People often ask me what makes people successful in their careers.

At the core of it is our habits. The things we do in the normal course of our days, weeks and months. It’s like the compounding effect of interest on an investment. Your habits invisibly guide your future path.

One of the habits I’ve found most underestimated is the habit of doing something unhabitual. I know, it sounds counterintuitive to have a habit of disrupting your habits!

What I mean is to make it a habit to do something you don’t usually do. Whether it’s once a month, once a quarter or once a year, choose something that’s of interest to you. It could be a new area of knowledge, an activity you’ll enjoy or an experience you’d like to have.

The key is to expose yourself to something new periodically

It could be as simple as an invitation in your inbox that you wouldn’t normally make time for.

For example, my former employer’s alumni network recently offered a live webinar on cryptocurrencies. While my business doesn’t have anything to do with cryptocurrencies, I’ve been hearing about it from my fellow mastermind members and I’ve become intrigued.

So I signed up and gave myself an hour to learn about something new and now know enough to be able to have a conversation and ask intelligent questions.

And a while ago, I also signed myself up for an artist’s retreat to learn to play jazz piano. I didn’t realize it until later, but that week of unlearning the rigidity of my classical piano training and freeing myself to be creative became a metaphor for how to approach my work.

When you’re on the lookout for things that intrigue you, you’ll start to see them everywhere

But until you grab onto one of them, you won’t reap the benefits, which we’ll cover in a moment.

To create the habit of doing the unhabitual, you must give yourself permission to say yes.

And then book it into your calendar and show up when the time comes.

5 reasons to give yourself permission to do something you don’t usually do

1. You’ll be a more interesting person to talk to and be around

Whether it’s with friends, colleagues or clients, having new ideas to share and intriguing things to say makes people look forward to spending time with you. And time together is core to building relationships and getting new opportunities.

For example, at Morgan Stanley when our executive team sat around the table in New York discussing potential hiring candidates, we had the “flight to Tokyo test”. That is, would you want to sit next to this person on a 14-hour flight? If the answer was no, they didn’t get hired.

And for a former colleague whose wife complained that all he talked about was work, showing other dimensions of himself might have saved his marriage.

2. You’ll be able to participate intelligently in more conversations

No longer will you have to sit on the sidelines smiling and nodding, pretending to know what people are talking about. Instead, you’ll be the embodiment of a successful senior leader with something to add and a point of view.

3. You’ll become more strategic

Having more “dots” to connect will help you become more strategic in your thinking and more innovative in finding solutions. This again contributes to your being seen as ready for the next level and richer opportunities.

4. You’ll expand your career opportunities

You’ll meet people with different perspectives and broaden your view on the world and your career opportunities along with it. No one can be the expert on everything or even keep track of all the new, cool developments in the world.

Like the 60-year-old who retrained and got into the cyber security field after seeing his 38-year-old mentee step into this new field and make a six-figure salary.

5. You’ll come away refreshed

Changing things up ensures you’re feeding your mind, body and soul with new sources of inspiration and energy. It’ll keep you from falling into a rut. And if you’re already in a rut, this simple habit will help lift you out of it. Not only will you feel refreshed, others will find you refreshing as well.

But what if you fall behind colleagues who are 100% focused on the job at hand?

Becoming narrower in your focus might appear at first to help you get ahead in your career. But getting the more senior level of opportunities requires a broader understanding of the world and the ability to bring in disparate points of view.

When you keep a narrow focus, you might just paint yourself into a corner and get stuck there. When you make it a habit to do something new, you expand your possibilities. And you won’t run the risk of getting bored!

Just don’t make the mistake of looking for the immediate payoff

By putting in a requirement that the things you do generate an immediate return, you’ll be restricting yourself to keep doing what you’ve already been doing and focus your future opportunities on more of what you already have.

When you focus on immediate payoffs, you’ll keep honing the things you already do well. But in the long term, you won’t develop the new muscles and experiences you need to get to the next level and the level after that.

All it takes is giving yourself permission to do something you wouldn’t normally do

It might be reconnecting with a hobby you haven’t made time for since your teens, reading something totally different from what you’d normally read or making time for that training webinar you’ve been putting off. Or it could be attending a festival like Burning Man or South by Southwest® just to see what it’s all about.

Whatever it is, if you find it interesting, you’ll be able to convey that excitement to others. And they’ll be intrigued to know more about it and start to see you in a different light. If it’s something that involves other people, the connections you make with them could lead to all sorts of new opportunities.

Whether it’s a baby step or something more involved, make a start. You'll soon be seen as that more interesting conversation partner who’s strategic, refreshing and going places in your career.

Now, it’s over to you.

What’s the first unhabitual new thing you'll try out?

Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear from you!