We all come to a point in our lives when we decide to make a change.
Either we feel we’re starting to head down the wrong path, or we’ve spent too long on that bad road already.
Quitting smoking, exercising more, eating less doughnuts – sometimes we are able to make these positive changes stick, and other times, it’s back to the same poor choices after just a couple of weeks.
What gives? Are some people just destined to be more successful at change than others? What are the key features of making change happen?
I remember getting a novelty key chain in junior high school that said,
Self Discipline is the Key to Success
On the surface, it makes a lot of sense. If only we could just dig down deep and make all the right choices all off the time, then we would be successful.
Pithy motivational sayings do hold some truth, but how useful are they really?
They could even be harmful if you feel you can’t live up to them. Not being able to adhere to them becomes another type of failure.
In this post, I’ll describe the mechanics of being successful in any endeavor, and how your efforts can get sabotaged. I’ll also give you a step-by-step process to apply well-proven principles for you to build your habits of success.
Warning: Long Post Ahead
There’s a lot of good information in this post that I highly recommend you read in full, but if you’re in a rush, click here to scroll down to the 3 steps you can take to improve your chances of success.
The Requirements for Success
Every change requires a process, and success is the same.
What exactly do I mean by a process? Think of it a series of actions that need to happen one after the other in order for something to work. Few things can be done with a single step.
For example, to start your car and head on off to work you need to:
- Turn the key
- The starter switch has to fire and engage the ignition system and start the motor
- Enough gas has to be in the tank
- And so on
You can make a choice to change and actually have a strong desire to make it happen, but you’ll need to take the right steps for that to occur. Plans are great. Have a goal, set a plan and follow it. That’s a great formula for success (arguably, it’s THE formula for success).
It seems simple enough, right? For any habit change, you’ll need to identify the right things to do, do them, and keep doing them. Done and done.
But this is where a lot of people tend to get stuck, it’s in these initial stages and in the planning that we lose our way before we even get started.
Doing is better than planning.
Make your plans simple and get to the action of it as soon as possible. Of course, you should craft a good plan and set yourself up well to start, but no plan is as perfect in its execution as it is in its creation. A lot of times you won’t know what to adjust until you go ahead and do it.
Those moments happen in the process and it’s in the process that you know what you’ll need to change.
To get something done you have to take that first step and keep moving.
Why Aren’t You Doing This Already?
Odds are, this isn’t your first rodeo.
- Why haven’t you been successful at some actions in the past?
- Conversely, what were the reasons for your prior successes?
Recognizing these reasons will go a long way to improving your rate of success.
Reason #1: Deep down, you don’t believe you can change
One of the most useful findings from psychological research in the last few years comes from the work of Carol Dweck.
In her studies she’s categorized the traits of people who are more resilient in the face of pressure and failure and are able to continue moving forward into success.
She’s found that our belief in “changeability” itself determines a great deal of how we approach success and even life in general.
There is a fixed mindset in which we believe that our intelligence, capacity for fitness, and even personalities are predetermined and unchangeable. And there is a growth mindset in which we feel that we can improve and change any aspect of ourselves with consistent work and effort.
That’s pretty straightforward, because of course you believe you can change! It’s what you want, isn’t it?
But it seems that even in people with very high measures of self-confidence and cognitive ability, their beliefs about the nature of changeability and how they choose to view success are the determining factors. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you believe that being smart means you don’t have to work as hard to learn something?
- Would you rather take on tasks that you know you can do well, or do you like to deal with things that are more difficult even if you’ll likely not get it right the first time?
Your answers and how you think about these questions can tell you a lot about how adaptable and durable you will be when the going gets tough. To achieve success we have to cultivate the mindset that our physical and mental attributes are not fixed but can change and develop with effort and practice.
This, along with approaching difficult tasks as learning experiences rather than tests and measures of our performance, are the difference between continued achievement over the course of our lives.
Reason #2: You’re afraid of change and/or social pressures
Another psychological hurdle is the act of change itself.
Consciously you want to change, but subconsciously, there is an obstacle to success based on how change will affect your current life and relationships.
We are all used to our routines. In fact, they are more than just what we do everyday; they are a source of comfort for most people.
The most stressful events in our lives are ones that fundamentally disrupt the regularity of our lives. Losing a job, moving to a new house, and kids changing schools – these are all big changes that can affect our mental and physical health.
But they don’t need to be such drastic changes to have an effect. Even small changes in diet and physical activity can be just as disruptive.
The daily couple of pastries with your cup of coffee in the morning may seem like a small thing, but it is an ingrained part of your routine and that simple disruption of not having them can affect how you approach the rest of your day.
The same goes with turning your lunch break into a walking session to get some more movement in your life. It’s a great idea, but maybe that 30 minutes of downtime to eat was more important for you than you thought.
There can be peer and family pressures not to change as well, either subtle or blatant. Family, friends, and co-workers all combine as a constant in our lives and so, whether we realize it or not, they affect everything we do. Especially when we want to change things up.
Transformation is difficult. It’s difficult for you to make the changes you need, and to keep consistently acting on those changes, but it’s also difficult for those around you.
They are used to and expect certain aspects about you, and we are all conditioned to view our friends and family in a particular way.
Any departure from that view is going to meet resistance, even if unconsciously and unintentional.
The trick to success is identifying the proper components of the process and putting them to work consistently and for as long a period of time as possible. Along with this, you’ll need to pinpoint the obstacles to change and find your way around them.
It’s simple to say it, but not as easy to do it if you don’t know the way. In this next section, we’ll show you the map to where you want to go.
So, now you know in general terms what’s required for success, and likely starting to think of a couple of things that have been holding you back.
Step 1 for Success – Identify Your Sticking Points
If you want to be successful at anything in life – whether it’s getting stronger, losing fat, or just moving through your daily life better – you need to find out what’s stopping you from reaching that goal.
Identify the habits that are preventing you from changing and replace them with better habits.
It can be as simple as directly swapping out one habit for another, but you often need to break that down into a process as well to effectively make a change.
For example, take the habit of eating fast food for lunch because you haven’t packed a good meal, and you need something quick for your short break.
There’s the good standard advice to cook ahead of time once a week and pack/freeze what you need for the week ahead. But you’ll soon realize that isn’t just one step, but several. You have to choose what food you would like, go to the store to get it, and then prepare and pack it.
So the first step in the process isn’t the packing of the food, but actually sitting down to decide what you want to eat. That could be the real sticking point that affects the rest of the process as a whole.
Now that you have that realization, you know that you need to make this initial step as automatic as possible, so that it continues to happen each time.
- Work first on making a “master list” of the foods you know you will want to eat.
- Brainstorm those and list them all out and keep that in it’s own place in your kitchen.
- Then, once a week, before you get groceries, circle 5 meals on the list and those are what you’ll prepare for the week.
That’s just one example of how to break down what you need to do into an actionable process that is reasonable and relatively simple to do. Depending on your particular goal, figure out what habits you can build to consistently take the required actions.
Step 2 for Success – Cultivate the Process
Each step in your process has to happen consistently for as long as possible to accomplish your goals.
And for that to happen each step has to truly become an automatic habit. You have to cultivate these habits into a routine that is simply something you will always do.
Commit to building these habits and success becomes inevitable.
Here are some ideas for optimizing your environment to improve your chances of success:
1. Create a special “goal space”
Whether it’s a training area in which to do your workouts, or a chair to place your guitar next to for practice, a special space to perform your process is a great way to keep yourself as consistent as possible.
It’s also helpful for it be out in the open and in sight during your daily routines.
A client of ours described putting a pull-up bar in his office door jamb, and every time he passed by he’d do a couple of pull-ups. I also gave a friend of mine a 32kg kettlebell to take to his office, so he can work on a few minutes of swings during his day.
2. Schedule your actions
A great way to be consistent is to schedule a time daily for your particular action.
- Need to work on your flexibility? Set your phone alarm to 11:15 a.m. and do one stretch for five minutes total.
- Is your goal to finally finish your great historical novel on the Spanish-American war? Set your MacBook to chime at 4 p.m. and write for ten minutes.
Another useful scheduling tip is immediately after you do something, schedule the next time you will do it.
This is good for actions that aren’t necessarily done daily, but is still a way to create a commitment. It’s why dentists’ offices have you schedule your next six month checkup before you leave. Six months can seem like a long time away, but they’ve got you on the books so it’s easier to remind you closer to that time. A mental note as you head out the door is not something I’d bet on.
This next habit formation is conditionally based.
An “If-Then” action is when you correlate another part of your daily routine with an action you want to happen. This is a very practical method for improving your diet choices. For example, with every meal you eat drink a tall glass of water halfway through. It’s a very effective method of portion control and a simple habit to form.
3. Incorporate goal checklists and social accountability
We live in an incredible time of personal technology. It’s not just our phones and computers that have applications and programs that can help us, but there’s even technology in our cars and refrigerators reminding us to pick up milk!
But even with all those reminders in place, don’t forget that you don’t have to go it alone.
The classic “support group” of like-minded people with the same desires and goals has been central in counseling and religious denominations for good reason. It’s much easier to be successful when you have good people backing you up.
Make a pact with a workout partner or a diet “buddy” and keep each other on your toes. But please make it supportive and not guilt tripping! There’s no need to add a bully into each other’s lives.
And it’s here that ubiquitous online presence can actually be a very useful thing versus the huge time suck that people like to complaint about. Online forums, Facebook groups, our own Alpha Posse, and apps such as Lift create communities and solutions to assist us in our success.
Step 3 for Success – Put it Into Action and Keep it Going
I’ll come back to what I said earlier in this post:
Doing is much better than planning.
In the case of habit change and success, it is action that will win the day 99% of the time over thinking and scheming, so put it in gear and keep on trucking!
Setbacks and obstacles are simply a part of change and growth. Expect them, and when they happen, do your best to move on and start again.
When it comes to your training in particular, try the following when you get stuck on a certain exercise:
- Do the bare minimum of all the other exercises in the program. That way you can spend your energy on that difficult movement.
- Move that troublesome exercise to the beginning of your workout. For instance, if you are on a weight training program and one exercise seems to be lagging behind the others, go ahead and do that one first (directly after your warm up), even if it’s scheduled for later.
This strategy helps quite a bit if it’s a strength or conditioning issue that’s preventing your progress. And being fresher and stronger also helps if it is a technique issue, because it allows you to focus on your form when you aren’t concerned about whether your strength is going to hold out.
Don’t be so beholden to a chosen timeframe and plan that you crumple at the first missed day or unforeseen circumstance. Develop the growth mindset and turn each misstep into an opportunity to learn and improve.
Work on not falling into the trap of not doing anything at all if it can’t be perfect.
If you can’t do a full training session, don’t just skip it! Use the time you do have to add some variety into your training.
For Even Better Results, Draw Inspiration from Others
There are so many ideas out there on creating positive change in your life, and during the process of writing this post we asked our Alpha Posse members to share their successful tips for staying consistent with positive habits.
Here are a few of their tips:
Practice the habit first thing in the morning
I found that doing it first thing in the morning is the only way I can be consistent. It may not be ideal in terms of how flexible I am, etc., but it’s better than not getting it in at all!
Small habits every day lead to big changes
I create a habit, starting very small. . . Every day I started setting an alarm for my 5 mins training session. After 2 to 3 weeks of consistent training I noticed that I was often practising even longer than that. It has been three to four months that I have been training like that and I have rarely missed 1 day.
Focus on activities/habits you enjoy
I think it is really important to find modes of exercise that you really love and look forward to doing on a day to day basis.
Pick yourself up and try again
Don’t get discouraged when things don’t go to plan. Just come back the next day and try again. It’s more important to train the next time than it is to beat yourself up over the session that just didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t happen.
Success Comes from First Understanding How it Works
We all want to gain as much as possible from our training and other activities. It’s only natural to want to make sure that our investment of time and energy isn’t wasted.
But the details of change and creating the habits to be successful is just so important, more so than having the perfect workout plan or gym set-up or perfect diet and supplementation regimen. If you don’t understand the mechanics of how to consistently put steps to action, then you are more likely to quit before you reach your goals.
In the following article, we look deeper at how to successfully build habits and make them stick.
We know how hard it is to break old habits and build new ones, but the steps above will help big time. If you run into any trouble or need some extra encouragement, just get in touch. We’re always happy to help out.