Seeds of Greatness: Roots & Wings
Course 3 – Healthy Habits – Positive Self-Discipline
Please listen to the audio file first in each section as it contains greater detail than the written text. Then follow the instructions, if any, at then end of each lesson.
Lesson 1: Practice Makes Permanent
Lesson 1 Audio:
Positive self-discipline is doing within, while you are doing without. We are creations of habit. First we make our habits, then our habits make us. Habits are rarely broken, they are replaced. Habits begin as flimsy cobwebs, then with practice, become unbreakable cables to strengthen or shackle our lives. We learn by observation, imitation, and repetition. We observe role models and others. We imitate their behavior. We repeat that behavior until it is internalized like brushing our teeth or driving our cars. Observation, imitation, repetition, internalization.
Why do we do what we do, when we know what we know? Because we do what we have learned, even though we know bet- ter. Some people smoke, although they know it is very detrimental to health. Bad habits are learned, even though we know better than to continue them. Much of what we have learned is by imitation. And it becomes habitual behavior. Habits are like comfortable beds. Easy to get into, but very difficult to get out of. Habits are like submarines. They run silent and deep. This message is about developing the Habits of Excellence.
Your life and that of your children is governed by habit patterns. Layer upon layer you establish your identity by what you observe, imitate, and learn—which is how you will behave. Seemingly insignificant repetitions, innocent cobwebs of watching and believing, turn into patterns, then unbreakable cables that will shackle or strengthen your life. Without positive self-discipline, having healthy self-esteem becomes meaningless. You may feel good about yourself for a while, but if your behavior and habit patterns lead to unhealthy and unsuccessful outcomes, you become a victim of your own habits rather than a victor in the winner’s circle. Self-esteem gives you permission to succeed. Self-discipline is the training that prepares you for the climb and for the falls on the way up the mountain. Throughout history, self-discipline has been the key to individual achievement because it can over- come the lack of a nurtured childhood and early feelings of inadequacy
Lesson 2: Lessons from Delancey Street
“You can pay me now or pay me later,” Mr. Goodwrench, the television auto mechanic, reminds us. Sooner or later your good habits bear fruit and your bad habits summon failure. When we’re told that some people are born to win and some to lose—and that people can’t change after they’ve grown up—we like to counter with the true story of a young man from San Francisco. As a teenager, Robert sold drugs night and day: That was, he thought, his only way to survive. He used, abused, and pushed heroin wherever he could and to whomever he could. He slept on empty sidewalks or in alleys with other street kids who also used and abused.
Robert’s mother hadn’t exactly raised him with the best of examples during his formative years. She was in and out of jail since he could remember. Her specialty was robbing banks, but her arrest record indicated she was less than expert at it. Robert found himself in and out of foster homes from the age of eight. He became a survivor who indeed survived rather than lived. With his mother as role model, he began packing a gun for holdups. He also knew how to use his knife: Many victims still carry its scars. While still a juvenile, Robert was arrested and charged with twenty-seven armed robberies. How could Robert ever achieve any good, considering his sorry family history, the bad role models, the cobwebs of drugs and alcohol, and the seeming impossibility of thriving in such an environment? You can just hear people insisting he’d never make it. “He’s a goner. On his way down the tubes like the rest of his type.” He did have a goal: to serve time in a big-time prison.
That dream came true when he was escorted into San Quentin prison at the age of nineteen. “I’d lost touch with everything and had no belief in myself,” he said later. “I had no hope, no trust in myself or anybody else. I wanted to go to prison so I could be somebody, but even in San Quentin, nothing was exciting. I’d already done it all. When I finally got out of prison, I thought about changing my life,” Robert continued. “Then I got busted again for selling heroin to an undercover cop.’’ But instead of perpetuating the vicious cycle of another prison term, another parole, and back to prison again, he was given one final chance to rehabilitate himself.
Today Robert is uncommonly well groomed. His suit would look good in any conference room, and he carries himself with a confidence that everyone—and most importantly, he himself would have thought impossible. In the years since he was re- leased on parole, Robert has learned eight construction trades, taken college courses in criminology, tutored other ex-convicts in geometry, and helped them earn their high school diplomas.
Robert is one of scores of thousands of men and women with similar tragedy-to-triumph stories, one of the fortunate who became residents of San Francisco’s Delancey Street Foundation. This alternative sentencing program for ex-cons has received worldwide acclaim for its no-nonsense approach to fixing broken lives, helping transform former criminals into responsible citizens.
The force behind the foundation is Dr. Mimi Silbert. Mimi earned a joint doctorate in psychology and criminology at the University of California at Berkeley. During the past three decades she has dedicated herself to maintaining and expanding Delancey Street, all of whose residents faced the alternative of near lifetimes in prison. “We’re just as selective as Berkeley, Stanford, and Harvard,” explained Silbert. “They take the top one or two percent. We take the bottom one percent.”
Delancey Street, which is named for the mecca of down-and-outs on New York’s Lower East Side, has no teaching staff. Senior residents ground new residents in the fundamentals they missed in their dysfunctional families: how to dress, eat, and speak properly. How to set a table, and how to keep things clean. Then the residents learn one of three marketable skills and earn the equivalent of a high school diploma. What Dr. Silbert says goes. Newcomers are given chores from the moment they set foot in the residencies; not to perform them is not to remain. Former drug addicts are handed brooms and told they’re no longer addicts. Why? At that point, simply because no drugs are allowed inside. They are told in advance that breaking the rules is an automatic ticket back to prison. They go from convicts to citizens, a day at a time.
Residents must cut their hair, dress as for business, even adopt a normal walking gait. In other words, they are taught to walk erect with shoulders back. No more shuffling or slouching. Although many—perhaps most—retain the deep pain and suspicion of life on the streets, they are asked to act as if they were upstanding citizens, even CEOs. During his first eight months there, Robert believed in nothing Dr. Silbert or Delancey Street stood for. “There was no way I was going to trust anybody with my feelings. Nobody ever cared about me, so why should I care about anyone else? ‘Get away from me’ was all I want- ed.” But one day, he found himself shouting hysterically at a man who was going to leave the program, trying to get him to listen and stay. He failed, but the effort was highly significant. “You know what, Robert?” observed another resident. “You’re starting to care.” Realizing this was true, Robert fought back tears.
We all begin by believing that what we observe, often unwittingly and unconsciously, will work for us too. With no other teacher, we naturally imitate. We behave as if our way—even when it’s self-destructive heresy of the highest order—represents the gospel truth. But nothing is right just because you’ve been doing it that way. “You see, once you know it’s possible to change, you can take the risk of starting again,” said another resident. “Then the best part of life is the struggle!” Five hundred former drug addicts help run a fashionable restaurant, a printing shop, a moving business, Christmas tree sales, and more. Dr. Silbert also bought the abandoned Hilton Hotel in mid-town Los Angeles, where five hundred more residents are now accommodated. Delancey Street facilities also operate in New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, and other states. The federal government, in obvious need of new techniques for its own criminal justice rehabilitation and welfare reform programs, is observing closely.
Although few of us hit bottom as Robert did, the principles of exchanging new habits for old are the same. Whoever we are, we make our habits and then our habits make us—which happens so subtly that we remain unaware of the process. The bindings of our habits are too small to be felt until they become too strong to be broken. Like comfortable beds that are easy to get into but hard to get out of, our literally mindless routines master us unless we master them. You must replace habits, but not try to break them.
“Two men looked out from prison bars,” goes a line of an insightful poem. “One saw mud, the other stars.” Robert learned the principles of leadership and habit formation the hard way. Finally tired of mud, he wanted to try stars. Delancey Street’s lessons dramatically affected our understanding of behavior modification. What we have learned from these experiences, in short, is that some change must come from the outside. Practicing bad habits over a long period of time can so ingrain your attitudes, beliefs, and feelings that escape seems impossible. In such cases, you must exhibit change—do it, perform its outward manifestations—before you can learn to believe in it. Delancey Street shows beyond doubt that core values can be changed by learning and repeating new behavior patterns.
This means that no matter what your past, how many times you’ve failed or been hurt or haven’t reached your goals—no matter how long certain habits have controlled you-you can make a permanent turnaround if you change environments and routines.
Lesson 3: The Rules of Change
The Rules of Change
Rule 1: No one can change you and you can’t really change anyone else. You must admit your need, stop denying your problem, and accept responsibility for changing yourself.
For acceptance into Delancey Street’s program, a written request must be made, clearly stating the reasons why the applicant needs the program and how committed he or she is to sticking with it.
Rule 2: Habits aren’t broken but replaced—by layering new behavior patterns on top of the old ones. This usually takes at least a year or two.
To change a habit—including smoking, substance abuse, and other destructive practices—forget about the 30-day wonder cures, the 60-day diet delights, and the get-fit, get-rich fads. Internalizing permanent change takes a year or two at the minimum. That’s why training your children from toddlers to teens to practice healthy habit regimens at home is one of the most effective ways to ensure their future success when they leave the nest to test their wings.
We don’t know where motivational speakers got the idea that it takes twenty-one days to learn a new habit. It may take that long to remember the motions of a new skill, but after many years of you being you, it takes far longer to settle into a new habit pattern and stay there. One reason why Delancey Street’s success rate is so high is that the participants must commit for a two-year minimum.
Don’t expect immediate results from whatever program you install in your company, your institution, or your home. Give it a year and stick with it, knowing that your new ways can last a lifetime.
Rule 3: A daily routine adhered to over time will become second nature, like riding a bicycle. Negative behavior leads to a losing lifestyle, positive behavior to a winning lifestyle. Practice makes permanent in both cases.
This point is so obvious that it’s often completely overlooked. If you do it right in drill, you’ll do it right in life. Practice your mistakes on the driving range and you’ll remain a high handicap golfer- duffer. Practice the correct swing for each club as demonstrated by a professional, and you may become a tournament player.
“If it walks like a duck,” they say at Delancey Street, “eventually it becomes a duck. If it flies like an eagle, eventually it becomes an eagle.” The residents get up, take a shower, make their beds, learn a skill, settle into a positive routine of physical and mental labor, and go to dinner in a jacket, suit, or dress. In short, they get into a winners’ groove directed toward achievement.
If you want to become successful, begin by acting successful—and in the company of successful people. The greatest coaches and greatest leaders use the same basic techniques: explanation, demonstration, correction, and repetition. Winning and losing are themselves habit-forming.
Rule 4: Having changed a habit, stay away from the old destructive environment. Most criminals find themselves back in prison because they return to their old neighborhoods and gangs when released or paroled.
Dieters who reach their desired weight usually slip back into their former eating patterns because the new ones haven’t been imbedded long enough to make them stronger than the temptations. Mean- while, they should steer clear of buffets.
To remain optimistic and successful, you must avoid neighborhoods of pessimists and quick-fix pushers. To remain successful in business, you must be on a team of which each member takes responsibility for being a leader—and if you leave that team environment, you must not return to the old, cynical, pre-knowledge era company ways. Recognizing your good habits is also essential, but for the moment, let’s continue with overcoming the bad habits.
Lesson 4: Overriding Negative Inputs
While our brains receive thousands of positive inputs daily, something makes most of us lock on more strongly to the negative ones. And those negative ones not only abound, they’re pushed, and not only by the underworld. If you’re still uncertain about the impact of the commercial media on your life, here’s what the Children’s Workshop concluded after substantial research: “If Madison Avenue believes it can teach children on Saturday morning to buy a certain brand of corn flakes, why are we so complacent about the anti-social messages?”
By high school graduation day, the average American student has seen 18,000 murders during 22,000 hours watching television—which happens to be twice as long as the time he or she spent in both grade school and high school classrooms. Television violence is dismayingly pervasive—and television of almost any kind offers only sensory stimulation. “The trouble with television,” said Edward R. Murrow, one of the medium’s handful of truly distinguished pioneers, “is that it is like a sword rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival.” And Murrow’s comment came well before the steep decline of American television into vulgarity, sensationalism, the promotion of naked greed, and boundless violence. The very act of watching
the TV or computer screen overwhelms the mind and the imagination. This may change somewhat when full interactive multimedia becomes available. Meanwhile, the process of gaping at a screen without opportunity to participate—to support, object, or debate dulls the mind drastically when violence isn’t perverting it.
Don’t let network executives fool you with their protests about censorship. A task force on television and society appointed by the American Psychological Association found that the influence on viewers’ attitudes and concepts is the same whether the television characters watched are real or fictional. We think secondhand violence and secondhand pornography are as damaging as secondhand smoke. If you’re exposed, you’re affected. Observation, repetition, and internalization equals habit.
The good news is that you can change your life by changing your habits. Psychologists have done scores of studies of how habits are formed. We can now track a habit from the time sensory nerves carry messages to our fertile brains from our organs for hearing, touching, seeing, tasting, and smelling. The brain uses this information to make decisions, then sends working orders through motor nerves to the body parts needed for action.
It should come as no surprise, then, that habits are formed after the body responds the same way twenty-five or thirty times to identical stimuli. But here’s an interesting discovery: After a certain amount of this repetition, the message from the sensory nerves jumps directly to the conditioned motor nerves without a conscious decision by the brain. So while a mere twenty-five or thirty repeats can form a habit, we’re happy to report that the same number is involved in developing good habits, depending on input practice and supporting environment.
If twenty-five or thirty repeats can form a new habit, you may wonder why making it permanent requires at least a year of practice. The reason is that the old patterns remain underneath. If you slip back—even if you associate with them—a link immediately recalls and tries to reassert them.
Here are some action steps you can take to develop healthy habits in your home. You learned how to walk, talk, drive, operate a computer, ski, play a musical instrument and perform many other skills by practicing them. Everything is habit forming if repeated. The time to teach your children good habits is a daily routine that takes place at home:
- Everyone should have set family chores to match their comprehension and abilities
- Make sure you inspect what you expect them to do
- Be consistent with home rules: Homework before TV, curfews, bedtime routines, etc.
- They should put away toys and projects before beginning anything new
- They should help make their beds and keep their rooms tidy. This includes how to manage “clean” clothes and “dirty” clothes
- Establish hygiene rules for bathing, brushing teeth, and maintaining a clean bathroom
- Teach proper eating etiquette, including the correct way to hold forks, spoons, and knives; putting napkins in their laps; saying “please” when asking for anything; saying “thank you” when receiving anything; not talking with a mouthful of food; asking to be excused from the table, etc.
- Teach effective social skills and manners when interacting with others
- Identify your bad habits and those of your children. When, where, and why did you and they learn and develop them?
Are you and your children unconsciously imitating peers or negative role models? Do you or your kids use them to cover fear or feelings of inadequacy—emotions that would cause you to seek (false) comfort in tension-relieving instead of goal-achieving activities?
- Learn what triggers your bad habits and those of your children. Identifying your unwanted patterns makes replacing them easier, beginning with the triggers—which are often stress, criticism, guilt, or feelings of rejection. Identify the situations that cause you and your children the most frustration and tension and plan ways to avoid or reduce them as much as possible.
- List the benefits of a new habit that would replace the old. Self-esteem, improved health, longevity, improved relation- ships, more professional productivity and respect, better focus, enhanced promotion and school performance poten- tial, accelerated financial security, each helps lead to your and your kids ultimate goal of lifelong improvement and growth.
- Say farewell forever to excuses for mistakes and failures. Accept your imperfection when an old habit begs for attention. Instead of “There I go again,” say, “Next time I’ll be strong enough to do what’s right.” Instead of thinking “I’m too tired,” say, “I’ve got the energy to do this and more.” Change “It’s too late” to “As I get organized, I know I’ll have time.”
- Visualize yourself in the new habit patterns of a positive new lifestyle. It takes many simulations and repetitions to spin new cobwebs on top of your old cables. If you want to give up smoking, intentionally sit in nonsmoking areas and request nonsmoking hotel rooms. A clean environment, with hands and teeth of normal, healthy color, will help you feel in control. And if you can keep the new habits going, fresher breath, cleaner-smelling clothes, furnishings, and a stronger heart will augment that control.
Lesson 5: Habits are the Key
Habits are the key because habits do start off as off-handed remarks. Sometimes, negative magazine advertisements or friendly hints, experiments, are like flimsy cobwebs with very little substance at first. And, then they begin to grow, layer upon layer, thought upon thought fused with imagination and emotion until they become like steel cables, unbreakable to shackle our lives or to build them into towers of strength. Habits are attitudes which grow from cobwebs into cables that can control your everyday life.
Some of the most talented singers are never heard. Some of the most talented writers are never read. And, some of the most talented athletes never make a team. Why? Because they don’t develop their gifts into a quality disciplined performance. They look for the short-cut, the easy way. They think they can deliver quality without paying the price in the practice arena. They want success without discipline. We’ve interviewed some of the happiest, most productive people in the world. And, we’ve found in them a combination of enjoyment of work and appreciation for excellence. They realize that because most of their adult lives are spent working, they might just as well go for it and enjoy it.
Consider these startling findings from National Sales Executives Association concerning sales persistence. We hope you’re as amazed and impressed as we were. Eighty percent of all new sales are made after the fifth call to the same prospect. Forty-eight percent of all sales people make one call and then cross off the prospect. Twenty-five percent quit after the second call and twelve percent of all sales representatives call three times and then quit. And, then about ten percent keep calling until they succeed. And, what does being in this top ten percent club mean? These persistent sales reps are among the highest paid people in the world, along with a few celebrities, corporate executives, and professionals. The ten percent who persist really get the pay-off.
And, so too at your work and in your role as a parent. There may be days and weeks and even years of unhappiness and failure. During these times, it’s vital to keep your eye on the ball, do the best you can, and stay in the game. Perseverance. It doesn’t always mean sticking to the same thing forever though. It means giving full concentration to whatever you’re doing right now. There’s a belief that certain people do everything right, that they never make mistakes, and their plans never fail. There’s a presumption that only if you’re perfect, and perfect all the time, only then do you have the right stuff to succeed. And, nothing could be farther from the truth. The greatest quarterbacks complete only six, at the most, out of ten passes. And, the best basketball players only make about half of their shots. Major league baseball players make it to first base only 40% of the time, and that includes walks. Top oil companies, even with the consultation of expert geologists, find oil in only one well in ten. A successful TV actor or actress is turned down 29 out of 30 times after auditioning for roles. And, winners in the stock market make money on only two out of every five investments.
You see, not every day can be enjoyable or successful. Sometimes, you’re going to strike out. But, only if you keep on playing, you’ll have your days of singles and doubles, and, occasionally, you’ll hit a home run. We’ll make no attempt to sugar coat it. Hard work isn’t always fun. Hard work is just that. It’s hard work. Only very rarely is hard work really pleasurable. But, self-satisfaction at the completion of a job well done is pleasurable. It’s part and parcel of the joy of working.
Mastery over matter, mind, or soul is conducive to well-being and happiness. And, no mastery can be achieved without hard work. And, only achievement, with the foundation of hard work, brings personal satisfaction. Why should that be? Wouldn’t it be nicer to get away with it? To have a free lunch? The problem comes not with the momentary glow of success, but with creeping worry. Can I get away with it next time? Or, when will they find out the truth about this project? You become dependent on the gullibility of others for your happiness. But, on the other hand, if you’ve accomplished your success through hard work and discipline, then you know that through your efforts you can do it again. Anyone who’s ever achieved anything in life can give credit to practice. But, did you know that everyone subconsciously practices every day?
An excellent coach will teach an athlete the correct way to run. The body must practice daily on the track. But, some of the best and most disciplined practice in the world is done in the mind. Through the science of biofeedback, we’ve discovered that the muscles fired to win even when you’re only running the race in your mind. Method acting, as the great Lee Strasberg used to teach it, is developing the ability to discipline your emotions. Actors who are trained in this method can recall, or re-visualize a precise moment when they were angry, sad, or full of joy. And, then they can recreate this emotion on cue. Master actors do not trust luck or inspiration to do well in their performance. In order to bring their art to the stage night after night, they must first become masters of emotional self-discipline.
And, the same techniques of mental self-discipline apply to the employee and entrepreneur, as well as the actor and athlete. For example, before a marketing presentation, one successful businessman we know practices in his mind what he’ll say and how he’ll say it. He imagines what some of the obstacles will be. He focuses on the possible objections and questions his clients may have. And, he rehearses how he will overcome them. He sees himself being relaxed, confident, and in good humor. He sees the client satisfied in advance. Now, he may have preferred to go bowling the night before his presentation, but he practices self-discipline by staying home to spend a quiet evening rehearsing the day to come.
We need to remember that every day we should take our cues from the astronauts and athletes and the airline pilots who are masters of the art of visual and sensory simulation. Airline pilots are a fantastic example because they simulate, in the most sophisticated electronic equipment, what they’re up against. And, an airline pilot cannot afford one mistake because he’s holding our lives in balance.
School is not the place to learn self-discipline, although most of the teachers we interview say that they are more often wardens, truant officers, and drill instructors, than teachers of knowledge. Home is where both losing and winning habits are learned and ingrained. Make your home a place where healthy habits are modeled and reinforced. Habits are like submarines. They run silent and deep. Habits grow from cobwebs into cables, through repetition, to shackle or strengthen our children’s lives. What every child needs is to develop the habits of excellence that will stay with them throughout life like brushing their teeth, or driving their cars. They won’t even have to think about winning. It will come naturally, as a reflex action.
Seeds of Greatness: Roots (5 Courses)
Seeds of Greatness: Wings (5 Courses)