New Years Resolution – How Bad Do You Really Want It?
It’s that time of year again and as in the past, my first article of the year deals with new years resolutions.
For some people losing weight is their new years resolution, and they attempt that primarily through goal setting, and goals and primarily expected to be achieved by vocalizing it, sharing it and, hoping.
Hoping is not going to get you there, whether it is fitness, or career aspirations.
My wife and I were talking last night about life and what got us to where we are, as well as the things that have held us back. When I boil it all down to the essence, any change or lack of change seems to be anchored in beliefs, and beliefs can only be altered through exposure to other ways. In my case, from a very early age I sought out people who were older and wiser for advice. My dad was in the military and around the kitchen table I always heard how people on “Civvy Street” made more money. I set off in life to find this place called Civvy Street and talk to some of the civilians who lived there to learn from them the lessons to their success, and along the way I learned not only their lessons, but also become comfortable integrating into various social and economic circles that were different from mine, hopefully taking the best lessons from each world while question beliefs both old and new.
I like this word integration. Integration of immigrants into society is a good example of how over the generations, the fabric of North America has changed as people have mingled and shared their beliefs. European immigrants after the world wars brought with them a strong work ethic, many having left their homes with nothing but a desire to provide a better life for their children. Meanwhile U.S. industrialists and entrepreneurs held an “anything is possible” outlook. When children from the two families get together as society integrates, with the combined exposure to strong work ethic and anything is possible, incredible things can happen. Unfortunately other beliefs may limit success in some areas, for example, if a person who had to do without, raised their children to believe that if someone offers you food you always take it, the children will likely struggle with weight as adults.
Career success works the same way. I worry that many young adults entering the work force may have been shielded from hardship or hard work, stayed within a single social or economic circle, and as a result may not be well equipped. Perhaps it is a belief that a person’s value is only in the time and effort they expend, rather than what they achieve. Maybe they believe something different and lack the work ethic to live the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed in their parent’s home. When my daughter was twelve she wanted something badly, and we wouldn't give it to her. After trying various ways to influence us, finally in frustration she blurted out “I know that you have the money, just give it to me!” We took that as a sign. We instantly re-evaluated the expectations that we were setting and she quickly learned that she could have anything that she wanted, but she had to be the one to earn it, she couldn't come to us. Today as an adult she has a very strong work ethic and is doing well in her career.
So, back to new years resolutions and what it is that you want, and how your belief system can help or hinder you in achieving your goals.
Weight loss example – You will struggle if you believe:
• There will be a shortage of food so you better stock up while you can or otherwise be forever hungry
• You can hoard food in your stomach for use later
• I haven't tried one of those and may never have a chance again
• Good food shouldn’t go to waste so I had better eat it all now
• Its just a small piece, my body won’t even notice the difference.
• Two weeks effort and I’ll be where I want to be again.
In my case my belief system was very different when it came to food and fitness. I was extremely goal oriented as well as actually struggled to gain weight. I trace this to my belief as a kid that eating was an activity that got in the way of the physical activities and other things that I wanted to spend my time on. Couple this with my goal oriented behaviours and you see before you a person who never had to work at being fit, was not overweight, skips meals, yet plows through a bowl of popcorn as if an empty bowl was a goal worth achieving. Fortunately it was just popcorn and not chocolate layer cake.
I also learned in my teens that two weeks in the gym would make me buff for the summer, and if I started to sag, another two weeks and I’d be fit again (kind of the equivalent of a crash diet but with gaining weight through muscle instead). As an active teenager with lots of fresh testosterone, that actually worked, but now I’m old and I’ve had to change those beliefs. If you want to achieve your goals, and more importantly, sustain the desired outcome, you may have to change your beliefs as well.
Here is the approach that created for myself and that I used to get back in shape. It also works very well for business goals and work ethic as well:
Step 1. Just show up.
Sure it takes s more that showing up, but before you can accomplish anything you have to at least show up. That means getting into routines, and routine take a while to become routine. I subscribe to the idea that you can adapt to a new routine in 30 days, so, for 30 days, at least force yourself to show up. Organize your schedule, prepare the day before, do whatever it takes to remove the obstacles to showing up. I wanted to cycle. Over the winter I chose to attend a spin class but kept missing it, so I learned to pack my gym bag the night before. If I did miss it, at least I would still get to the gym and wonder around for a while pretending to work out. Within thirty days I was showing up on time regularly. Step 1 is just show up.
Step 2. Don't leave
If you are as badly out of shape as I was, a spin class is hard. After the ten-minute warm-up I was physically done. Since I felt that I could not keep up for the rest of the class and my body was already exhausted, I’d leave. Don't leave. Instead of believing that I had to follow the instructor (especially when they were singling me out and trying to motivate me to do more) I would just put my head down, ignore everyone and just pedal until the end. The older ones understood, but my approach infuriated some young instructors.
No matter, my belief was that if I worked too hard initially, my brain would convince me to leave, and I believed that I had to do whatever it took to stay until the end. I believed that if I kept doing this each day, I would get stronger and be able to participate longer than the day before. I did not believe that I was there to make the instructor happy, or that this was a quick fix.
Step 3. Divide the work
Now that you are showing up consistently, AND not leaving, it is time to take it to the next level. For me this was after approximately 60 days. (Hey, it took years to put on the weight and to lose heart and muscle fitness, you don't think it is going to come back in one-week do you?)
I have been told by medical experts that it isn't so much that you can't compete at the same level when you get older, its just that it takes longer to recover. In my spin class example, I would always work hard at the beginning, but then once exhausted, just put my head down and tell myself not to leave, but as my fitness improved I was able to join back in and work hard again for the last part of the hour. While the longest part of the hour for me was the recovery part in the middle, eventually that became shorter and the two periods of high effort at the beginning and end would increase in duration. I believe it is the high effort at the beginning that eventually allowed me to participate longer, not simply the time with my head down keeping my legs moving, but I needed that part with my head down in order to train my brain to overcome the urges to leave and eventually the endurance to pain or boredom.
Step 4. Drive hard all the way
Eventually my workout became a solid hour sprint, and then with a new goal of riding on a cycle tour 700kms one way and another 700kms back the next day, I started doing two hour-long classes back to back, and eventually three before the roads cleared of snow and I could put in some real road miles.
During every step. Ask yourself how bad do you want it?
A friend of mine who was aware of my goal to do this big cycle tour commented to me after I had completed it, “Congratulations on the ride, that must have been the hardest thing you have ever done!” Actually no it wasn’t. There were a few challenges along the way with not eating right on day one and becoming dehydrated on day two, but those were easily overcome with a rest stop and some fluids. In reality my 6-hour ride felt like about an hour or two. I now realize that during my physical training I was also doing a significant amount of mental training. You can't just white-knuckle it, that would have been hard. You have to train your body and your brain and perhaps modify your beliefs.
From the book “How Bad Do You Want IT” one of the stories that Author Matt Fitzgerald tells is of six-time Ironman winner Mark Allen who describes endurance racing as “ a test of you as a person on top of a test of you as an athlete.” He describes how Allen lost Ironman six times as a result of mental self-sabotage before he allowed his struggles to change him and he began to win. To paraphrase Fitzgerald, the author also makes the point that no tools (coping skills) learned from sport psychologists (and I would suggest any psychologists,) can match the power of lived experiences in developing coping skills. It is when you have these tools, AND experience a crisis that you change your coping style and perhaps your belief systems.
You can apply your new beliefs to anything from being able to walk past a plate of brownies (I believe that will cost me a week in the gym), to tackling that huge report that you have to write for your boss (I no longer believe that I should leave it until the last minute since I don't really work as well under pressure as I once believed).
What is your new years resolution?
What do you need to believe in order to achieve your goals in the New Year? One of my beliefs that I established very early in life was that if others could do something, so can I. All I had to do was figure out how. If someone told me I would never be able to do something, my internal voice responded with “just watch me!” My internal voice repeated that phrase to me so often as I was growing up that it became my natural response. I have no idea where or when those words popped into my head but I am glad that they did. At one point in my life however I recall that voice changing. I was shocked when in response to some critic telling me something was not possible, I heard the words “you are probably right.” What an unproductive period of time that led to! Instead, with the words “just watch me” I believe that I am an excellent problem solver, can achieve anything that I set my mind to so either hop on board or get out of my way. Meanwhile, author Matt Fitzgerald believes that “MORE is the only answer to the question “how bad do you want it?”
Getting recognition at work is not a goal, it is a by-product of putting in the effort to accomplish things. Just as losing weight or making money are simply by-products of your goals. Achieving those goals requires endurance, and once you have built up both your skills and your endurance pushed forward by strong beliefs, what once seemed like work now feels almost effortless.
I believe that I can do anything, just watch me. You can too. What will you believe this year?