Ah yes, the New Year, the clean slate, the fresh start. As reasonable people, we all understand that we can choose to make real, lasting changes in our lives any time we choose to do so, but the long standing tradition around New Year’s Resolution makes this subject feel all the more timely.
There’s a word that comes up a lot, around this type of thinking, the rallying of one’s efforts to an important change, whether it’s exercise or diet or career growth, and that word is discipline. Yet there is undeniable evidence that incredible achievement can come from individuals who would be considered “undisciplined”, in the traditional sense.
Take, for example, Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps, who was widely considered an undisciplined and disruptive young man and who carried the clinical diagnosis of ADHD, as just one of the fairly recent and widely known examples of what a person can achieve through concentrated effort on the mastery of a SPECIFIC skill.
Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, in their book The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, explain that: In a discussion about success, the words “discipline” and “habit” ultimately intersect. Though separate in meaning, they powerfully connect to form the foundation for achievement—regularly working at something until it regularly works for you. When you discipline yourself, you’re essentially training yourself to act in a specific way. Stay with this long enough and it becomes routine—in other words, a habit.
So when you see people who look like “disciplined” people, what you’re really seeing is people who’ve trained a handful of habits into their lives. This makes them seem “disciplined” when actually they’re not. No one is.
The suggestion here is that it is not, in fact, some failing within our discipline that prevents us from achieving our goals, but more so, the failure to develop the good habits that bring you to the Unconscious Competence stage of proficiency.
As is true with many important ventures in life, the forming of a habit requires far more energy and attention to develop then it does to maintain. Our bodies and brains want to do the heavy lifting for us; we simply need to show them how, enough times for them to become imprinted with “the new way”.
Pointing again to the excellent research contained within the book The One Thing: Researchers at the University College of London have the answer. In 2009, they asked the question: How long does it take to establish a new habit? They were looking for the moment when a new behavior becomes automatic or ingrained.
The point of “automaticity” came when participants were 95 percent through the power curve and the effort needed to sustain it was about as low as it would get. They asked students to take on exercise and diet goals for a period of time and monitor their progress. The results suggest that it takes an average of 66 days to acquire a new habit. The full range was 18 to 254 days, but the 66 days represented a sweet spot—with easier behaviors taking fewer days on average and tough ones taking longer. Self-help circles tend to preach that it takes 21 days to make a change, but modem science doesn’t back that up. It takes time to develop the right habit, so don’t give up too soon. Decide what the right one is, then give yourself all the time you need and apply all the discipline you can summon to develop it.
The three critical ideas I want you to take away from this reading and consider further are these…
1.One New Habit At a Time – Don’t sabotage your efforts during those early, critical days and weeks of habit forming, by trying to take on more than one new habit at the same time. Don’t have your feet on two different ladders, if you will. Success is a process and no one has the capacity to effectively learn more than one important habit at a time.
2.Don’t Abandon Your Habits Too Soon – The exact amount of time can fluctuate, but once it’s routine, it’s routine. Create a strong foundation that you can either build upon, or, when ready, start surrounding with other important habits.
3.Don’t Worry So Much About Being Disciplined – Let the emphasis on discipline extend only so far as you need to develop powerful habits, be selective in the concentration of your energy and focus.
Of course, it never hurts to have someone in the boat with you, and I would encourage you to take me up on my offer to sit down with you for a no obligation consultation, so we can translate these ideas into actionable steps. Give us a call today at 440-385-6737.