Do you find yourself wanting to change your habits and routines but don't know where to start? Whether it's wanting to play better golf, spend more time in the gym or dedicate a few minutes a day to mobility, changing your habits and routines is possible but the question remains, "how?"
This process of creating change and playing better golf from the inside out (mobility, nutrition, exercise, meditation, etc) can seem illusive but I'm here to tell you that the process is simple, but not necessarily easy.
It all starts with a curiosity for what other possibilities are out there and a desire to change. Don't keep beating your head against the wall hoping things will change. Once you bring an awareness to the actions and behaviors you want to change, it's then up to you to turn those new actions into habits and routines so they become automatic.
1) Start With The End In Mind
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to." said the cat.
"I don't much care where" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go...”
~Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)
If you don't have a destination in mind, you won't be able to make good decisions that will lead you towards your goal. On the flip side, as soon as a you've visualized your goal, you can now consciously and unconsciously make decisions in your best interest to get you where you're trying to go and help you achieve that change.
Maybe you decide in order to play your best golf you need to seriously improve your mobility. You may find yourself investing in a standing desk (conscious decision) or making the habit of rolling your foot on a lacrosse ball at work (unconscious habit). Maybe you'll start taking the stairs every morning (unconscious habit) or make better lunchtime decisions like a salad instead of a burger (conscious decision).
Turning your unconscious actions into conscious decisions and reshaping them back into unconscious habits is the name of the game, and having a goal in mind is the first step.
2) Quantify Your Goal
It's great to have a goal but it's impossible to measure progress without being able to quantify that goal. Make sure your goals are S.M.A.R.T. or Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound.
If your goal is to work on changing your mobility, then you need to have a plan on how to quantify your current mobility and measure it down the road to prove change. Simply saying "I'm not in pain today" or "I feel like I can swing better today" isn't enough. It's great that you're pain free and feel like you can move better, but in order to make long-term lasting change, you need to be able to prove it. You need to establish a baseline that you can measure against.
Finding a professional who will take you through a movement and performance screen to see how well you move and where your limitations are is vital to this process. The purpose is not to see how bad you are now but to shed some light on how far you've come after you've put some work in. Trust me, there's not many more rewarding feelings than taking something you may thought impossible to change (touching your toes) and seeing progress and change over time. That will turn into a self feedback loop that encourages you to continue working hard and making change.
Regardless of what your goal is, create a baseline so you can test against it. Otherwise you'll never know how far you've come.
3) Be Curious
Most people fail when making change because they try to do too much too fast. I'm not saying you can't quit smoking cold turkey, people do it all the time. However, simply being consciously aware of your actions as you're performing them, and reflecting upon them after you're done, is the real starting point for making long-term lasting change.
In 2015, Judson Brewer gave a TED Talk on this very issue. He worked with patients who were trying to quit smoking but didn't tell them they couldn't smoke. In fact he said they could smoke as much as they wanted. He only asked them to do one simple thing... Be curious...
When the urge came to smoke, he asked that they be aware of what they were doing, what they were experiencing at the time, and ask themselves why they felt the need to smoke. While they were smoking he asked them to reflect about what it tasted and smelled like, and the euphoria they were experiencing. After they were done smoking he asked that they look back and honestly ask themselves if they enjoyed it or not.
Again, he didn't say they couldn't smoke, he just asked that they be curious. To his surprise he found that a simple change in their perspective, a nudge towards mindfulness, made a huge difference in people's abilities to alter the habit.
So the next time you're thinking about eating that cheeseburger or riding the elevator, go ahead and do it, but ask yourself the whole time, "why?" and "was it worth it?"
4) Build Failure Into Your Goal
Let's be honest. Even with the best intentions and a mind full of curiosity, there will be times when you fail. That's ok! The key here is to not punish yourself when you do fail but rather have a game plan for getting back on track. Failure is just a learning experience to make you a better person and in the end, isn't that the point?
Say you've been doing really well on a new diet. You're feeling good, you have a journal where you record what you eat each day, you've been tracking your weight and body fat over the last month, and you're on top of the world; new clothes, new haircut, a new you! Now it's your best friends wedding, and you know you'll be surrounded by pleasure foods, alcohol, and worst of all... desserts. The old you would pig out shamefully and resent yourself afterwards, but not the new you. The new you knows that it's ok to have a piece of cake or a few drinks at the reception. The key is having a game plan going in. Tell yourself, I can have ONE piece of cake and I will enjoy the hell out of it. If you've really put in the hard work, you'll probably feel sick afterwards and remind yourself that the change to your habits is paying off and worth it.
Start small and build upon your successes. Once you've accomplished a few small goals, bigger ones will seem less out of reach. You'll gain a new sense of confidence too. Your mind will start to change and you'll feel empowered and positive about the habits your starting to form. You'll eventually change your mindset from "I can't have it" to "I can have it but I don't want it" which is one of the most empowering things you can accomplish. You'll be kicking yourself for not starting this amazing journey sooner.
Changing habits is a process. It's going to take time and persistence but the payoff will be worth it because it will bring you one step closer to being the person you've always wanted to be.
My challenge for you is this...
Spend the next two weeks being curious about something you've been wanting to change. Think about your goals and ask yourself how you can measure your progress over the next 3 months. What are some small milestones you hope to accomplish? Remember that you're going to fail so make a game plan on how to minimize the bad and maximize the good. And always remember... Be Curious...