Creating Positive Habits, Breaking Old Habits
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”
“The definition of madness is doing things exactly the same and expecting different results.”
It is that time of year again, January. New Year, new dreams, new me. Many of those I know see January as a time of new start and new goals. New Year resolutions are really quite poor in that they often fade out after the January blues have gone away. That snapshot motivation created by moments of reflection around the New Year doesn’t seem to last far beyond February either. Then before we know it, we are back to doing what we have always done leading to us getting what we always get.
“Something you do easily over and over without much consideration”
To improve at anything requires a sustained and focused effort. Once we continue this then we form a habit. Habits remain one of the most powerful forces on Earth, our brains are designed to repeat patterns that have been fed into it. The more we feed a particular movement, thought process, emotion or all 3 combined then our brains will automatically and easily reproduce it. The brain does not know what a “good” habit is or a “bad” habit is. It simply wants to repeat behaviors and thinking that it gets used to being fed by YOU.
Example: If you lye in bed every morning until 10am then getting up at 8am one day will send your body into shock! It will be so much more difficult to get up if the habit is 10am. If after a few weeks you have repeatedly got up at 8 am every day then suddenly your body will rise easily at 8am and will actually struggle to stay in bed until 10am!
A Squash Player’s Example whose habits of thinking and behavior are common:
You intend to practice and improve your squash level today. You arrive at the club slightly late as usual. You don’t really warm up properly, you play the same players, you practice the same shots, do the same routines and finish when you are feeling a bit bored or tired. You don’t stretch down, you have a shower, jump in the car or sit around the bar. You don’t reflect on the session and how you improved but you think you trained well today! You eat a sandwich (or Mcdonalds because it is Friday!) have 2 cups of coffee to “perk you up” and then go on the internet for an hour or two browsing the web and checking crucial emails and sending life changing facebook messages! Play a match later that night in exactly the same way you always play. Get up tomorrow and pretty much repeat yesterday’s behaviour. Same mood, same focus, same intensity. Maybe a few different routines or play a slightly different player and eat a tuna sandwich instead of a ham one (unless it’s Mcdonald’s Friday of course!).
After your next defeat you wonder why you are not improving. It’s not fair is it? All this work and no reward. Whose fault is it? It must be somebody’s;
1. I know “it’s my fault. I am not good enough, I never have been. I knew deep down all along I was not cut out to be really good. I can remember this feeling even when I was a kid. Everyone else was so much more talented than me, more natural and quick learners.”
2. “It’s my coach’s fault.” They should be telling me what to do more. They care more about other players than me. I need to change coach. A better coach with new ideas would sort me out fast.
3. “It’s the rubbish funding I get.” Every other good player I know has no money worries and that is why they are good and improving.
4. “I have nobody to play.” If I had a better environment I would be miles better. E.g. If I was a junior who lived in Egypt at the moment I would be a lot better!
5. “I’m thinking of retiring anyway”….take that coaching job....I wasn’t cut out for this at the very top level anyway…nobody will be overly bothered…they could see it coming….oh and my injuries don’t help either…..!
6. Could you list another……..
7. Keep going……..
15. Finished yet?
The above example is quite a negative case but unfortunately a common one. People limit themselves hugely through unproductive habits and they get stuck in that state. It feels quite natural to the person and it is really hard to notice that things need to change. Day after Day, week after week, month after month, year after year then the persons CORE IDENTITY is imprinted for ever and related self beliefs naturally follow.
A good coach or psychologist will point this out as they can give a different perception from their outside OBSERVER position but do you really want to change now after all this time! Do you want to hear it? Can you face making the seemingly dramatic changes to your thinking patterns and your consequent behaviors? It will be difficult.
Thought Provoker: Think about your squash training habits now. List 15 of them if you can. (Quantity and Quality of: matches, solo practice, mental skills practice, fitness training, tactical learning, eating patterns, rest/sleep etc)
Getting going today – rule of Inertia
Isaac Newton’s first law included the term ‘Inertia.’
“A body will stay at rest or in a state of uniform motion, unless affected by an external force.” Sir Isaac Newton
In simple terms, inertia means:
"Something that’s moving will stay moving and something that is stuck will stay stuck, until there is an outside effort to stop it or start it."
eg. Think of how hard it is to stop runaway trains or avalanches.
eg. Think of how hard it is to get a heavy weight off the ground or for a strongman to pull a lorry from standing.
Like many natural laws of physics, we can apply the principle of inertia to habits very easily. Once you get going you are hard to stop but getting going in the first place will require a big effort because your brain is trained to stay as you are. Old habits die hard as they say.
The rule is clear therefore. If you desire any permanent change to your existing habits you will need to put in a lot of effort at first. This could be determined effort that must last for weeks or even months. Your habits will be ingrained in you at different depths so some won’t take much effort compared to others. I would expect it will be easier to drink 3 litres of water every day than to suddenly become highly organized in all your training or adopt positive thinking habits for 90% of the time.
“our habits make us and they break us”
So, seriously consider your habits and rituals that affect your Squash experience. Are they helping? Do you have the conviction and courage to change them? Are you stuck? Do you need help from anyone in particular? Are you predictable, even boring?
Habits are very much about now, this moment, today! I see many people setting longer term goals which are rather exciting but too comfortable. They usually require effort tomorrow or next week. Tomorrow never comes for many people as we know. Get moving today by changing one thinking habit and just one behavior habit. Stick with it. If you can do that then and only then should you consider setting some longer term goals. Prove to yourself you can do something to change TODAY. After a few weeks of this you will have the confidence and belief to really go after those longer term dreams you chase.