This is a guest post from Tom of Unstoppable Gainer.
Let’s talk about practice. Not practicing the guitar, or a sport or any other skill but a different kind of practice.
The fastest way to program yourself for success is to practice the correct things. This is my secret to making massive change in your habits and self-discipline in just a few weeks or even days in some cases.
Every time you are about to do something, ask yourself this question. . .
. . . “Is this something I really want to practice?”
Anytime you take a positive action you move yourself towards your goals and do what you are supposed to do whether you feel like it or not, you instill that habit and make the habit stronger.
Anytime you do the wrong thing, procrastinate, don’t speak up, take the instant gratification or eat a candy bar, you strengthen that negative habit.
There are a number of ways to apply this, but by asking “Is this something I really want to practice?” over and over again, you create a hack that will get quickly get you on an upward spiral and making great decision after great decision.
If you can understand why this works (which I’ll share now as well as how to fully apply this), you will have the keys to take control of your actions and break out of the autopilot responses most people never break away from.
Sound good? Let’s dig in.
So how does this work?
Our self-concept is the way we think about ourselves and we have a self-concept for every part of our lives. You could describe self-concept as the type and quality of person you think you are.
We will ALWAYS act in alignment with our self-concept e.g. we don’t do or achieve anything our self-concept tells us we can’t do. Our brain will give us any rationalisation or excuse we need to do this.
There are two ways to change your self-concept: through thinking and action. Visualisation is one way- but taking action is far faster. When you take new actions that you don’t associate with yourself, you create an immediate change in your self-concept and will see quick growth.
As an example, let’s say I want to go to the gym. If I am consistent with going to the gym and don’t miss a workout for some weeks, I will have a self-concept that I am someone who never misses a workout. Since this becomes my new self-concept which makes it even less likely that I will miss my next workout and the habit will grow stronger.
If I miss even ONE workout though, then I weaken my self-concept. The next time it comes for me to go to the gym, I will be much more likely to miss that session also. If I rationalise even once, then that story becomes a part of my self-concept and I will see myself as someone who lies to himself and misses the gym for no good reason- not a good thing to practice!
Every time you make a decision- good or bad- you instantly change your self-concept and person you are.
This is a huge reason why habits are so powerful. Avoid things you don’t want to practice at all costs.
*IMPORTANT* Do NOT make yourself feel guilty when you slip up (which you will- we all do). This comes from research shown in “The Willpower Instinct”, by Kelly McGonigal. The research shows that when you make yourself feel guilty, you become more likely to do another destructive habit to make yourself feel good again. For example, when a woman goes out and buys expensive clothing even though she is already in credit card debt. She does this to relieve stress so when she buys something and thinks about her debt, she’s likely to go and buy EVEN MORE clothes in order to reduce the stress- a viscous cycle (I know what you’re thinking- “If I don’t make myself feel guilty, what’s to stop me from doing it again”. I’ll show you the real solution in a moment.)
We’ve established that very time we act in a certain way; we make ourselves more likely to act in the same way again. This is also true for character virtues- self-discipline, courage, resilience, forgiveness as well as negative virtues. It is important to constantly ask ourselves if we are practicing the correct virtues as they will become our habits and a part of our self-concept if we don’t.
If I see a girl walking down the street who I think is cute, but I don’t go and talk to her, then I am practicing fear and I will get good at being scared.
But I can talk to her just once, an interesting thing happens. Since I have just acted in a way that is outside my self-concept, I have broken the pattern and now I will view myself as someone who can introduce myself to a girl on the street. My brain will start to tell me a different story and it will be easier to do it again. I will see myself as someone with more courage and will act favourably the next time I am scared.
Even small things are important to practice. When you want to say something but hold back in fear of being laughed at, say it. When you wake up, JUMP out of bed. Even practice smiling when you don’t feel like it. These will quickly become default behaviours.
It’s when you least want to do something and it seems impossible, and then do it, that you strengthen the habit the most.
Every time you slip up, come back stronger
As we’ve discussed, it is not a good idea to make yourself feel guilty or to beat yourself up when you slip up.
Every time you make a concession- where you don’t get or do what you want it has a big negative impact on your testosterone levels (yes, ladies too) and if you win the opposite effect takes place. Even tiny things such as if I ask you for a dollar and you say no, my testosterone goes down.
This is bad because studies (links here and here) show that your levels of testosterone predict your success. Testosterone naturally fluctuates but when we practice the right things we keep it in our favour. Even in the stock market, I can show you a study that shows that traders on the stock room floor with the highest levels of testosterone, are the most successful. Every time you get a win or practice the right thing, it bumps up your testosterone which it makes it MUCH more likely you’ll do the right thing again because of the winner effect!
With that in mind, there are two ways to recover from a fall
1. Think about what you want- The solution is two fold. First you need to re-focus your thoughts onto what you want and not what you don’t want. I’m not a Law of Attraction or “The Secret” guy but this is key. When you are thinking about what you don’t want, for example, thinking about how you don’t want to be poor, all your attention is on it and you will stay there.
When you change that to I want to earn $X and pay $Y off of my credit cards each month, all your focus is now on going forward so that is where you will go.
2. Rack up more wins- We need to start practicing again. And what are we going to practice? The correct behaviours. . . Go to the gym the next day. If you have a task that you MUST do, go and do it to practice that behaviour, increase your testosterone and you’ll get back on track
It get’s easy fast
Look, success is simple but it is far from easy. The steps are straightforward but it takes commitment, discipline and focus but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a lot of fun. It might sound like torture to have to constantly discipline yourself in this way but after a while it becomes WAY more fun to do the right thing. You just have to stick it out for a while to get there.
Right at the start of this post I mentioned habits. Every time you practice the correct behaviour or action, it strengthens the habit. A properly installed habit isn’t boring- they are just something you do and take pride in.
That’s the point you will reach if keep practicing the right things
Tom runs Unstoppable Gainer– a self-development site created to help others develop the tools they need to get EXACTLY what they want from their lives. Tom has put together a free report for Start of Happiness Readers called “The Motivation Manifesto: How To Create Almost-Constant Motivation” Click here to check it out.