The first big lie is that you always need to be Disciplined. Some people think that success only comes from a never-ending marathon where every action must be disciplined and control is the solution to everything. We are humans, not robots, and this attitude never succeeds on it’s own. Success for any one goal needs to be a sprint that is just long enough for habit to kick in. It is in fact habits, that get us to success, in spite of disciplinary or motivational lapses.
We need just enough motivation and discipline to get a habit to form and become routine and easy, and that is the magic trick. People always think I am very disciplined, training for triathlon every day, but it is just a habit. I started with a big goal in 2004 that got me into training enough that it became a habit. It was exactly the same in the late 90’s when I went from fat to fit. I entered a 12-week challenge and had enough discipline to last for the 12 weeks, and by then, it was a habit. A life long habit. I am by no means disciplined, I just have lots of habits that I have learned over time that all get me to my goals.
If you can simply set up a beneficial habit that gets you to your goal, it will appear that you have amazing discipline! I have a habit that I swim, bike or run, every day. I also have a coach that puts up my training on a calendar, and then I just do what I am told every day – that is my habit, it just looks like discipline.
In 2009, a university in London did an extensive study on how long it took for a habit to truly form. After many ways of testing, the average was 66 days. So a six-week challenge for example is 42 days, and therefore 20 days short, so be mindful of the trap of losing the benefit of the kick start by sliding off the map after coming so close.
The next lie is that you need to always have will power. The problem with this, is that will power is not always ‘on demand’ like Netflix or electricity. Will power comes and goes, and many things affect it. There are a few factors that mean you have lots, or none. Have you ever heard of the marshmallow test? It is a test done 50-years-ago by Professor Walter Mischel, with a large group of 4-year-old kids. One child at a time, they were put in a room with an adult and handed a marshmallow on a plate. They were told that the adult was going to leave for a bit, and if they could wait, they would get another marshmallow. One in three kids could hang in there and wait to get another marshmallow, but most kids just devoured the first one. When studied later, the kids who waited (had self-control) were massively more successful and scored higher on SAT tests by over 200 points. This test really puts in to play one of the biggest challenges with will power – which is that environment is usually stronger. Sitting in front of a marshmallow puts you in a huge disadvantage, just like trying to eat well and be healthy, when you have a house full of junk food. In the face of your biggest temptation, your will power may not be up to the task – so setting up your environment is key. This is also how bootcamps and classes work so well – the environment is perfect for your goal of being fit and healthy!
The other key part of will power is that it has an energy level, like a battery charge. When you start the day you very likely have the highest level of will power and as the day wears on, that ‘charge’ reduces. As your day goes on and tests your will power or mental ability, you start to lose will power. By the end of the day, you are far more likely to skip a workout, eat junk food or choose something that does not serve you.
Your brain is divided into two main parts, and if you have read my book, you know I call them Maxx and Mini. Maxx, the more primitive part of your brain, in charge of the most basic needs for survival, gets priority blood flow and therefore nutrients. Mini, the reasoning and thinking and planning part of your brain, your prefrontal cortex, gets fed after and if you are lacking in nutrition or energy, you will have a marked drop in will power. Eating well literally affects how smart you are. What feeds your brain the best? Complex carbohydrates and protein. So making big will power decisions early in the day will serve you best, and making sure you are well fed all through the day will keep your brain, and therefore your will power, available to you.
So be disciplined long enough to form a habit, and know that will power requires a beneficial environment and good nutrition.