I want to discuss the obstacles that lie between you, and the positive changes you’re trying to make in your life. And some strategies on how to overcome them. Because whatever health, wealth, love, or happiness we gain will be won from what we do daily. Success (in life) is almost never the product of an instant. That’s why it’s so important to understand how to master our routines. And when it comes to routines, sometimes mastery = contingency. You’ve got to know what you’re really up against, and how to deal most effectively with the stresses of REAL life.
As an introduction, we may appreciate these wise words from a man who was very well read in Philosophy:
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather have these because we have acted rightly; these virtues are formed in man by doing his actions; we are we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
– Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (1926)
PART 1: I explained how our instincts complicate the process of changing habits. How they keep us stuck in comfortable patterns of action, and how coaching can help us break out of these.
The first new piece of insight (something I didn’t mention by name in that article) is stress.
I recently had the opportunity to read The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. The purpose of the book is about as straightforward as it sounds, but there’s also plenty of information in it about how to change our habits. And what it did is it made me think new thoughts.
The book prominently features the story of Tony Dungy.
This man made the list for the Top 20 Greatest Coaches in NFL History. The main tenant of his coaching philosophy was to help players be more efficient in the way they made decisions on the field.
He tried to train players to respond automatically to certain cues, with a predetermined response. (If this guy’s shoulder is turned this way, it means he’s likely going to do x, so no matter what I’m going to focus on doing y. If not, then I focus on doing z.)
This takes the real-time decision-making out of the equation and allows a player to respond much more quickly to a situation. The whole team becomes like a computer-program. Responding to cues with preset responses, with little to no real “thinking”.
The reason this is interesting for us is because this is exactly how habits work. When they work, you don’t have to waste any mental energy thinking about doing what must be done.
You didn’t think about brushing your teeth or getting dressed this morning, you just got up and did it. If sun comes up, I get up, brush teeth, and find clothes. Real habits are so automatic there’s barely any real.. humanity to you when you’re right in the middle of them.
What are you thinking of as you’re washing dishes?
Commuting to work?
Probably not much. Just doin’ it. You probably don’t even remember your precise actions after it’s done because that’s just how habits work. You’re mostly on autopilot, resting your “thinking” mind, and making use of an area of mind that’s much closer to what animals make do with.
So how do some of our best habits fall apart?
We get stressed
Despite having one of the most effective coaching philosophies in the league at the time, teams that Tony Dungy coached would often “choke” when the stakes were really high, where it seemed the players would revert to their old patterns. (Thinking more instead of just doing)
The things with habits (even well established ones) is that they remain quite delicate. Stress makes good habits fall apart. You have a bad day in school, at work, and all of a sudden it’s open-season on all kinds of foods that usually don’t make it onto your plate.
We’ve all been there. (Emotional eating )
You won’t do your cardio today because you don’t feel like it.
You won’t do your work today because you don’t feel like it. (procrastination)
You won’t get off the tele right now because you don’t feel like it.
“Ahh fuck it”, you say. As you revert back to your old, more comfortable patterns.
And look I get it. Not judging or anything. Just pointing out that this is in fact how it goes innit? 🙂
Things that are happening to us in the moment do mess up our flow. It’s important to be aware of these things when they happen, so you can be compassionate with yourself (I get it, I’m stressed out) yet firm (but this is important).
Awareness is the beginning of self-discipline.
We lose faith
It’s frustrating when you keep showing up for weeks and see no real improvements. No need to paint a picture here. But education takes time. Improvement takes time. Mastery takes time. Results take time. You and I we understand that, but it doesn’t make the experience of not seeing anything less stressful.
So how do you stay faithful when there seem to be no hope?
1- Rekindle your fire
You know, look in the mirror.
Go to the bathroom and look at your body.
Open your laptop and look at your bank balance.
Look for your bag and appreciate your grades for a moment.
Think about your life for a second.
Whatever it is, making change is a long-term commitment, and it’s easy to forget why we even bother sometimes. I think that’s what mirrors are for. But then again, what works for me won’t necessarily work for you.
Maybe poor reflections don’t make you angry.
What I’m suggesting is that you get to the heart of why you decided to start whatever you started. And keep it close to your mind. That’s your faith right there. You lose that, you lose the keys to the car. Sometimes faith is all you have to go on until you find the right answers.
2- Join a group
It’s so much easier to believe when you feel like you’re part of something greater than yourself. Clubs, facebook groups, forums, like minded friends, family, I mean, with the internet it’s easier than ever to find people working towards exactly the same thing you’re working towards. Or just getting close to people who support what you’re doing. What it does is it puts all of your efforts into perspective.
You’re not just a lone-ranger trying to change something for yourself. Now, in a way, you’re doing it to bring hope to other people just as much as it matters to you. And that’s quite powerful.
Plans must be made ahead of time
In the light of all this, you’ll understand why I think any serious change calls for forward thinking.
There’s going to be times when you just don’t feel like putting your running shoes on. That’s just life. You and I, we have to think about how we’re going to keep those dips in motivation at bay as much as possible, and how we’re going to deal with any lapses as they occur.
I think that’s just the nature of living in the real world where.. shit happens. But it won’t happen to you if you’re prepared.
That’s how you get things done no matter what.