It was 1978.
In the years that would follow, Dean Hovey would meet with Steve Jobs and design the first mouse for Apple Computer. But today, he was a junior at Stanford University, majoring in Product Design, and he was sitting in drawing class.
His professor, Jan Molenkamp, asked if Dean could draw the roof of Stanford’s famous Hoover Tower from memory. “Without looking, can you draw Hoover Tower’s roof? Can you recall its shape, color, and texture?”
Hovey was surprised. He wasn’t sure what to draw. Years later, he would write…
For the past three years, I had been a student at the University and ridden my bicycle or walked by Hoover Tower hundreds of times. Yet I couldn’t confidently state the roof’s shape or its color, or composition. While I’d seen it a hundred times — I really hadn’t.
Even though Hoover Tower was part of Dean's daily life, he wasn’t really aware of it.
I find that our habits often work the same way. We fall into certain patterns and routines — sometimes good, sometimes bad — without really being aware of the factors that are driving our choices and actions.
More importantly, just as Dean Hovey couldn't draw the tower without first being aware of it, you and I can't master our habits without first being aware of the decisions and actions we are taking on a daily basis. Awareness is the first and most critical piece for building good habits and breaking bad ones. Without awareness, even the most intelligent and talented people can struggle to make the right decisions on a consistent basis.
This may have you wondering…
What can you do to raise your levels of awareness? How can you change your bad habits if you're not aware of them in the first place?
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here is one tactic that has worked for me…
For Better Habits, Measure Something
What gets measured, gets managed.
If you’re serious about making change, then you can’t sit around and hope to magically become aware of the important things. Instead, you need to make an active effort to measure and track what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
This is much simpler than you might think and it’s also one of the best ways to kick start new behaviours. Here are a few examples…
Study – We all try new exercises, numerical and questions. After doing some of them we think that we have done enough. But every time during exams we got a lot of pending questions that we had not tried even once. This is because we do our work without tracking it.
It all started with when I started tracking my work every day. This simple action prompted me to track the rest of my work with a more watchful eye. It sounds so simple, but writing down how many questions each day I was solving helped me to get me doing more of them more consistently. (And along the way, I doubled the number of questions I could solve.)
Money and Business — According to many historians, John Rockefeller was the richest man in the history of the world. Recently, I read about his life and learned that Rockefeller was known for tracking every single penny across his massive empire. After reading about Rockefeller's strategies, I was inspired to track my own finances even more closely.
What happened? I quickly became more aware of my finances and discovered a handful of places where I could cut costs and increase earnings. Furthermore, my increased tracking and measurement has helped me learn about things like tax efficiency and asset allocation, which I had previously thought very little about.
Notice that in each example above, I didn't start by worrying about all the improvements I needed to make. I simply started by becoming more aware of my behavior. I tracked and measured. And by paying attention to what I was doing and how I was spending my time, ideas for improving my habits naturally presented themselves.
It is all about paying attention.
Nothing happens before awareness. If you aren’t aware of your decisions, then you can’t do anything to improve them — no matter how smart you are.
With that in mind, I’d like to challenge you to measure something in your life for the next week.
Pick something that is important to you and make an effort to be more aware of the things that drive your decisions and actions. Don’t worry about changing your whole life. Don't judge yourself for not being as good as you want to be. Just pick one thing that’s important to you and measure it. Take stock of it. Be aware of it.
Your awareness and your habits go hand-in-hand. The simple act of noticing what you do is the first step for improving how you do it. If you recognize how you’re spending your time, then the next step will often reveal itself.