Stick to your Guns (How to make new habits automatic)

31 Jan
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If I hadn’t stuck with salsa I’d never have learned just how much fun dance really is!

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine a few months ago, a guy who had traveled to Colombia to find a new, less stressful life much like myself.

He was working here and telling me how much he disliked his new job (he had started a little over a week before) and how he had read from some online guru that people shouldn’t spend their lives doing things that they don’t enjoy. He told me how much he agreed with this “guru” (he quit said job less than a week later) and how he firmly believed that people should constantly pursue new experiences.

“I don’t want to be the kind of guy that can’t remember the last time he tried something new” he told with a smile and a lot of confidence. “I want to try new things as much as I can”, “That’s” how you live your life”!

I felt a little sorry for him as soon as he said it!

Not that I disagree with him. I really believe that new experiences keep life interesting and keep us, as people, on our toes both physically and mentally. If you can’t remember the last time you tried your hand at something new, you really should take a good look at your life to make sure you’re not sinking into a rut.

My problem with what my friend said stems from that fact that he was so fervent about his belief in “new experiences” that he forgot how important it is to dedicate time to ones endeavors, to develop them beyond the superficial.

I’ll explain this the best way I know how; through salsa.

Let’s assume that when you went to your first salsa party a few years ago you were looking at salsa as your new experience. Let’s say you stuck with it for a few classes and learned the basic steps, a cross body lead and a turn or two and were pretty proud of yourself for it.

Then you decided to take up spear-fishing! All in the pursuit of new experiences.

You would never have learned the things that you have in all the time you’ve been dancing. You would never have learned how to enjoy music and dance as much as you do now. More importantly you wouldn’t know all the amazing people that you have met thanks to the world of dancing.

Give it time
As I said, new experiences are amazing but if you don’t dedicate yourself to new activities, you’ll never experience them the way they’re supposed to be. You’ll have just scratched the surface, thrown them a superficial glance and missed out on all the secrets that would have been revealed to you had you only “stuck to your guns”.

New Year, New You
I’m mentioning this now at the end of January because I’m sure many of you started out the year with great intentions and I’m also sure that many of you have thrown some of those goals out the window, just as I have.

Doing something new is easy the first time in the sense that you don’t need to dedicate yourself to it. Keeping it up is what’s tough, keeping it up is what takes effort and keeping it up is what reaps the greatest rewards.

My first salsa class was fun and, in a way, easy because I didn’t have any expectations for myself. I knew I was going to suck. Sticking with salsa for my first year however was tough. The few salsa parties I went to (they were surprisingly hard to find in rural Japan. Who’d have thought?) were like torture. I was terrified of making mistakes and beat myself up after for not having the confidence to ask more people out to dance. I thought to myself many times how easy it would be to just not bother, to give up and try something else.

However I also knew that if I stuck with it I’d be able to do the amazing things that I saw all those people doing on the dance floor and I’d be able to enjoy it as much as they seemed to be.

So I stuck to my guns and now they’re fully loaded (sweet pun, I know). I can dance (something I never imagined I’d be able to do) and dance has improved my life in many more ways than I can go into here.

Give yourself time
All dancing aside, if you want to achieve something, anything, you have to be dedicated to it.

How many of you said that you were going to eat healthier this year and are currently munching on the stale doughnuts you found at the bottom of your handbag? How many of you said you were going to get yourself a new job and your old resume remains only partially updated from the time when you got your last job?

Research these days says that for a new habit to stick, you need to stick with it for between 20-28 days. What that means is that if you try something regularly for just 3-4 weeks you break through a certain wall and suddenly maintaining that habit becomes a hell of a lot easier.

3-4 weeks is not a lot of time but that doesn’t mean that being dedicated that whole time is easy. It’s not. But if you stick it out, if you put up with the unpleasantness and inconvenience for just a few weeks your body will reward you by making it a whole lot easier for you. You’re not running uphill anymore, you’re cruising on the flat and straight road to victory.

Obviously 3-4 weeks doesn’t apply to everything. I takes me much more time to get used to something but from experience I know that there comes a time in every endeavor when things suddenly become easier, when things make sense and it all becomes a whole lot of fun.

I experienced it in salsa when my basic step became automatic and freed up my arms to do combinations and I’ve experienced it with Japanese and Spanish when I learned enough vocabulary and grammar to make conversations automatic instead of tediously over-thought.

Automation
In fact, that might be just it. You just need to give something new enough time for it to become automatic. Once that happens it’s clear skies and a nice wind at your back.

So what is it you want to do or learn?

If you want to get fitter then dedicate 3-4 weeks to going to the gym or going jogging at least 3 days a week.

If you want to eat less junk-food make yourself a promise that you won’t touch the stuff for a whole month.

Give yourself a month and once you start to see and feel the benefits you won’t need anymore will-power to help you achieve your goals. You’ll have made it automatic and that’s when the real magic starts to happen.

Forget January guys, your month starts here.

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7 Responses to “Stick to your Guns (How to make new habits automatic)”

  1. John Driscoll January 31, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    Enjoyed that article! Keep them coming mate. I would add that a lot of people have one set back and then throw in the towel! We are humans!!!! If you are trying to give up ciggarettes and after 2 weeks of perseverence give in to a craving don’t be too hard on yourself, carry on over the bump in the road! Small set backs should be just that and not the end of the road!

    • The Dancing Irishman January 31, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

      Absolutely agreed lad. It’s very easy to beat ourselves up and just say “that’s it, if I couldn’t do it the first time I’ll never do it”.
      ‘Tis a habit many folk need to get out of!

  2. Chilly February 7, 2013 at 7:00 am #

    Nice one Rich! Totally agree with you. A really good post!

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