“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”-Lao Tzu
We are creatures of habit.
We all have routines we've developed over the years. Certain ones come and go—like flossing—and some stay with us for most of our lives—like brushing our teeth.
Sometimes these habits are developed through dedicated effort. Other times they sneak their way in. Some of these habits help us become better human beings while others destroy us.
We tend to cling to our habits because they are ingrained in our being—we don’t think about our habits, we just do them because they come naturally. The inverse—conscious thought—is needed to develop a new habit or to break an old one. But conscious thought is hard… most people do everything they can to avoid it.
Habits and Time
There was a popular book written in the 60s that said, based on the author’s research, that the time it takes to develop a new habit is between 21-to-180 days, depending on the individual.
This was passed around for a while until eventually becoming: “It takes 21-days to develop a new habit.” While this became “common knowledge,” it’s not accurate…
Now, I think the 21-day to develop a habit “rule” isn’t a bad place to start. For many of us, if we commit that long, we have a good chance we will keep the habit going. However, if it takes you longer than 21-days, or if you wax and wane during the process, you should realize that this is not uncommon and give yourself a break.
Developing new habits and/or breaking old ones takes time.
It will not be a linear, day-to-day process. You will do well for a while, then you will do not-so-well for a while. But forge on you must.
If it takes you 6 months to quit smoking, you will save yourself years of health problems in the future. Is 6 months better than never? Don’t assume you’ll get it done in a few days, weeks or months.
The same goes for all habits good or bad--If you get it done eventually, that is 100% better than never.
How to get habits to stick
Let’s say you join a Box. Since you are now paying more than your last gym membership, you feel urged to “take advantage” of it. And since most of the other members are coming 3-4 days a week, you feel even more pressured to “fit in” with everyone else.
The reasons for sticking with your membership can be used two ways. It can either help you stick with your habit, or it will discourage you and make you quit (fail). It just depends on how you think about it.
If you use the motivation positively to stay motivated until you develop the habit, then you win. If you get discouraged because you aren’t perfect with your schedule, then you will give up, and you lose.
What I have found—and the point of this piece—is that most people often fall into the “all or nothing” mindset trap when they can’t be perfect. The irony here is they go to the opposite extreme and give up.
Now, when you put this on paper, it sounds absurd and obvious, but it still happens a lot so I need to address it here the best I can.
Here are a few questions to answer:
- Is 50% better than 0%?
- Is 10% better than 0% or 1% or 2% or 6%?
- Is 40% if better than 30%?
- Is 70% is better than 60%?
- You get the point yet?
Your goal with fitness (any anything, for that matter) should be better, not perfect. Aim to make incremental improvements instead of huge improvements. Not only will be able to celebrate more often using this approach, but you’ll also be able to better avoid failure because you won’t be setting your mark too high and missing it.
Wherever you are now… Start now. Make your goal consistent and improve. Celebrate each other whenever you can. If you fall off, get back on.
If you haven’t trained in a week, month, or year, then you can consider yourself “fully rested” and ready to do work. Always look at the bright side of your situation. After all, that’s all you can ever do.
You can always and forever change your perception of your situation (see Stoicism).
Change your perception of your situation and you will set yourself up for the ideal habit-creating or habit-breaking scenario. Combine this primed mindset with a few “habit rules” and you’re on your way to making real progress:
- Know that habits take a long time to stick. (Much longer than 21-days in most cases.)
- Your habits will not always be 100%. Accept the two steps forward, one step back process that often comes with the process.
- Drop the all-or-nothing mindset. 1% is 100% better than 0%. Think about that…
- View your situation the best way you can. Example: I worked hard for a month, and then fell off a month. Well, you are still ONE MONTH AHEAD of where you used to be. Tell your mind, which wants to focus on being one month behind, to STFU.
- Developing or breaking habits takes conscious thought. Set reminders, use your calendar, sticky notes, whatever, to stay aware of what you are doing.
The Path of Least Resistance
As a human being, you are made to seek comfort and avoid pain. It’s hardwired into your brain after growing up in Western culture.
For better or worse, you will always prefer the path of least resistance.
This shows up in all things in life, not just physical pain and discomfort. You will prefer to maintain a comfortable life without risk because this best protects you from embarrassment or judgment. Your ego prefers it.
Let me tell you about your ego: He’s a shriveled old man that thinks he’s done it all in life. He thinks life is just fine the way it is. He thinks things will just happen if he sits back and waits long enough.
That little bastard is wrong and you need to grab him by the neck and show him who’s boss.
Your ego is risk-averse and prefers anything that is safe and easy. He keeps you the way you are.
When you are told that you should get “outside of your comfort zone,” it means you should break free from your Ego’s grip. It’s the only way you will grow.
Humans are meant to forever grow, like a redwood tree. Even when your body starts to atrophy, you can continually be growing your mind. But you will not grow your mind and body if you sit back and let the shriveled old man called Ego dictate your life.
When Ego takes control, you become a shriveled old man or woman. If you loosen the reins of control he has over you, you will unlock a world of possibility in your life.
The way to avoid atrophy and take control over your growth is to constantly push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
It's like Arnold said, "Change comes past the burn."
By detaching yourself from Ego, you'll be able to...
- Take risks and experience the rewards
- Become better physically and mentally
- Laugh heartier, make people love you more, polarize and attract those that think like you
- Live a better life in every way
- Be an individual
- Be a leader
- Become the best version of yourself possible (self-actualized)
If there was ever a guide to life it would be this…
Take risks. Fall. Get up. Succeed sometimes. Learn always. Grow forever. Be self-aware. Die fulfilled and ready.
Living an awesome life requires the same mindset that’s required to create and break habits. By letting go of Ego, and taking risks in your life, you will get benefits from all angles.
Action: Let go of the Ego that keeps you living in your comfort zone. Become aware and question yourself all the time. Figure out if you are taking enough calculated risks in your life. Then get out there and do the work.