Why did Steve Jobs always wear a black turtleneck?
And why does Mark Zuckerberg almost always wear a gray T-shirt?
There’s a good reason: it’s not about fashion, and it has more to do with what you accomplish in 2015 than you might imagine…
As a new calendar year approaches, it’s natural to reflect on our lives and our performance as leaders, and think about what we might do differently in the coming year.
I’ve never been much for resolutions, which tend to become wishful thinking pretty quickly.
But I do believe in the power of setting goals…if it’s done right.
Why Goals Matter
Too often, we set goals that are merely arbitrary numbers, either plucked out of thin air or extrapolated from last year’s goals.
When we have no theory of action for a goal, it becomes a wish—inspiring, perhaps, but not of any practical use.
And even if there’s a good reason for picking a specific goal, setting the goal doesn’t magically give you the power to achieve it.
But a while back, I stumbled onto their real power: goals help us focus on the right order of magnitude.
If I want to get more exercise, I might plan to go on more hikes. But that’s pretty vague. If I set a specific weight or fitness goal, I’m much more likely to realize that going on a hike once a month isn’t going to cut it. I need to be working out several times a week, not once a month.
Goals help us identify the areas in which we need to set plans in motion, and they help us scale those plans to match the magnitude of the goal.
If I want to truly move my school forward, doing two classroom walkthroughs a month isn’t going to make much of a difference. But four a day will.
Set a goal, and you’ll still have a mountain to climb, but you’ll know how tall it is, how much you’ll have to train, and how long it’ll take.
Goals can make a difference. But what about everyone’s favorite New Year topic, resolutions?
Why Resolutions Don’t (Quite) Work
Resolutions aren’t a bad thing, but they fall a bit short. They’re helpful, but incomplete.
Sometimes we don’t change until we get fed up enough with the status quo that we can’t stand not changing. The moment we resolve to change, our perspective starts to shift.
But resolve is a pretty raw emotion. It can get you started, but it’s not going to do the work for you.
YOU have to do the work. Every day.
And to be consistent, you need habits.
Resolutions get you fired up enough to get started. Goals help you aim high enough. And habits help you do the work.
The Power of Habit
Last year, I read a fantastic book by Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit, and another great book called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy Baumeister.
Both books helped me understand why the things I was good at were so easy, while they might be hard for others, and why I struggled with things that seemed easy for others.
It’s all about habit.
When you’re acting out of habit, you’re not using your willpower. You don’t have to think. You don’t have to decide. You don’t even have to have much energy, because habits let you work virtually on autopilot—not like a zombie, but like an airline pilot.
Think about an airline pilot, in a 747 on autopilot. The pilot doesn’t take a nap when autopilot is engaged; he or she is free to focus on other relevant matters, instead of manually adjusting the flight controls moment-by-moment.
We use habits for 40% or more of our daily activity—brushing your teeth usually isn’t too hard to remember to do consistently, even before coffee—but too rarely do we purposefully build habits around our key work.
The more you can get consistent about the majority of your work so it happens on autopilot, the more you can devote your attention to what most needs it—the exceptions to the rule, the tough situations, and the high-level decisions.
Steve Jobs wore black turtlenecks, and Zuck wears gray T-shirts, as part of a purposeful strategy of cognitive budgeting. They’re autopilot habits. If you’re running a multi-billion-dollar company, you don’t have time to distract yourself with wardrobe choices.
Every decision matters, and the more decisions you can encode into systems, the better.
I think of these systems for high performance this way:
- Strategy is what allows us to do the right work and be effective
- Tools allow us to put aspects of our work on autopilot and become more efficient
- Habits are what enable us to be consistent—to execute with excellence, every day
Together, these three factors form what I call the High Performance Triangle:
It’s the basis for just about every strategy I teach for going from “I show up every day and do a great job” to “I’m performing at my best and maximizing my impact on student learning.”
It’s a subtle distinction but a big difference.
How To Form A Habit
Since my last PDF guide was so popular—more than 300 people have already downloaded my “Leadership, Simplified” PDF—I’m working on a new guide on how to form habits for high performance.
If you’ve already downloaded Leadership, Simplified, you’re on my list to get the habit guide. Stay tuned.
If not, click here, and I’ll send you Leadership, Simplified now, and the habit guide as soon as it’s ready.