The most powerful weapon most overlooked in fighting both failure and success with any endeavor is habit. The dictionary definition of habit is “An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.” Norman Vincent Peale described it this way, “Repetition of the same thought or physical action develops into a habit which, repeated frequently enough, becomes an automatic reflex.”
Someone once said, “We first make our habits, then they make us.” It has also been said that the best way to predict your future is to create it. There is no more powerful guarantee of future success with any endeavor than through the discipline of habit. Why? Because repetition is the engine of perfection.
When someone whom I have just met learns that I played in the NFL they typically say, “Oh wow, that must have been so exciting!” Well, sometimes. In reality, most of what you do as a professional athlete is monotonous, boring, and very unexciting. That’s because, by far, the greatest amount of time you spend physically, mentally, and emotionally is doing things that are extremely repetitive. This is why Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Doing something repetitively until it becomes a habit is typically not a lot of fun but usually very rewarding. The forming of a habit always begins in the mind. William James, a philosopher and psychologist (1842–1910), said, “Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.” Habit is what ultimately leads you to achieving your goal.
Quite simply, if you are looking to improve your tennis serve, you are going to have to learn the correct serving motion, and then repeat that motion over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, until you can do it correctly, unconsciously. As the definition of habit describes, it becomes almost involuntary. Because repetition is the engine of perfection. That’s how it works. There are no shortcuts.
Twenty years ago, when I began my quest to help people overcome the obstacles to getting and staying physically fit for life, I realized the biggest issue was habit. The problem is not that people don’t know how to exercise. The problem is that most people are educated beyond their obedience. The problem is not how to, it’s HABIT!
Why do you brush your teeth every day? Do you really even think about it? Do you approach the sink, hesitate, and say, “You know what, I’ve got a busy day today, I think I’ll skip brushing today and simply brush my teeth longer tomorrow.” Probably not!
THE MAGIC OF 21 DAYS
It’s been shown that simple repetitive tasks require a time frame of approximately 21 days to condition. The science of “21 days to form a habit” came from Dr. Maxwell Maltz, who wrote a bestselling book titled Psycho-Cybernetics. Originally a plastic surgeon, Dr. Maltz noticed that it took 21 days for amputees to cease feeling phantom sensations in the amputated limb. From further observations he found it took 21 days to create a new habit. Since then the “21 Day Habit Theory” has become an accepted part of self-help programs.
Dr Maltz found that brain circuits take engrams (memory traces), and produce neuroconnections and neuropathways only if they are bombarded for 21 days in a row. This means that our brain does not accept data for a change of habit unless it is repeated each day for 21 days (without missing a day).
Here is an accurate summation of Dr. Maltz’ work with the science of habit.
By simply devoting 15 minutes a day to the formation of any habit you wish to establish—if done faithfully for 21 days—it should actually be harder not to engage in the new behavior than it would be to continue doing it.
It was also discovered that it is beneficial to perform the behavior at the same time of day every day. Additionally, other senses can and should be utilized as well, to further improve success in establishing the habit.
An example using exercise would go something like this: exercise for 15 minutes every day. Wear similar clothing each day. Do your exercise in the same location every day. Watch the same TV show, and/or listen to the same music when exercising every day. Got it? The more senses you can involve in the new habit, the more likely it is to become ingrained in the neural pathways of your brain.
Vince Lombardi said, “Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” He also said, “Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.” Why do I say that the most powerful weapon most overlooked in fighting both failure and success with health and fitness is habit? Because most people have failed to make fitness a habit, and in so doing have developed the habit of quitting.
******** In 1979 Dave moved from the active world of the National Football League into a sedentary job. His playing weight combined with a serious back injury from a near fatal accident made it difficult to get back into shape physically. In 1989, discouraged by the high percentage of Americans who are sedentary, Dave began traveling extensively, educating and motivating corporate America to get fit for life. Dave has spoken to hundreds of Fortune 500, and Fortune 100 companies, as well as many organizations throughout America. He has been featured many times on radio and television, and is a frequently published author in publications and major online health and fitness sites. Dave’s new book, including DVD, is titled: BAD CHUTE! Why most Americans fail with fitness.