Building Powerful Habits That Last Forever
If information was all we needed, we'd all be billionaires with six packs by now.
- John Romaniello
There was nothing my 12 year old self hated more than homework.
If it wasn't for my mom getting on my ass every night, I'd still be in grade 2.
Thanks mom. We did it.
But it wasn't easy for her. Every night at 6:30 pm, I turned into 85 lbs of blonde-headed asshole.
In fact, doing homework was so painful, I seriously considered all my other options. One of which was running away from school and living in a gully.
Fern gully was red hot at the time, and gully life looked sweet. So, one day during recess I made a break for the gully to start my new life.
The gully life didn't last long, and before I knew it, I was back at home, being coerced by my mom to start my homework.
And I started to pick up on a pattern:
Starting my homework was painful. But once I got going, it wasn't so bad. Almost as if procrastinating was worse than just doing the damn thing.
Hmm... this gave me something to think about.
How to Get Started
I read a theory recently that suggests the reason there are so many 'snake-in-tree' myths is because our ancient ancestors lived in trees along side serpents for millions of years.
Serpents were our primary predator for generations, and we can't stand them to this day.
On the other hand, we're fascinated by them. The way they slink along the ground with explosive and deadly potential is hypnotizing. They're beautiful, unpredictable, and terrifying.
And the same mechanism that protects us from snakes also holds us back with our fitness and health.
While making powerful changes to your life may not pose the same deadly threat as a snake, it does come with a lot of uncertainty.
And if there's one thing we fear more than snakes, it's uncertainty.
This makes getting started incredibly difficult, and it shows up in a few different ways.
1. Fear of Failure
When faced with a new situation, people are quick to assess risk.
We ask, "By engaging in this endeavor, am I exposing myself to any threats?"
A long list of possibilities runs through our mind, most of which aren't legitimate. Until it stops on "I could fail."
On paper, failure doesn't sound like a big deal. But it carries with it a complete set of baggage.
Failure means you've proven to yourself and others that you can't do what you set out to do. Before you started, it was a possibility, but once you fail, it's solidified.
This means others will think less of you. You'll think less of you. You'll be labeled a failure, destined to remain in your current condition.
Failure, of course, doesn't mean any of this. But it's how we build it up in our minds.
Logically speaking, there's no such thing as failure when it comes to making powerful changes to your lifestyle. Instead, every challenge you face is an opportunity to learn.
But logic takes a back seat when fear is present, and this fear can be paralyzing.
So, what are we going to do about it?
Let Yourself Fail
Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?
Seneca's right. The only way to get over this fear is to let yourself experience it.
Once you experience your worst nightmare, you'll see it's not a nightmare at all, but a valuable aspect of the process.
When you miss a few workouts, bust down an entire cheesecake, or struggle to get consistent with your meditation practice, you'll see for yourself that this isn't a failure at all.
Instead, it's an opportunity to learn, improve, and continue on your path.
By allowing yourself the opportunity to experience this, you'll see that the thing you feared doesn't even exist.
But in order to experience this, you need to get started.
So, with the understanding that you will allow yourself to stumble, go ahead and take your first step. Then take another one, and another one, until you stumble.
Pause, take a look around, and ask, "Is this the condition that I feared?"
2. Overthinking the Process
Be a Robot
- Matthew Simmonovich
Once a week, my friend Matt and I used to load up the barbell, and do long, awful sets of squats. One day I was standing in front of the squat rack mentally preparing for my set.
My train of thought was something like, "I do NOT want to do this."
Matt could tell I was psyching myself out, so he snapped, "Be a robot, bro!"
My mind shut off, I got in the rack, and I did my squats.
This cue worked, because robots don't think about the task ahead, and they don't wrestle with the question, "should I or shouldn't I?"
Robots don't engage in a wresting match of the mind. They just do what needs to get done.
So, if you continuously talk yourself out of getting started, consider being a robot. Shut off your mind, and take that first step.
Remember, the mental gymnastics that take place before you start are far worse than just doing what you need to do. Eliminate the gymnastics, and take action.
3. The Pain of Taking Action Appears Greater Than the Pain of Staying the Same
Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.
- Tony Robbins
Here's how it goes down.
You say to yourself, "OK, I really want to start working out and eating healthy food"
Great. Decision made. You now enter the planning stage.
"When will I workout?
Certainly not before work. I'm not a psychopath.
Maybe in the evening? That could work. Well, as long as I'm not too tired. If I'm tired, I should rest my body.
Lunch hour, maybe? Actually, I've seen the episode of Seinfeld where George's post-workout shower 'didn't take'. I don't want that problem.
Yeah... this isn't going to work out. Maybe another time.
What about eating better food? I can do that.
OK, let's start with breakfast tomorrow.
Wait... tomorrow's an early day, I better get all the sleep I can and grab something on the go.
I'll eat a healthy lunch though, for sure.
Unless we have a lunch meeting. My client always takes us out for Mexican, and you know I'm not passing up those chips and queso.
You know what? This is perfect. I'll make a healthy dinner for the whole family...
... another day. Today was hell, and we're eating mac n' cheese."
In this scenario, the short term pain of making a change outweighed the long term pain of staying the same.
I'll be totally honest with you. Some people just aren't ready to make a change, and that's OK.
But for those who really do want to make a change, but find the process of taking action more painful than staying the same, it comes down to the perspective you choose to take.
See, everything in life has a negative and a positive aspect, though we often only see one side of the coin. We label certain things 'good', and other things 'bad', when in reality, nothing is inherently good or bad. We're conditioned to see things a certain way, but we can change that. If we want to make powerful lifestyle changes, we need to change that.
Let's apply this to a few lifestyle changes so we can see this mental shift in action.
The Action: Prepare a healthy lunch and bring it to work.
The pain attached to this action: Making the lunch is tedious, and the food isn't as exciting.
The pleasure attached to not doing this action: You can eat Barbecue instead. And Barbecue is so ridiculously delicious.
This is only what we're able to see at first glance. But remember, every coin has two sides.
The pleasure you're not considering: You'll enjoy the satisfaction of preparing your own food, you'll feel light and energetic after you eat it, and you'll lose weight.
The pain you're not considering: You'll feel like shit after you eat it, you'll regret eating it afterwards as your body becomes sluggish, and you'll move further away from your fitness and health goals.
There's sacrifice built in to every decision you make. But when you decide what's important, you'll easily find pleasure in making choices that align with your goals, and pain in making choices that don't.
Let's do one more.
The Action: Go to the Gym Tomorrow Morning
The pain attached to this Action: You'll have to skip that last episode of House of Cards, wake up early, and sweat.
The pleasure attached to not doing this Action: You get to watch one more episode, sleep in a bit, and spare yourself the struggle of exercise.
Or, at least this is how it may appear. Here's another version of the truth.
The pleasure you're not considering: You'll start your day off with a big Win, you'll be proud of yourself for making this decision, you'll feel energetic and powerful as you start your day, and you'll build a stronger, healthier body.
The pain you're not considering: You'll have to live with the fact you traded your lean, healthy, energized body for one more episode of House of Cards.
Every aspect of the above scenarios are true. Whether or not you see these actions as painful or pleasurable comes down to the perspective you choose.
How to Never Stop
Every time I visit my in-laws, I’m reminded how little effort I put into basic house cleaning.
I wouldn’t say Maria and I are slobs, but I’ve got no problem letting the dishes sit in the sink over night. I've got the same cavalier attitude about leaving my socks on the bedroom floor, and cups on the living room table.
"It’s all good. I’ll get to it in a couple days."
But then we go to Bryan, Texas for a family visit. No matter how big the feast, no matter how many dishes we create, not one of them will sit for more than 5 minutes.
There are no socks on the floor, and the living room table is completely clear.
(Aside from a small dish filled with chocolates. I usually help myself to around one or eight...leaning more towards eight.)
And man, it feels good to be surrounded by clean surfaces. My mind is clear, my stress reduces to a minimum, and I relax so deeply, randomly falling asleep in the middle of the day is a ritual.
When we return home we’re inspired, dead-set on cleaning the house, and “this time, we’ll keep it clean.”
The dishes get cleaned, socks get picked up, and everything else gets jammed into a closet it doesn’t belong in.
And it feels great.
Standing in my castle — hands on my hips, chest puffed out — I think, “I am the King of Clean. Dirt has no place here.”
But then life happens, and I go back to my old ways.
The dishes can wait until tomorrow. Those socks aren’t hurting anyone.
A couple months later we’ll head back to Bryan Texas, become inspired to keep a clean house, and the cycle continues.
Why Can’t We Stick to Things?
There are three main reasons:
So, if we want our new habits to stick — for real this time — let’s try something new.
When habits aren’t sticking, the question we always ask is, “What do I need to do to make this work?”
The better question is, “What do I need to NOT do to make this work?”
We never think about doing less. And I get that- if our effort isn’t creating the result we want, we must need more effort, right?
Nah, bro. It’s not that we aren’t putting in enough effort. Our effort is fragmented, spread across too many different things.
The Pareto Principle states that we get 80% of our results from 20% of our work.
That means we’re getting most of our result from 1–2 key habits, and everything else we do is just clutter.
Let’s reduce the clutter and double down on the things that are producing most of your progress.
First, decide what is really important. If you could only get one or two things done today, what would they be?
Those are your key habits. Those are the 20% that produce 80% of your result. Focus your effort on these one or two things, and double down.
This will not only make sticking to your plan easier, it will provide more clarity around your goals, and produce better results overall.
Note: You may not know what the most important 1–2 habits are. That’s OK. The point is, reducing your To-Do’s means you’ll have greater success sticking with your plan. This is powerful, even if the plan isn’t optimal.
Listen, we’ve all got a laundry list of failures. Providing evidence to support our ability to fall flat on our face is easy. But focusing on that evidence is keeping us in this never-ending cycle of starting and stopping.
Let’s build new evidence. Evidence that supports our ability to win.
As we reduce the things on our To-Do list, completing everything becomes easier, and more likely to actually happen.
This supports our ability to win, and let’s your mind know that, “Holy shit, I’m really doing this.”
The paralyzing voice in your head begins to silence him/herself, your confidence grows, and you begin to take on bigger challenges.
If you find you’re still having trouble checking off everything on your list, ask yourself two questions:
Make Your Next Move Your Best Move…. Gently
I love people, man. Despite what the news might tell you, we’re so good to each other. Nothing pulls on my heart more than selfless acts between humans, done in the name of kindness.
But when it comes to how we treat ourselves, we’re downright nasty.
We refuse to cut ourselves slack when we screw up.
When we succeed, we let ourselves know, “This isn’t good enough.”
…whatever habits you’re building into your life, screwing up is inevitable.
What you do in response to those screw ups is what will dictate your success.
Anger and negative self-talk adds an unnecessary layer of resistance. There’s only so long you can fuel yourself with pain before you grow tired and give up.
To illustrate this, take a look at the image below, courtesy of Todd Herman of 90DayYear.com
The Pain Driven Brain
The left image shows the journey of someone driven by pain.
Take a look at Step 3 in the image. As this person makes progress they begin to compare themselves to their ideal end results. This is where the pain kicks in. It doesn't matter how much progress has been made, if it isn't perfect, they get discouraged.
These discouraging feelings lead to complete drainage of mental energy, effort begins to diminish, they begin to miss workouts, procrastinate, make excuses, and eventually quit all together.
The Gain Driven Brain
The image on the right shows the journey of someone driven by Gain. This person will be successful, and they will have unstoppable resilience.
Why? The difference is in step 3 (the measure of progress).
The Gain driven person measures themselves against where they started instead of their ideal outcome. This breeds a sense of accomplishment, builds momentum, confidence, and inspires more action and focused effort.
When you screw up- miss a few workouts, slip up with nutrition, leave dirty socks all over the floor- follow this three-step process:
By reducing the things on your To-Do list, building evidence that proves you’re a winner, and forgiving yourself when you screw up, everything becomes easier and more enjoyable.
Trust the process. Let it be easy. Love.
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