21 January 2009

Changing Habits

I subscribe to Mark Allen's newsletter which comes out about once a month. It always has some tidbit of info that I can use in life or in triathlon. This month, he wrote an article about change. He discussed, by using a simple example, how difficult it is to change habits. I really liked it so I thought I would post it here. I hope its as thought provoking for you all as it was for me.


AsicsWe all have our ladders to climb that reach for the sky. Many times we make it to the top but sometimes we don't. And even when we do, it can take longer than we hope. But hope we must, as this is the fuel that propels us forward even in moments of doubt. Fulfilling dreams is rarely a predictable process, and certainly there may be a few personality hiccups in our character that make the road bumpier than is really necessary.

We are at the beginning of a New Year, which is always a point of reflection and a time when we muster up new hope and dedicate ourselves to the things that have purpose in life. Most of us strive to change patterns that have held us back from achieving our dreams. But how does change come about? Do we just say "I will change" and voila we are a different person without the old habits? Rarely.

Changing negative patterns is usually like dying a small death. Procrastination, impatience, overeating, undersleeping- whatever it is that you want to transform and improve on for the year ahead will most likely take some very conscious effort. I know this personally, and want to share a journey of change that I just traveled. The story is simple, but the lesson is big.

It started at my outside shed where I store some of my most valuable and of course oversized items-my sporting gear. I have enough bikes to outfit a team and a quiver of surfboards that will work in every size wave from small to tall. This treasure trove is guarded by a deadbolt that a few months ago had an internal tumbler that got out of place and caused the lock to be impossible to open. I managed to get the deadbolt unlocked one last time and then it was time for CHANGE! Instead of using the same lock that I had for ten years, I now had to use the lock on the doorknob itself.

This seems like a very simple change right? WRONG. Here is how it went:

Week One: Every single time I went to unlock my shed I put the key into the deadbolt (old pattern that has not begun to change even though I knew I needed to change it). It was not until I tried to turn the lock that I would immediately realize that, woops, I put the key in the old lock, but needed to use the doorknob now.

Week Two: Things got a little better. I still put the key in the deadbolt but remembered this was not the right place BEFORE I turned it to no avail.

Week Three: I found myself splitting things between actually putting the key in the correct lock first and then, yes, still putting it into the wrong one. Tough to teach old dogs new tricks I suppose.

Week Four: it was about 75/25 with 75 being the percent of times that I got it right. Close but still no cigar.

Week Five: I only saw the key go into the old lock once, even though I will admit I started to reached for it a couple of times before I caught myself.

Week Six: Finally success! No false starts. I got the right lock first time every time.

It's now a couple of weeks since then and I have on occasion still reached for the wrong lock, but caught myself before the key came in contact with it. If a simple thing like using a different lock on the same door was so tough, how will the big and certainly more important patterns ever get changed? Well, maybe we need to be more aggressive in helping ourselves avoid the old lock (the old patterns). In my case, I could have put a piece of duct tape across the old lock and the old pattern as a stern reminder: "Don't go there".

So I pose the question to you. How will you place a piece of "duct tape " across the pattern that you are trying to change this year? If you can't figure out a way to do that, what will remind you that you have once again reached for the old lock rather than opening the door to your future with the new one? My lock didn't turn, so it was a very quick slap on the hand that told me, "you are in the wrong place, buddy." What will your reminder be that you have once again used the old pattern rather than changed and used a new one? What can you do to stop your old pattern in its tracks every time you do insert the key in the wrong place?

What will keep you working until you do change your old patterns? I needed to get into that shed just about every day, and with the old lock I had no choice but to change. I couldn't give up. It took me six weeks, but I finally succeeded. What will force you to keep working on change until it indeed comes about, until you also reach for the right lock to open your shed of good fortune and joy?

We have a new president who's mantra is "Change". Our economy needs change, the world needs change. As Brant Secunda whom I have studies shamanism with for nearly twenty years always says, "Change starts with you". All of us at MarkAllenOnline send our best wishes that the change you want and need comes about, and that it is a joyous year filled with lots of good moments and of course, great races!