Let’s set the record straight, your life is the sum of your habits.
The overwhelming majority of people in the world follow a similar routine each and every day. So what you do each and every single day makes up who you are as a person. If you are happy or unhappy, if you are fit or out of shape, if you are successful or unsuccessful, is basically determined by your motivation and habits that you have formed over your lifetime. Breaking habits are hard, forming new ones is even harder. Just ask the closest addict or athlete. You’ve spent years if not decades forming bad habits and routines, so undoing them isn’t an overnight process.
Contrary to popular belief it’s not even a 21 day process like many motivational speakers, such as Tony Robbins, like to spout.
That stat is old and not really correct. It comes from a study done in the 1950’s by Maxwell Maltz.
He concluded based on his observations of patients that had physical changes done to their body, that it takes a minimum of 21 days for individuals to get used to a new look. Since then that important part of that statistic, the word minimum, has been striped and repeated far too often. Maltz research was based solely on physical changes like a new nose, or the loss of an arm. Not routines or habits that people are attempting to change.
If you follow more modern research, like the work done by Phillippa Lally that was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, forming a new habit takes an average of 66 days. Why is this particularly important? Because far too often people expect immediate results. Especially in today’s 6-hour news cycle society, all the information in the world is available at your fingertips. It’s going to take time, but that doesn’t need to discourage you, in fact it should encourage you.
If you want to make real changes to your lifestyle, you have to embrace the process, not just the first step of the goal.
Focusing on the big picture or end goal is important. I’ve seen too many people attempt changes to their lifestyle, only to get frustrated after two or three weeks when they don’t see progress. It’s easy to give up during this period. As I stated above, you haven’t really ingrained a new behavior in a few weeks or even a month.
So don’t expect it to be easy. How do we set ourselves up for success then? By embracing the challenge of a long term goal.
As the old cliche goes, keep your eye on the prize. If your goal is to get healthy, by eating correctly, exercising, and losing weight, then that is a lifestyle commitment. It isn’t much different from my commitment as an athlete. If my goal is to run time X by the end of the year or win a certain race, I can’t start training just a few weeks or months before the competition and expect to reach my goals. Those goals get accomplished because I started eight or ten months in advance. Just like a fresh faced kid right out of college can’t expect to become a CEO of a Fortune 500 company within 21 days of graduating college. So you shouldn’t expect to make life changing habits in 21 days either.
Good progress takes time, your goal is going to take time to achieve.
There will be setbacks along the way. That’s why embracing the long road is so important. It takes the stress off of each individual session or day. If you are looking at being able to change your habits in the old 21 day format, you expect to see results quickly. That makes each day in a “21 day challenge” program overly important. When a setback occurs, or you miss a day or two in that short period, many people often just give up because it seems as if they can’t make the necessary changes to reach their goal.
Routines are also easier to follow if you have someone to help keep you accountable. That person can be your spouse, your workout friend, a personal trainer, or a coach. When you have someone that is counting on you to show up or complete your goal, then it adds a little extra incentive to get out the door. Humans are social animals. Misery loves company, and so does victory.
I know from my own experience, that training with others keeps me on a better schedule, helps get me to bed at night, and helps to keep me from skipping workouts when there is an easy cop out like bad weather. Just this week having a friend meet me during an early spring snow storm, forced me out the door and into the elements. Had I not had someone to meet, it would’ve been easy to call coach and move my workout just to make life a little easier.
But my training partner wasn’t afforded the luxury of moving workouts because of his schedule, so I couldn’t leave him out there alone. When I finished, I felt more confident and stronger than I would’ve if I had chickened out and moved days.
It’s important that everyone find someone who can hold them accountable.
Some people are strong enough to hold themselves accountable, but those people are rare. Most of us can benefit from an external source. Remember though, these people are there to keep you on your path to success, so don’t get mad when they call you out. It’s for your benefit.
The final step that I believe is important to your success, focusing on the positives of your changes.
Pay attention to how you feel when you make these changes. Focusing on the negative things like tiredness, stress, soreness, missed workouts, busy schedules, etc… isn’t good for you. The power of positive thinking is a real thing. Look no further than the power of a smile. While we might now all try smiling during our workouts because people are constantly taking gym selfies, there are far more reasons to smile and think positive than your newest Instagram pic.
A recent study in 2017 found that runners were 2.8% more economical while smiling during a treadmill test, than frowning. As well as 2.2% more economical than their normal thought patterns.
Not only were runners more economical while they smiled, their perceived levels of exertion decreased.
If smiling under extreme physical pressure can have benefits, then I think it’s safe to say that smiling and focusing on the good things we have accomplished towards our goals is a much more productive process. So next time you are deep into a workout and want to grit your teeth and make that beautiful pain face that you see at the gym, remember smile! It will take you farther.
To recap how we can effectively change our habits or routines to stay motivated.
Number one, focus on the long term. Number two, find someone to hold you accountable, and number three smile.
When making life changing habits, remember the focus is on the end result of living a better life. Healthy life habits should be a long term goal to keep you motivated. Don’t focus on short term missteps or short term progress. Expecting changes in just a few short weeks isn’t practical. I’ll leave you with the metaphor about the tortoise and the hare.
Getting out to a fast start isn’t sustainable, a slow pace with a focus of finishing the race is the best way to win life!
Brandon Hudgins is an Elite Track Runner. He became the 448th American to break the 4-minute mile barrier. His passion the sport overflows and shows in his desire to elevate the sport to new levels. He also strives to raise awareness for the rare auto-immune disease that he suffers from through his association with the Vasculitis Foundation.
Brandon is also a published author. You can buy his latest book here: Going the Distance.
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