and I found myself actually looking forward to it more than running. Particularly, as I get older, I thought that was a much more sustainable thing, so I just quit running. Now can I tell you… And I’d love to get your input. In real time I’m working this out. Gail and I have considered giving up our habit of date night.
Megan: What? That sounds scandalous.
Michael: I know. That sounds sacrilegious or something, because I’ve been a huge advocate of date nights. But here’s the thing. We’re empty nesters. We eat almost every meal together already, and we eat out a lot. Maybe I just need to be a little bit more creative in the date night, but we got to the place last night… We actually went on date night, and we said to each other, “This feels kind of artificial. It feels like we’re having to work too hard to make this into something when we just really enjoy each other’s presence.” We went for a long walk yesterday that wasn’t part of our date night and enjoyed the heck out of that. So, we’re considering giving that up as a thing.
Megan: Interesting. Well, you know what I like about that? First of all, I hope it says to y’all listening there’s nothing sacred. In your habits, there’s nothing sacred. All of our habits are just a means to an end. The reason I have date night is not because there’s anything special about Thursday night. It’s because I want to make my marriage a priority. I want to continually be growing closer to Joel. I want to make sure I carve out time in our busy lives to make him the focus of my attention, and vice versa, and that we’re having new fun experiences together, because I think that’s part of what helps marriages to be good over time.
So, it’s a means to an end. The date night is one way, maybe one of the best ways, to do that, particularly if most of your time is spent with other people, like children. But maybe in your season of life, you guys do want to plan special stuff to do with each other, but the weekly date night rhythm doesn’t make any sense. Maybe it’s more traveling, when that becomes possible again, or more outings like going to concerts or other experiences.
Maybe that’s what you want: non-mundane experiences to keep having together over time. Again, COVID makes all that weird and challenging, but if we can fast-forward someday to when all of those things are back available to us again, maybe that’s a different way to think about it. Maybe you would plan to go… Like, your habit would be once a month to go to some special event or once a quarter to go on a trip together.
Michael: That’s good. This sounds even more radical, but we spend so much time together, like literally every night, that maybe what we need is space night where we’re not together intentionally on one night. You know, I go do something I enjoy, she goes and does something she enjoys, and then we get back together and compare notes.
Megan: Or maybe you do something with friends, that you want to prioritize that. Marriage is good. That feels like you’re really taking care of that, and you want to have time with your friends. Anyway, the point is this is all really flexible and it can change with your season of life. Just because something was the right solution in one decade or many decades, or whatever, doesn’t mean it has to continue forever.
Michael: To misquote the Bible, habits are made for man, not man for habits.
Megan: It’s so funny that you said that, because I was thinking that exact thing.
Michael: That’s not the first time that has happened.
Megan: I know. The one brain is real. It’s real.
Michael: All right. We’d better wrap it up. In summary, the thing we most want to do is give you guys permission to choose habits in the season of life you’re in right now that best serve you. Ultimately, you have to be the judge of that. You can’t judge your habits by my habits or by anybody else who’s in a different season of life. Their circumstances are unique to them. You want to feel joy in these habits. You know, I get that they’re work, but you want to have joy. Once they get into automatic pilot and you no longer have to think about them…they’re part of your muscle memory…they really are a joy, and that’s the kinds of habits you want.
Megan: Awesome. If you’re listening to this episode and you’re thinking, “I need more input like this as I’m thinking about my habits. How can I optimize them? How can I maybe become more consistent with habits that I’ve wanted to install for a long time?” we have a new resource for you called No-Fail Habits from the Michael Hyatt & Company team. This is our best thinking on habits. So much practical advice, so many tips, tricks, pro tips…all of the things you guys love from us on this topic.
It’s going to come out in the next few weeks. We don’t want you to miss that. The best way to find out about it when it comes out is to join our Countdown for 2021. The theme for that this month is habits. The theme for next month is goal setting. It’s all about setting you up for an amazing 2021 regardless of how hard and how crazy 2020 has been.
We want you to have the community you need. We want you to have our best thinking on those topics, so that’s why we want you to join this Countdown to 2021. It’s totally free. All you have to do is go to michaelhyatt.com/countdown, and when you join the countdown you’ll also be notified when No-Fail Habits is released so you can get your physical or digital copy.
Michael: Megan, excellent. Thanks for joining me today for this conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it. I hope you guys have enjoyed it. We’ll see you next week here on Lead to Win.