Tuesday, July 12th, 2011
One of the most important lessons I learned as a world class swimmer is that IF YOU BELIVE IT, YOU CAN BECOME IT. It’s great when I see my clients learning this same lesson. Sometimes however, there is a need for a change or for a few changes in order for us to become the person we want to become. That’s when the rubber hits the road.
Change is a process and, many times, it is not an easy one. In order to change and to make that change long lasting, we need to recruit help. It’s easy to say that the only reason why we don’t follow through with change is because we don’t have enough willpower or because we are lazy. This is a simplistic assumption and it is a wrong one. When you believe that your ability to change comes only from your willpower – and that willpower is a quality that we are either born with or not – you eventually stop trying all together. This mindset keeps people in a trap that leads to depression and eventually into the relapse of the old habits one is trying to change.
Fortunately, there are studies that proved that willpower is not simply an innate ability but a skill we can learn. There are many other sources of help that we can recruit to help us change. Let’s take the example of a person who became overweight and one day decided he wanted to become and ironman contestant. Now, this fellow, let’s call him Mike, used to be an athlete. He got married, got a corporate job and doesn’t know how 10 years later he was 30 kilos overweight. He felt bored and stuck in a routine, unfulfilled, and he began to blame it all on the people he loved the most – his wife and children – which led to many fights. The picture was not a pretty one. The one day, while watching an ironman race on TV he began to remember his days as an athlete. He made a decision right there that he would be in that same ironman in a year’s time.
Now Mike needed to come up with a plan. He realized a few things. He had his personal motivation but he knew he could not do it by himself so he recruited help by hiring a coach. He also signed up for a team that would train together for the same ironman. He also got educated about what would be the best fuel for his body and changed his diet. He distanced himself from his “happy hour” buddies who refused to respect his decision not to drink and kept inviting him for drinks. He began to hang out with his team mates who had the same goal in mind. He also knew that he was doing all of this to avoid the consequences of being overweight so he created a story about what would happen if he did not follow through with his goals. When he didn’t feel like going to practice, he would tell himself the story of what would happen if he neglected his health. His story was graphic and detailed enough to kick him out of the couch and into the pool. The thought of not seeing his daughter getting married or graduating because of his early death – like that of his father – did it every time.
Mike created a smart plan of change. Let’s recap what he did:
1. He was clear about his personal motivation and he knew that it was not enough to make him achieve his goal. So, he recruited help both from inside himself and from outside.
2. He joined a team and got a coach. By doing that he made sure that he had support from people who had the tools to train him and that were literally swimming/biking/running in the same direction that he was.
3. He educated himself on the best fuel for his body and followed a diet plan.
4. He made a clear assessment of the people around him who could help him or hurt him on his quest. He then eliminated the not so helpful influences and hang out with the others who were on the same path that he was.
5. Finally, he created a powerful story about what could actually happen if he didn’t follow through with his plans to become a healthier person. He didn’t sugar coat it or lied to himself. He looked at the facts that were against him – like the early death of his father because he was overweight and diabetic - and decided that the story would give him a powerful push whenever he was tempted with missing practice.
Mike realized that blaming or crediting his willpower is a major trap. One that people fall for every time. An athlete knows that s/he cannot do it by her/himself. An athlete has a plan just like Mike had and follows it. An athlete recruits help and uses strategies to succeed. An athlete is not born an athlete; s/he needs to practice and learn the skill before becoming a good swimmer, runner or whatever.
You also can change! Dig deep and find your personal motivation, get help, design a plan and get the systems in place. We can all do it because it is a skill we can learn and not an innate ability. Now, what’s your iron(wo)man challenge?