Having a goal is good. Knowing how to achieve it is better. Staying with it is optimal. So why are so many people ready to attack the New Year with a full blown assault, but ready to wave the white surrender flag four days after? The problem lies in tactics. That is, there is no tactical plan for making their newly desired routine, Routine.
For a strategy to be effective, it must clearly answer the “how to” of execution. In other words, operationalizing a strategy must offer a step-by-step process that can be broken down into the tactics that must be employed at each level of the organization or daily schedule.
Turning an idea into an action and then into a routine eliminates the Why the hell am I doing this? question (unless you’re jumping out of a fully functioning airplane, in which case the question of Why the hell am I doing this? never ceases) that stifles momentum. In other words, when we first begin a new routine, such as waking up early to go workout or starting a new diet, we tend to question the need. We begin to search for reasons not to go, rationalizations to get just 7 more minutes of sleep to feel better because the bed is Ohhh…so comfy. Well, I got some bad news for you: that extra 7 minutes of rest doesn’t do a damn thing except throw you off schedule (which is why the snooze button is one of the worst inventions ever).
So, how the hell do you make a routine, Routine? I have no idea. Just kidding. Here are 4 ways to try implementing a new personal battle rhythm:
Set The Conditions
If (and this is a personal example) your goal is to be able to play a blues song on the guitar without sounding like a bunch of pots and pans that just fell off a dump truck, you’ll need to create the environment that sets you up for success. So find a readily accessible spot where your guitar will always be, somewhere that will encourage you to play even if it’s for just ten minutes. If the guitar is kept away in the closet then it’s out of sight and out of mind. But, if it’s right next to your favorite chair where you have coffee in the morning, there’s no excuse not to start jamming.
Hold Yourself Accountable
When you make a promise to another person—a friend, family member, coworker—I’m willing to bet that you keep it (hopefully) because breaking that promise would erode trust in the relationship. You show up on time, you follow through with a call, and you generally do what you said you were going to do because you don’t want to be seen in a poor light. So why is it so much easier to break promises we make to ourselves?
However, accountability (or the lack thereof) can be a bitch. It can be a love/hate relationship depending on what type of mood you’re in, because getting up early to run may sound like a great idea at 6pm when you’re motivated, but come 6am the next morning it instantly becomes the worst idea ever. To mitigate this, the website www.stickk.com allows you to exercise your willingness to commit by creating commitment contracts designed to hold you to your goal(s). It works like this: You choose a charity to donate to, an opposing political party, or anything that fills your heart’s content enough that will compel you NOT to donate to and follow through with your commitment. If you break the commitment, then the money you invested will be sent. The intent here is to not make that donation. Sharing your idea with a friend keeps you honest and accountable should you have a minor lapse in judgment. This is as much a test in character as it is in will power.
Focus On The Short-Term
If outlining an entire month of early wakeups is enough to make you avoid the habit, try it for just one day. Then another. And then another. While undergoing Hell Week in BUD/S, the thought of going through the whole week with no sleep was enough to make some guys quit. But those who figured out how to make it through did so by just focusing on the next meal. Every meal was only four hours apart, so we learned that if you just focus on the next short-term goal then we wouldn’t be overwhelmed with the enormity of Hell Week.
Ride the Wave
If you want to become good at anything, it requires practice, and self-discipline is no different. Starting a new routine requires a lot of self-discipline to get up and start moving. It’s like pushing a car (if, in the off chance, you like to do that for exercise): it takes an enormous amount of strength, effort and grit to get that sucker moving but once it does, you establish momentum and just keep “riding the wave.”
The bottom line is this: Habits don’t complain because they’re automatic. They require no thought and very little effort because your mind and body are aligned on the “same page” and don’t need to ask your brain for permission (the essence of rationalization) to act—they just do, and quite personally, the less my brain has to think, the better. How about you?