7 Mental Habits That Work — Until They Get In Your Way

Knowledge is knowing something, wisdom is knowing when and how to use it

Brad Stulberg

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Something I discuss often with my coaching clients is the importance of taking even the best advice with a grain of salt. There is no behavior, no trait, no habit, that leads to success 100 percent of the time — in fact, certain mindsets work well until they become the very things that get in your way.

Achieving anything meaningful in life — from a concrete goal to a general sense of well-being — requires an awareness of this paradox. When you know that even the qualities and practices we consider desirable, like the seven below, are not purely beneficial, you can rely on them when they are helpful and leave them behind when they are not. Wisdom is knowing when to do which.

Grit

The ability to grind toward a goal — and to stay focused on that goal when the going gets tough — is a key element of success (and, for that matter, of a life well lived). That said, sometimes we can over-glorify perseverance, sticking with something simply for the sake of sticking with it, even if we no longer find value or pleasure in it.

In those cases, the right thing to do is to quit. As David Epstein pointed out in his book, Range, if we rely too heavily on the idea of grit, we forfeit the opportunity to try other approaches or activities that might be a better fit for us. Quitting can be a way to make room for other, better things.

Effort

To reach a state of flow — the experience of being in the zone, completely absorbed in what you are doing, be it in sport, writing, art, conversation, sex, meditation, or public speaking — is to release yourself from trying. Flow is an absence of conscious effort; as you approach potential peak moments, trying too hard can lead to choking.

Of course, in order to reach a level where flow is even a possibility, you have to try. You have to focus. To practice. To think carefully about every move. Trying hard is a habit that gets you where you want to go — up until the point that it becomes a barrier.

Routine

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Brad Stulberg

Bestselling author of Master of Change and The Practice of Groundedness