Robin Sharma’s Top 10 Habits of 2021 Challenge

Dear Robin,

Long time follower, first time open-letter-writer. 

Firstly, I think it's important to be honest and up-front with you. You're not necessarily not my cup of tea. You've sent me 122 emails in the last year. That's an email on average every 3 days. My family doesn't contact me as much as you do. Take a chill pill dude. And you're probably (rightly) thinking that if I don't enjoy your emails, why don't I unsubscribe? I'm not sure. But I'm glad I didn't, because if I had, I wouldn't have received your email about your Top 10 Habits of 2021 Challenge email. I got this on 26 December at 10:30am. That's important, because it means you dropped this "challenge" on your (presumably many) email list subscribers 5 days before the challenge was due to begin. That's like going up to some unfit guy in a burger joint and challenging him to run a marathon in 5 days. What were you thinking? Did this challenge just occur to you on Christmas day and you woke up the next morning going "I'm going to spring QUITE the surprise challenge on my followers today" - Not cool Robin. Not Cool.

So anyway, I've taken some time to think and reflect on your Top 10 Habits of 2021 Challenge, and I respectfully think you should re-consider. Certainly, I think that anybody who got your email should give this challenge a hard pass. Why? Because they are bound to fail. Because you have sought to inspire without empowering. Because you are sending mixed signals and mixed messages. Because you are calling things habits that are not (by almost any definition) habits. Because, and I'm sorry to be so blunt about it Robin, really, I am, this challenge is absolutely bonkers.

Here's some of the problems I've spotted Robin. Others may have more. ... 

Robin’s Email

My Response

I’m launching a challenge Brian.

Great Robin, I love a challenge. I like that we’re on first name terms too. That makes me trust you and feel like we have a rapport already. Lets do this buddy!

I hope and pray you and all your friends will reach deep and remember your best and practice the following 10 electrifying habits for the first 66 days of the new year until they become your standard operating system.

Wait, what? You want me to take on 10 new habits together? At the same time? Beginning on a FRIDAY? In the middle of a global pandemic and total lockdown? What are you, batsh!t crazy? No wonder you are praying for me.

Oh—you CAN do these! You are stronger than you know and more brilliant than you can imagine. Do not allow the false beliefs and fake rationalizations to stop your growth. You are so much more than these.

I probably could, yes. If I took them one at a time, and spent time planning and strategizing each one using, for example, the Fogg Behavioural Model, or the learnings in Atomic Habits, or Good Habits Bad Habits or any other of the many notable books about the science of habit formation that are out there.

But on 5 days notice? Without any information about how habits are formed? Sorry, but no. Trust me when I tell you that I am NOT more brilliant than I can imagine. I imagine myself just a notch down from a god (which I’m not). The only false belief here is the false belief that people are capable of doing each of these 10 ‘habits’ simultaneously for 66 days starting…..on 5 days notice. This is madness. There, I said it.

Ok. The 10 habits:

Go on, amuse me.

#1. Speak not anything negative. Try “complaint fasting” for one day. Then stretch it into a week. Then into months. Transformation begins with tiny triumphs, never wholesale change.

I’ve actually done this before. It is recommended by Paul McKenna in his book “I can change your life in 7 days”, for example. It’s a good idea and I support it.

Just one thing though. If transformation begins with “tiny triumphs” and “never wholesale change” then, erm, should you be suggesting that people try and make 10 wholesale changes at the same time for 66 days straight with 5 days notice and absolutely no information on the basics of habit formation?

#2. Don’t buy what you don’t need. I recall a meeting with a super-successful financier. He told me he never visited shopping malls. I asked why not. “I don’t go to places where I might be persuaded to buy things that I don’t need.” Frugality is a colourful badge of self-discipline. Isn’t it?

Again, in theory, this makes sense. However, using language of self-discipline when advocating for habit change is, well, not ideal.

#3. Keep a night journal. Before you sleep, each evening of 2021, record what you learned from the day, what you’ll improve tomorrow and where you are winning.

This is a great habit to take up. I actually have a free course running from 4 January 2021 that will teach people how to make that a habit. You can join up if you like Robin, and then you can teach people too. Teach a man to fish and all of that.

#4. Study for an hour a day. It’s remarkable how many people are unprepared. They show up for meetings with little advance knowledge, deal with customers with minimal expertise and have little sense over what they want their future to look like. In 2021, read, write, strategize and reflect for at least 60 minutes a day. For breakthrough results.

I’m trying not to be critical and argumentative for the sake of it. This is good advice, but again, to make a habit of clearing out an hour of time every day for 66 days straight is well beyond the wit of most mere mortals. Talk to Nir Eyal about how hard it is to carve out that hour and be indistractable. He wrote a book about it. Don’t get me wrong Robin, I think your heart is in the right place here, but my personal opinion is that if you, a person in a position of great influence tell people “you can do this” but don’t tell them how to, you’re actually just setting them up to fail and feel bad about themselves, which they will.

#5. Don’t check for messages until noon each work day. I understand this might not be possible for some yet too many of us destroy our positivity, creativity and focus by reading email or scrolling social media feeds during those ultra-valuable first hours.

Again, great advice, and again Nir Eyal has great advice for how to do this from a both practical and philosophical stand point. I don’t believe however, for one second, that someone just deciding to take up your challenge and saying to themselves “I’m not going to check my phone until noon” (or any other time for that matter) stands any chance of succeeding. Zero. Again, Nir Eyal (a guest on my podcast, episode 3 BTW) wrote a whole book on how the tech industry have made use of your device and their apps habitual and got you 'hooked' so that its really (really) difficult to ignore them until noon (or any other time).

#6. Hire a fitness trainer. All I know is that when I work out with a trainer, I push harder, am held accountable and find it hard to miss my workouts. As an alternative, start a running group or exercise hub that brings together people just like you who wish to make peak health a high priority.

Hiring a fitness trainer is not a habit. Something you do once, almost by definition, cannot be a habit. However, you touch on some good points (perhaps by accident) about the importance of accountability and accountability partners. The idea about starting a group or exercise hub is a great one. 

#7. Represent noble virtue. Yes there are many selfish people in the world and yes, pessimism grows. Yet, this age is a beautiful period to live the ideals that the heroes have lived. Over 2021–beginning in January—resolve to operate with honesty, imagination, hard work, compassion and courage.

Okay. Erm….I don’t know if I FULLY understand what representing noble virtue is. But in habit terms, what is the cue, craving and response to this? How is this actionable? I actually don’t think SMART goals are ideal, but even using that basic infrastructure I have no idea how to work with this.

#8. Leave everyone you meet better than you found them. True leaders and genuine heroes are hope-bringers. They make people feel bigger, never smaller, in their presence. They have a trained gift to inspire and activate other humans to own gifts they didn’t know they had while achieving feats they never dreamed they could do.

I can hear the inspirational music and imagine you on stage saying this….I just don’t know how to make it a habit. Inspiring people without empowering them to follow through is….well, it’s a bit useless isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the message. It’s actually part of my “what would you want people to say about you at your funeral” piece that most purpose-finding exercises have you complete. But a habit? Really? Again, what's the cue here?

#9. Have a bias for the doing of hard things. A lot of my new book (out in 2021) is about the best ideas I know for elite productivity and the kind of high-impact that launches movements. One of the insights I’ll offer to you right now is to consistently embrace the activities that are hardest. Hard is what makes you stronger, more skilled and braver. Doing easy acts has very little reward.

So, have a habit of having a bias, is that right? Maybe we’re thinking of different things.

My understanding of the science of habit formation is that the best way to make a habit stick is to make it easy. So, eh, the exact opposite of this. I’m not sure we’re even on different pages here, I think we’re reading different books.

#10. Join The 5AM Club. Of course I want you to do this! The book was one of the bestselling books in the world in 2020 because the morning routine I explained in it (and the other rituals for daily genius) causes true transformation. Getting up early over 2021 will make your productivity soar, amplify your fitness and give you precious time to do good things for your self, while the rest of the world is asleep.

I actually agree (in theory) with this. I’m more a Miracle Morning man myself. As a former breakfast radio presenter I’m aware of the saying “win the morning, win the day”. I just wonder if the 5am club would be as successful a movement if it was called the 9pm club. That, of course is the time you would need to be asleep every night to get the scientifically validated and recommended 8 hours sleep every night.

Ok Brian. That’s it. 10 super-valuable habits to encode starting January 1. Remember: what makes genius isn’t genetics but very good habits. Make yours excellent.

I guess it’s possible to consider genius in a way that follows this logic. But it’s surely a stretch. And as a former copywriter, which is it. If genius us very good habits, then surely I should make my habits “very good”. Why do I need to make them excellent. Sorry, I’m nit picking now, I know. But come on dude, you’re Robin-Freakin-Sharma, who is proof reading this bullcrap?

Robin Sharma

Robin Sharma

Humanitarian + Leadership Missionary

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