Do You Have Hero Habits? 10 Questions You Must Ask Yourself Today

Updated to Habits on March 28, 2015.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

Hero Habits - Green HornetWhen I was growing up I loved shows like Batman, and The Green Hornet. Both crime fighters had a trusty side-kick: Robin for Batman, and Kato for The Green Hornet. Whatever nasty situation they got into, they could count on their partner to help pull them out.

That’s what Hero Habits do for you.

A Hero Habit is a routine you create that makes you a hero, over and over again. It could be for health, sales, marriage, reading, planning, communication, or meditation. It’s your Kato – always there, never tiring, ready to serve. I love my Hero Habits.

According to research from Duke University, as much as 40% of your daily activities are habit-based, like: brushing your teeth, washing dishes, and driving your car (you can get a list of 12 great habits to start with in this post). Hero Habits are a bit different.

Hero Habits make you a better person, create capacity (your ability to take on more responsibility), and build success in your work and life.

You create your Hero Habits by first looking at what you need.


Something magical happens when you put a number to a problem. Once, when presenting to an audience of business leaders I asked what response they get when asking staff “How’s it going?”. After a collective sigh, the consensus was: “Good”, “Fine”, or “Okay.” A bad start to a conversation.

They need to ask for a number.

When you put a number on something subjective (like, ‘How are doing today?’), you get a more specific answer – one you can build on. For managers wanting to engage in a meaningful conversation, they can start with “On a scale from one to five, how are you doing today?” Regardless of what the answer is, you have something to talk about.

You car also gives you numbers so you know your speed, how much fuel is left, etc.. Your bank, utility company, and credit card company all give you numbers so you know what to pay. What about you – do you rate yourself?


Before we look at new Hero Habits, let’s look at ones you already have.

For each of the following habits, rate yourself on a scale from one to five (where ‘0’ means I never exercise this habit and ‘5’ means I use it consistently well):

  1. planning habits: long-term and short-term
  2. work habits: working from a plan, not procrastinating
  3. organization and anti-clutter habits (at work and at home)
  4. diet habits: eating healthy foods in the right amount
  5. exercise habits: intensity, frequency, consistency
  6. sleep habits: amount, quality, consistency
  7. being present (in meetings, conversations, and with family)
  8. meeting, appointments, and being on time
  9. limiting time on email, TV, social media, etc
  10. making realistic promises

My guess is your results were not all ‘5’s’ – that’s Okay – I’m in the same boat.

The idea is not to beat yourself up, but be aware of your habits and work at improving them, one at a time. As Goethe once wrote “We are what we repeatedly do, excellence therefore is an habit, not an act.”

Now that we have awareness, the next step is becoming accountable and owning the need to change. That starts with needs.

Download your free copy of the full, 28 page, ebook HERO HABITS – How to be Awesome Every Day at Work and in Life.