“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristole

It’s just the first Saturday in September. But, are you feeling the post summer blues yet?

“Back to school” season is in full swing for students; others are in “back to work” mode; summer is quickly winding down; and fall is nipping at your heels. So you know what that means, right?

Time to reflect on your goals and year-to-date progress. (Are you ahead, on-track or behind your targets?)

Time to take a look at the stuff you’ve put off, ignored entirely, or failed to achieved.

Time to assess if your game-plan is working and whether it is the one to help you cross the finish line into the new year strong. Or, if it needs to be adjusted.

September has that new year feeling like January; it’s an invitation to change. And as you know…

…for change to happen something needs to change.

That “something” is usually your habits!

Notice I didn’t say “a habit.”

The singular vs. plural is really important here because people often come to me in search of one key habit that will change what’s going on with them and their money. It could be about a financial result, experience or expectation, but the notion is always the same: “If I just did this one thing, I’d be able to… to save more or get out of debt faster or earn more now or (fill in the blank).”

While I completely get this sentiment (believe me, I do!), it is one that makes me wince. Because it over-simplifies what you and I know intuitively but frequently overlook: habits are not one dimensional.

If they were, you’d be able to get any result you wanted simply by identifying the key habit to make the outcome happen, and practicing it regularly. You’d be set; you’d have absolutely everything you want in life – in abundance. Financially and otherwise.

But, I’m going to go out on the “life doesn’t quite work like that” limb and presume that that isn’t the case, eh?

Habits are multi-dimensional

First, there is the matter of components. Think about any habit of yours. If you dissect it, you’d likely discover there is a mental component to it, as well as emotional and perhaps physical and spiritual, too.

Second, there is the matter of how habits work. According to Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter with the New York Times and author of the highly-acclaimed book, “The Power of Habit,” habits have an anatomy. Or, a “loop.” Based on the findings of MIT researchers, every habit begins with a cue (or trigger); is followed by a routine (or behavior); and concludes with a reward.

When you consider the components and anatomy of any given habit, it’s easy to see the falsehood of believing that just by practicing one, single habit you could achieve any goal. Especially one as multi-layered as financial success.

You may be rolling your eyes in that “duh?” kind of way. But stay with me. Let’s use an example of a person who says they want to get healthier. To do that, at least three habits are required, right? Eating more of the right food; eating less of what isn’t good for you; and moving your body. Three habits. Each one taps into a different combination of components; each habit has a different loop.

And still…

People continue to search for that one, single habit.

Media folks do it, too. For the purpose of a good sound bite, I often get asked, “What’s one thing…?’

There’s a reason you and I crave the certainty and comfort that undergirds the idea and power of “one” thing. Doing “x” to get “y” is a nice, simple formula. And, we like formulas.

Bummer…because when you pine for that one habit (or one idea or one solution) as if it is the path to nirvana, you end up mis-using your time and resources. You mis-direct your focus and energy. And, you either measure the wrong thing or nothing at all.

What does this all add up to?

A big heap of frustration because you’re doing something – you’re doing the work – you’re practicing a habit. But it’s either getting you no where or not taking you as far you could go.

If it only took one financial habit to be successful, all you would need to do is identify “your” habit, practice it, and manage it.

Turns out, achieving success and excellence – financial and otherwise – is a bit more complicated than that.

Turns out, it is about putting together a collage of habits (and loops) that support and complement each other. (Oh, and by the way, the collage is different for each person.)

So, let’s talk about that collage of habits next time.

In the meanwhile, Happy Labor Day to my U.S. peeps! Enjoy the long, holiday, weekend. And if you’re on the East Coast, be safe.

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