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.
I found this post reaffirming. I do these things and you are right it does build over time. I force myself to do things that I know cause me anxiety. I appreciated reading this because it is a reminder that I need to keep strengthening certain habits. I find it interesting that you say that testosterone is related to success. Is this because it makes you more aggressive? Stock brokers are known to be A Type personalities.
Strengthening habits can be hard work, definitely! I struggle a lot of the time myself when it comes to self-discipline and sticking to the right things.
I’ve also heard research about testosterone making you more successful. I believe there is a link with confidence and assertiveness as you mention. Would be interesting to hear from Tom.
Yeah I would love to hear from him. Wall Street types have the reputation of being an asshole. There probably isn’t a study on this, but I wonder how very high levels of testosterone affect your relationships. If you are more confident, assertive, and sexed up because of the testosterone does it then make you more likely to cheat? Does it make you more likely to crush the other person in interpersonal arguments? Just some random thoughts.
Hey Sebastian. Glad you liked the post.
There’s very much a link between aggression and testosterone although not to the the extent that you should be worried about becoming overly aggressive by increasing your testosterone levels. Professional bodybuilders and those taking steroids will often talk about ‘roid rage’. Explosions of anger that burst out of them which is a side effect of the anabolics.
That said, increasing your testosterone by changing your diet (eating more healthy fats, more green vegetables) isn’t going to have this sort of effect on you. It’s difficult to make such large changes in your testosterone levels naturally. When I talked about testosterone above, it’s about momentum also. I found it very interesting that there was a corresponding effect on the body.
In Western culture in general, we’re not particularly aggressive, and by that I mean we don’t assert ourselves to get what we want. People I have met from countries like Africa, South America and parts of Asia are SO much better at this than we are. They have no problem getting the job they want and the other things they desire.
Learning this attitude of “no one’s going to give me anything so I better put the work in for myself” can be tremendously helpful. It’s a mind-set they have because they were raised in a land of zero entitlement and saw their parents doing this and it working. Some may call this aggressive. . .
I have no experience with investment bankers so I can’t comment on them but that does seem to be a stereotype. I can see how problems would emerge however when they leave the trading floor and take the same attitude to their friends and family.
You’re right about Type A behaviour and high testosterone. Coupled with this does tend to be less impulse control (after all, there is a downside to every benefit).
Cheating and lying are interesting. As far as I know, they tend to be personality traits and there is a link between impulse control of cheaters and so their testosterone levels. Pathological liers are almost impossible to change unless, 1) they make a real concerted effort, or 2) they figure out WHY they lie or cheat and realise it is no longer resourceful to them.
Hope that helps!
Thanks for taking the time for the in depth response. I agree that western culture is not as assertive whether that is fear of offending or bothering someone, I don’t know. I know for me that is was always because I was afraid of someone saying no or getting mad at me. I might have to try this diet.