Up until about six years ago, I hated running. I had to run when I was in school to condition for swimming. I hated it. But, it’s convenient! It accomplishes a lot in a relatively short period of time and can be done almost anywhere. After I was no longer swimming competitively, every so often I’d think about the benefits of running and I’d decide I was going to be a runner. Yep, I was going to do it! This happened about every three to five years. So, I’d pick a date, I’d lace up my shoes, I’d head out the door with my enthusiasm.
And, I’d hate every minute of it. I’d want to die. If I was really hardcore about it that time, I might last three days.
About six years ago, I was watching Darren Hardy talk about the differences between how successful people behave and how unsuccessful people behave. He said one thing that changed my attitude about running. He said that everyone has things they don’t like to do. Successful people don’t like the things that are hard any more than unsuccessful people do. They just do them anyway.
They just do them anyway! And I realized that I don’t have to like to run. If it works best for my schedule and lifestyle, I just needed to do it anyway. That fundamentally changed my expectations about how I feel about running.
I decided to start running again. But, this time, I did it differently. I learned how to start running. I got a Couch to 5K app and started slowly, increasing my run to walk ratio gradually. I gave myself a goal of running a particular race hosted downtown by my favorite hockey team…a Nashville Predators shirt was incentive swag. And I began to post run photos online and arranged to do the race with friends. This time, I was successful. I did the race. I had a great time and I’ve been running off and on ever since. The really funny thing is, that I really do enjoy it far more than I ever expected to.
I tried repeatedly to make that change in my life and failed pretty miserably. And then, I finally succeeded. Fluke? No. I did all the wrong things for the wrong reasons all the times I failed and I increased the odds significantly the time I was successful. Some of the things I did hint at some of the ways you can increase the odds of making changes successfully. We’re going to talk about those strategies in the upcoming weeks. This week, I want to dispel a few myths about change so that we’re all starting from the same place.
Myth #1: If I have enough willpower, I can change. If I don’t, I can’t.
Wrong. If you have a tremendous amount of willpower, that’s awesome and it certainly will help you. But, for the rest of us mere mortals with willpower that crumbles in the face of a single Reese cup, the good news is that willpower doesn’t have to be the deciding factor in whether you succeed or fail!
In 1962, Walter Mischel did a study that put a marshmallow in front of children who were instructed not to eat it for 15 minutes. If they held out for the whole time, they received another marshmallow, doubling their treasure. Most kids couldn’t resist, but the minority that did went on to be more successful in life. This study was interpreted for years to show that intrinsic self-discipline and willpower was a key factor to success in life. But, what if that was too simple a conclusion? What if there was another factor involved?
Recently some researchers at Change Anything Labs reworked this experiment. They ran it exactly the same way the original was done and got the same results. Turns out human nature hasn’t changed in fifty years. Shocking, right? But, then they did something different. They taught the kids some strategies for dealing with the temptation in front of them. And the kids actually put those strategies to use. They really wanted that second marshmallow, they just didn’t have the skills to know how to avoid eating the one in front of them. This time, many more of them won the marshmallow stare down and 50% more of them walked away with two marshmallows clutched in little hands. Sticky little hands.
We learn from this that experiment that willpower can be supplemented by skills and strategy. And that’s what the next three weeks are going to be about. Strategies that will increase the odds of your success tenfold.
Myth #2: Change is an event. I need to change, I do and then voilà, I’m a new person!
Wrong. Change is not an event, change is a process. When I failed in becoming a runner, I thought that what it would take for me to make that change was to make the decision to run and then to follow the oft-quoted slogan of running shoe giant, Nike. I’d just do it.
But, that’s not what it took. It took time for me to learn how to run. It took time for my body to adjust. It was a process of change that took months. And frankly, the first round of that Couch to 5K didn’t really make me a runner. Repeating that process a few times did. There were milestones along the way. The first time I felt a runner’s high. The first time I ran twenty minutes straight, without stopping or walking. The first race I did. Realizing that for me, running is therapy and not competition. The realization I didn’t need to run fast or far to be a “real” runner.
These things all took time. The physical, mental and emotional changes were all a process. Even now, it’s a process. I’ve not been running in about six months and I want to start up again. But, the strategies I use might need to be different. I’m not in as good physical condition as I’ve been the last few times. My schedule is different. I’ve lost the built-in accountability of my workout group. The process goes on.
Myth #3: I can approach change like an athlete: I train, I race, I win.
Wrong. It’s absolutely critical to approach change like a research scientist participating in a long-term experiment. If change is a process, we need to also understand that in that process, things almost certainly will go both right and wrong. We’ll succeed and we’ll fail. If we understand the process to be linear, we’ll expect to head right out and eventually reach the end. Success!
Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how it happens. It often looks more like a tangled ball of yarn than a straight line between two points. There will be setbacks. Even when something works for a time, it may stop working. How you deal with those setbacks is absolutely crucial to your eventual success.
Treat the process as a research scientist would. Do you remember the scientific method from school? Let me refresh your memory.
- You choose a topic or ask a question. In our case, a change you want to make. I want to be a runner.
- You create a hypothesis. I’m going to try to become a runner by following the instructions of the Couch to 5K app.
- You test the hypothesis. I tried the app. It mostly worked, but there were some things I really didn’t like about it.
- Here’s the critical part. You examine the results, revise the hypothesis and test again. I thought the Couch to 5K methodology was sound, I just didn’t like the way they did it. So, I tried a different version, an app called Get Running. Same concept, different ramp-up schedule and Claire, with a lovely British accent telling me to get my tail in gear. Somehow, it’s easier to do what she says when I hear it in an accent I like to listen to. It worked better for me. However, the schedule I was running on stopped working. I was running in the afternoons. Here in the South, that’s just stupid after Mid-May, so I made another change and began running early in the morning to escape the heat.
Those were simple, common sense changes I made in this example. But, had I not had an experimental attitude, I would have stopped at the first speed bump and just decided that it didn’t work and I’d never be a runner. I would have missed out on the success and on all the benefits running has brought me over time.
As we begin to make changes in our lives over the next few weeks, I want you to understand something. Just because you’ve not been successful before, doesn’t mean you can’t be. It means you haven’t been successful yet. Let’s try again, together. I’m going to give you some direction on how to get there, how to use the tools we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks and some strategies for success. I want you to approach it without relying on willpower, with the understanding that it’s a process, that there will be ups and downs, wins and losses in that process and with the experimental attitude of a research scientist. Be willing to examine what you’re doing and adjust. And keep making adjustments until you turn around one day and realize that you’re a runner. Or, 50 pounds lighter. Or, a better wife. Or, whatever it is that you’re trying to improve in your life.
What is it that thing for you? If you worked through the What’s Important series with me after the first of the year, you should know. If not, go back and listen to episodes 62, 63 and 64 and find the gaps between what’s important to you and how you’re currently living. Then we’ll start tacking strategies for making changes next week!
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