A new season, a new year’s resolution, a new goal. As you work towards this goal, there will be a thousand times when you are tempted to procrastinate, veer off course or talk yourself out of putting in the effort. What if I said that you could choose to take a different approach this season? An approach which is focused on the here and now, and which will allow you to achieve your goal one step at a time.

The easy way

Why is the route towards a new goal so difficult to travel? Why do the majority of people stray off path to take the “easy” option?

First of all, a goal is something that exists in the future. This means that when you focus your attention on this goal, you distance yourself from the present moment. However, you know that the present moment is the only one which truly exists and which you have control over.

Furthermore, when you really concentrate on your goal, if you cling onto it, you will begin to think that your sense of achievement, even your happiness, depends on that goal being achieved. This could be in 3 months? 6, 12 months? That time could seem very far away when you have to put in a lot of effort to reach that goal.

A new approach

But what if a different solution existed that would allow you to progress towards excellence?

I recently attended an online conference during which one of the speakers, Leo Babauta 1, explained that over a period of 8 years, he transformed his entire life, simply by transforming one habit at a time. Here is a summary of his journey:

  • In 2005, he stopped smoking;
  • To reduce his stress levels during this change, he started running;
  • A year later, he ran his first marathon;
  • He started getting up earlier every day;
  • He became more organized at home and at work;
  • He started eating healthily;
  • He became a vegetarian;
  • He became better at managing his finances;
  • He started traveling by bicycle;
  • And the list continues, to the time when he took part in an ultra-marathon in 2013.

One habit at a time

When you’re trying to progress, the magic happens when you concentrate on one habit at a time.

Instead of saying to yourself, “I am going to run a marathon in 3 months”, make the decision to start running 5, 10, 15 minutes every day, starting now. And, above all, to enjoy those moments and to make the most of every minute.

Instead of saying to yourself, “I am going to win the final game at the end of the season”, identify each opportunity to counteract your opponent on defense, no matter what their level and no matter what the situation. Whether it is during practice, during a friendly game, or during an important match; train regularly, several times a week.

By putting emphasis on small habits, those which are important to you, you have the power to transform all aspects of your performance in the long-term.

Overcoming obstacles

So, how do you form or transform a habit? Even though you are willing, many everyday obstacles will arise:

  • Pushing it back to later;
  • Stopping and not starting again;
  • Talking yourself out of it and rationalizing;
  • Being hard on yourself when you don’t do something;
  • Doubting your ability to reach your goal.

To be able to overcome these obstacles, you should first choose one single habit at a time, the most simple one. This habit should be relatively easy to achieve, allowing you to overcome any issues of doubt and to add up small victories.

A habit could be as simple as running 5 minutes every day.

  • Since it is only for 5 minutes, you will be less likely to put it off until tomorrow.
  • You will probably not stop after 2 minutes to tell yourself that you will start again later…you will keep going until you reach your goal.
  • Even if you feel tired, you will be less inclined to talk yourself out of it.

You may also decide to eat one piece of fruit or vegetables per day. Or to go up and down the 3 flights of stairs 5 times when you get home in the evening. Or to watch a video every day for 5 minutes on an aspect of your sport which you want to improve. Or to take 3 minutes every day to sit in a calm place and concentrate on your breathing. Or to open a savings account and set up an automatic payment of $10 each week. Whether it is related to your sport or not, every decided action builds your self-esteem up a notch. You begin to realize that you can truly change things in your life and reach your goals.

This habit should be so easy to complete that you will succeed in accomplishing it every day for at least two weeks. Then, you choose a new habit.

Transform your environment

According to Dan Ariely, behavioral economist at Duke University, behavioral changes are directly linked to environmental changes. Ariely states that willpower is not long-lasting, and it isn’t enough to make a huge amount of effort every day. Willpower is a trigger, but a change in environment could be the element which makes the habit permanent.2

When you are in the gym training, your environment motivates you and encourages you to exceed your limits: rhythmic and dynamic music, people intensely training around you, posters of athletes on the wall, the television and its sports programs, the new equipment which you want to try, your trainer who pushes you to always give more.

You can recreate the same thing at home: organize your environment so that it is suitable for your habit changes.

A few weeks ago, I again began to run 3 mornings every week. The cold was a major obstacle for me, as well as getting myself ready every morning. In the summer, it’s easy: we put on our running shoes and just like that, we’re outside. Here is what I did.

  • Overcome the ice and snow. I bought winter running shoes, waterproof with soles made for running on ice. A monetary investment, but I made it a priority, telling myself that spending that amount would be an extra motivation for me. Having suffered a concussion last year, the possibility of falling was also a significant obstacle for me. I wanted to feel confident on the ice.
  • Overcome the cold. To save my budget, I spent time at home looking through my old winter clothes to find some that would keep me warm enough.
  • Overcome time. I chose 3 mornings during the week when I would go running, I wrote them in my diary and I set an automatic alarm on my mobile phone.
  • Overcome pressure. At the moment, I do not set any length of time. No pressure. This means that on the mornings when it is -25º outside, I tell myself I’m going for 5 minutes. Once outside, after 5 minutes I feel good and, most of the time, I keep going for longer.
  • Overcome distractions. It is easy to get up and check Facebook, my emails, to eat breakfast…and to quickly allow myself to be carried away by all of the day’s events. In the evening, before going to bed, I get all of my running clothes and my trainers ready. I leave them clearly displayed in the entrance hall. The first thing I do when I get up is to pull on my running clothes, then I take my key and I leave to go running. I don’t even look at the weather, because I know: it could make me talk myself out of it.
  • Overcome my thoughts. When I’m about to go out, if I am tempted to change my mind, I remind myself why I do it, how good I feel after doing it and I remove all pressure by telling myself that it is just for 5 minutes. I put myself into “automatic pilot” and off I go.

You might notice that I made several changes in my environment to help me to form my habit: buying trainers, organizing my diary, setting alarms on my phone, placing my clothes in a specific place. Each of these actions allowed me to overcome an important obstacle for myself.

The following steps work for any change in habit. Whether it’s in relation to your diet, your level of physical activity, your finances, or anything else.

  • Choose one single habit, the simplest.
  • Choose when you will complete it and set reminders.
  • Identify the major obstacles which will arise.
  • Modify your environment to overcome these obstacles.
  • When you feel the desire to give up, to stop or to put things off, take a step back and observe. This desire will pass. Stop judging yourself and being a perfectionist. If you get involved in the battle between your thoughts, things will only get worse. Put yourself on “automatic pilot” and do it anyway.

A drop in the ocean

It is essential to have a comprehensive vision of what you want to achieve, or to become. You want to reach your full potential in sport, to be happy, to spend time with your friends, your family, your children, you want to be healthy. Keeping this vision in mind, what habit could you form from today, to be successful now, to be happy now, to spend time with your family, to take care of your health?

And above all, how can you appreciate and enjoy every moment, so that they become symbols of success, not just in the distant future, but in the present moment? So that your current vision and your life become one?

Your vision is an ocean of joy, happiness, prosperity and success. We often believe that we are far away from this vision and that every change in habit is just a drop in the ocean. But what if, instead, you saw your habit as a drop which is part of that ocean?

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle

  1. My Story: Zen Habits
  2. Transform your Environment