The Beginning of a New Year

As we approach 2019, I want to address an issue that has great influence on our individual lives, though we generally are not very aware of it. I would like to introduce it through a riddle.

Who am I?

I am your constant companion.

I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden.

I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.

I am completely at your command.

Half the things you do might just as well be turned over to me and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly.

I am easily managed – you must merely be firm with me.

Show me exactly how you want something done and after a few lessons I will do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great people and alas, of all failures as well.

Those who are great, I have made great.

Those who are failures, I have made failures.

I am not a machine, though I work with all the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a person.

You may run me for profit or run me for ruin – it makes no difference to me.

Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will place the world at your feet.

Be easy with me and I may destroy you.

Who am I?

Over the years I have shared this with a number of people and rarely has anyone been able to solve the riddle. The correct answer is “your habits.”

I do not think we realize how our habits shape our lives and the course of our lives. As the riddle says, “Take me, train me, be firm with me and I will place the world at your feet. Be easy with me and I may destroy you.” These are very sobering words.

Author Mathew Kelly says:

“Habits have power over us. They play a central role in our life story.”

He goes on to say:

“My whole life I have been studying champions and excellence. I have been fascinated with the best of the best at anything. The one observation I have continually made over the years is that the best of the best – The enduring sports figures, the business leaders, the saints – have better habits than everyone else.”

In the book I wrote, A Life of Excellence, I share a principle that truly helps us establish good habits. It is called “The Vector Principle.” The heart of the principle is that “small changes make a big difference over time.”

For many years I would set ambitious goals at the beginning of January, only to fail miserably by the time February rolled around. Then I changed my approach. Now at the beginning of every year, I seek to make two, three, maybe even four small but important changes in my life. Generally by February they have become habits. With the passage of time you begin to see the compounding effect it can have on your life.

I am reminded of the words of the prominent business consultant Nido Quebin who said:

“One of the greatest reasons people cannot mobilize themselves, is that they are always dreaming of some grand accomplishment that they hope one day will come to pass. Most worthwhile achievements are the result of many little things done in a single [strategic] direction.”

I leave you with these simple but powerful words of John Maxwell:

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily”

Happy New Year!


Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

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