At some point in our lives, we will all face failure. I vividly recall being at work about 10 years ago and staring out the retail store’s front window. It was a beautiful day but I couldn’t stop thinking about earlier that morning. I stepped on the scale and was shocked to see the needle jump higher than it ever has before.
“This can’t be,” I thought. “I have been working out, trying to eat more salads and not drinking so much.” I didn’t understand why I wasn’t seeing results and was actually moving in the wrong direction.
The thought of increasing the length of my runs or starving myself drove me crazy. I was motivated but deflated at the same time. I knew how to exercise but doing it was the most difficult thing I could think of.
Looking back I now understand that this is a very common storyline for people. Knowing what to do is not directly related to actually doing it! Put another way, common sense and common behavior are often miles apart.
It was at that moment that I finally took control. I didn’t do it by finding more willpower or hiring a personal trainer. I gained control by letting go. I let go of all of the things that I had been told my whole life about working out. I decided that I was going to solely focus on small actions.
As I stared out the window I recall wondering what I can do to change. I thought through every possible activity until I found one that I thought had promise. I decided I was going to bike.
The next morning I woke up and went right to the garage. I borrowed my brother’s mountain bike and just started peddling. I instantly found this exercise to be one that I could not only tolerate, but that I enjoyed.
The next morning I woke up and went straight out to the garage and again jumped on the bike. I did this morning after morning and the pattern soon turned into a habit. Once it was a habit, I started to go through the process automatically. The scale reflected this behavior change. Within a few months I lost 5 pounds. Then a few months later it was 10 pounds and over the next year I lost about 30 pounds.
Most people are not interested in losing 5 pounds over several months because that would take too long and doesn’t sound very impactful. They want to lose 15 pounds in 15 days or become a supermodel in 90 days of exercise. But for me it was about consistently moving closer to my goal, not instant results.
The key that I used to unlock my potential is one that can be used for much more than weight loss. The key was that I focused solely on small, consistent behavior adjustments and building a habit. Habits are the keys that we need to use to be able to see success in areas in which want to improve.
Caroline Arnold, author of Small Move, Big Change, says “We are each driven by a system of unconscious habits and preferences nurtured early in life and entrenched through repetition. These established behaviors and attitudes form a kind of autopilot, which quietly and efficiently manages most of the routine tasks and decision making that we perform each day, preserving precious mental energy and initiative for new learning, problem solving, and idea generation.”
The key is to understand habits and modify them so the autopilot takes us where we want to go. This isn’t easy but by focusing on small behavior changes and consistency, it is possible. Understand the habit and then systematically adjust the habits in your life to bring about change.
Caroline goes on to say “When we decide to improve ourselves - to shake things up - we run straight into resistance from autopilot. While the autopilot system in a car can easily be switched off so that the driver can resume control, disabling any part of your personal autopilot requires real effort.”
Instead of using effort and willpower to force yourself to do things that you don’t want to do, use your focus and effort to adjust the habits and systems in your life. This will provide the best chance at success and will lay the foundation for long-lasting improvement. Regardless of what your goals are, habit and system adjustment provide the best chance at success!