Finding freedom in habits

Most motivational books or manuals on forming good habits focus on practical, actionable advice. Planners, workflow, daily exercise. Whatever. Million Dollar Habits, by Robert Ringer, is not like most motivational books. Instead of practical advice to squeeze every ounce of efficiency out of a packed schedule, Ringer presents a gripping, bold, at times provocative philosophy of life.

The book begins with several Guiding Principles, before Ringer explains the habits themselves. The principles underly the habits and basically state upfront that success is determined more by behavior and habits than by intelligence or any other pre-determined factor. The habits are universally applicable and relevant to all aspects of business and life. His vision of success is also a lot broader than mere wealth. Libertarian that he is, Ringer emphasizes personal freedom and taking ownership from one’s actions.

Now to the habits themselves.

Broadly speaking, the philosophy embedded in the habits is reminiscent somewhat of 19th Century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. His whole philosophy, like Ringer’s, was founded in triumphing over and finding meaning in the sufferings and setbacks of life. He famously said, “He who has a ‘Why’ can endure almost any ‘How’.” This axiom essentially sums up all the habits into a single sentence, but let’s break them down in more detail.

Most of the habits are not practical or actionable advice—not in the usual sense. They aren’t even framed that way. The Reality Habit, the Present Living Habit, the Action. They are a lot more about mindset or, better yet, life philosophy than anything else.

For example, the first habit is the Reality Habit. It’s all about perception and cutting through the illusions and self-aggrandizement that people throw up around themselves. People don’t like to think that their actions have consequences and do like to feel comfortable in their self-image and presuppositions. To foster the Reality Habit, you must train yourself to consider both sides of everything and to question what society wants you to take for granted.

Ringer ties this into business directly with the example of the fantasy worlds of ad campaigns. However, to truly live in the real world, you have to see through the facade even of the law and conventional morality. You need to create your own meaning and purpose in life that corresponds with the facts on the ground, not with how you wished the world worked.

The rest of the habits build from here. The basic pillars of the book’s moral code are that actions have consequences and that you have the freedom to do as you please so long as you are not restricting the freedom of others. The Morality Habit covers this in detail. With these moral principles in play, you need to have laser-like focus to achieve success. To do this you need the Perspective Habit, which enables you to see the good side to apparent failures and setbacks. It’s also useful to foster the Present-Living Habit so that you are personally invested in your work. This allows you to enter a Success Cycle, where focus leads to results leads to satisfaction leads to greater focus.

The habits all work more or less like this. They interact with each other in a really organic way. In tandem, the habits should allow you to determine what is meaningful for your life and give you the freedom of character to forge that meaning out of the trials and tribulations of life. It’s a compelling vision.

There are 10 habits in total, and when they all come together, you have a vision of success that is grounded in unwavering discipline, responsibility, and self-improvement. While Ringer’s more Nietzschean and Libertarian ideas can come off as quite shocking three decades later, Million Dollar Habits is still a classic for a reason. The writing is gripping, the ideas bold, the habits invaluable.

Million Dollar Habits is available for purchase here.

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