Small gains can seem meaningless in the beginning. But consistent habits and behaviour can deliver incredible progress quickly once you master your motivation and willpower.
In Part I (which you can read here) I made the point that having a strong mindset that enables you to conquer your goals is not something that you either have or don’t have. Everyone can improve their mindset. The trick is to understand the formula that makes this possible.
And central to this is the power of building habits that enable you to succeed, rather than relying only on willpower and motivation.
In fact the entire role of motivation and willpower is to help with the creation and building of good habits because they form the cornerstone of your success.
Habits are the small decisions you make, and small actions you perform every day.
What you repeatedly do (i.e. what you spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality that you portray.
And when you learn to transform your habits, you can transform your life! Imagine the typical habits you do every day, like brushing your teeth or putting on your seatbelt.
These actions are small enough that you don’t even think about them. You simply do them automatically. They are tiny actions that become consistent patterns.
What this means is that losing weight, gaining muscle or any other goal isn’t dependent on a researcher discovering the perfect diet or you finding a superhuman dose of willpower, but instead hinges on a series of tiny habits that you can control.
Small gains can seem almost meaningless, especially in the beginning. But small habits can actually deliver incredible progress very quickly.
And more importantly they are helping to create a consistent behavior pattern.
Wrapped around the process of motivation, willpower and habits is the power of process.
Often in life we overestimate the importance of a single event (like a marathon) and underestimate the importance of making better choices on a daily basis (like running 5 days per week).
Whenever we talk about what we want to achieve in life it is usually centred around the subject of goals. But the results we actually get, good or bad, have less to do with the goals you set and a lot to do with the systems you follow.
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.
And when you focus too much on the goal and not enough time designing your systems certain problems can arise.
For example winners and losers have the same goals:
Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal and every candidate wants to get the job.
And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers.
It wasn’t the goal of winning the Tour de France that propelled the British Cyclists to the top of the sport. They had wanted to win the race every year before—just like every other professional team. The goal had always been there but it was only when they implemented a new system that they achieved a different outcome.
And achieving a goal is only a momentary change:
- Achieving a goal only changes your life for the moment.
- We think we need to change our results, but the results are not the problem.
- What we really need to change are the systems that cause those results.
- Anyone can go on a crash diet for 8 weeks to fit into their goal swimsuit size for holiday. But 99% of people will revert back to their original weight soon after because the system used to achieve the goal was flawed and unsustainable. So you’re left chasing the same outcome because you never changed the system behind it. You treated a symptom without addressing the cause.
If you ignore the outcomes and focus only on your daily actions you’ll still get results.
In fact when you start making adjustments in your life it is important to not get caught up looking for the ‘one big thing’ that will produce the best results.
It is the combination of the small actions you take every day, consistently over time, that will bring the greatest benefit.
We call this the power of accumulative advantage:
- When a small advantage at the beginning of something becomes the little difference that leads to another opportunity.
- That makes the initial advantage even bigger and that edge in turn leads to another opportunity.
- And the cycle continues until that initial small difference becomes a BIG advantage.
The effect creates a growing separation between two people who may have started at the same place but end in very different places due to the increased accumulative advantage over time.
It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making better decisions on a daily basis.
You may have heard this referred to as the 1% rule.
Often we convince ourselves that change is only meaningful if there is some large, visible outcome associated with it. And we put pressure on ourselves to make this huge improvement that everyone will talk about.
Meanwhile, in the beginning improving by just 1 percent may not be noticeable but in the long run it’s what creates true success.
Where To Go From Here
Now it’s time for you to build your own system for achieving success.
Stage 1 – Find Your Motivation
There is no set formula for how to go about this, and it will most likely be an ongoing process. First watch the TED talk ‘How great leaders inspire action’ by Simon Sinek.
Then set out to find your own ‘why’. We make decisions emotionally, and use logic to justify them. It’s important that your ‘why’ has emotion attached to it.
If you follow the process of asking yourself “why” and your final reason doesn’t involve fear of pain or loss, then you’re probably not being honest with yourself.
Q. What do you want to accomplish?
A. I want to move pain-free, to reduce my risk of injury, and improve my overall performance.
A. I want to continue to be able to exercise, to maintain my physical fitness levels and appearance, and stay healthy.
Q. But really, why?
A. Because I want autonomy over my body. I want to still be able to move when I’m older. I don’t want to be in a hospital or have surgery, because it makes me sad and afraid. I want to maintain my appearance because I like the way I look, because it makes me feel confident.
The more you dig into the initial answer, the more powerful the “why” becomes.
To find your own ‘why’ you will require:
- A minimum of 10 minutes but the longer the better.
- A quiet environment.
- A notebook and a pen.
- Use a notebook or a blank word document to write down your responses to the questions below.
- ELIMINATE ALL DISTRACTIONS – turn your phone on airplane mode, disconnect your laptop from the internet, and sit in a neutral, quiet space. (A coffee shop with ambient noise, a park bench, your living room, etc.)
- Explore the real values and motivation behind your desire to be successful with your health. DIG DEEP.
- Continue to refine your answer until you’ve come up with an answer that deeply resonates with you – even if (and maybe especially if) it’s something you’re embarrassed or insecure about.
- When you’ve written something that REALLY resonates with you, underline it.
- A final piece of advice – your why should connect with you. When you look at your final answer, you should say, “That’s what I really meant.”
- Set your timer for 10 minutes, eliminate distractions, and… go!
- (If you go over 10 minutes, keep going – take as much time as you need.)
Questions To Help Get You Started:
- What’s your why for health? Continue to refine your answer, asking yourself “why” for each one, until your answer becomes “because!”
- What are you scared of happening if you are unsuccessful with your health goals?
- What are you afraid will happen in 1, 5, or 10 years if your health remains the same as it is now?
- What would you have missed out on?
- How would your health be?
- How could this help you increase your feeling of control and autonomy over your own life?
- How could accomplishing your health goals help you on a social level? How could it enhance your relationships?
- How could this help you professionally?
Stage 2 – Build Your Habits
As we have seen we need to start small and ignore performance to begin with so that we only need a tiny amount of WILLPOWER.
Once you have succeeded in that first action the ball will be rolling and you will have the MOTIVATION to keep the momentum going and complete a second slightly bigger action and so on.
Before long you will have repeated a behavior enough to form a habit.
Steps To Build A Habit
Follow these 2 rules:
1. Start with a version of the habit that is incredibly easy for you.
- It needs to be so easy it takes hardly any willpower to complete.
- Starting with a habit that is very easy in the beginning means you are building the behaviour pattern.
2. Increase your habit each day, but still always in small ways.
- Once you have started the ball rolling it will be easier to use motivation to keep going.
- Increasing by a very tiny amount each day your body and mind will adapt as the habit grows.
- Remember the rules of Challenge, Curiosity, Control, Cooperation and Competition to help maintain your momentum.
- The first day do 10 pushups, which only takes 15 seconds or so. (Rule 1)
- The second day do 11 pushups. This is a very tiny improvement. (Rule 2)
- Add 1 push up per day, every single day. Once you get to higher numbers, break them up into smaller, easier sets. For example, to do 50 pushups, you might do three sets: 20, 20, 10. The next day, you would add one more and do 20, 20, 11. (Rule 3)
- Build Your Own Habits Your task now is to break your goals down into the habits you need to perform each day in order to make them happen.
- Stage 3 – Focus On The Process And most important of all, focus on actually performing the habit rather than worrying about the outcome. You are developing the skill of being consistent and that is a skill that is valuable in nearly every area of life.
Build Your Own Habits
Your task now is to break your goals down into the habits you need to perform each day in order to make them happen.
Stage 3 – Focus On The Process
And most important of all, focus on actually performing the habit rather than worrying about the outcome. You are developing the skill of being consistent and that is a skill that is valuable in nearly every area of life.
Process can be summed up as a focus on lifestyle, not life–changing. If you ignore the outcomes and focus only on your daily actions you’ll still get results. Build your systems and success will follow.
The body follows the mind.
At a very basic level we all have a general idea of what we need to do to become the person we want to be. But we all know it’s not that simple.
Understanding how your brain works and finding tactics that work for you are vital if you want to make any kind of meaningful change. There is a prevailing myth that the only people who hit their goals, in health or life in general, are the ones with iron willpower and discipline.
When in actual fact, what is more important are the habits and routines that you consistently follow. It is not dependent on the motivation you think you don’t possess enough of, but the understanding of some basic principles about psychology.
We are always told there are no magic formulas for success but if there were the closest you can get is this:
Use minimal willpower and start small to build the habits you need > let that momentum increase motivation > and focus on the process each day to keep your moving average in the positive.
Do that and the rest will take care of itself.
Success is not a straight line and there will always be bad days as well as good, but if you concentrate on improving by just a little bit each day you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can make some big changes.
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