Many people have defined self– discipline as doing without. But, a better definition of self–discipline is doing within while you’re doing without. Self– discipline is no more than mental practice, the commitment to memory of those thoughts, emotions and daily actions that will override current information stored in the subconscious memory bank. Then, through relentless repetition, the penetration of these new inputs into our subconscious result in the creation of a new self image.
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 better. Some people smoke, although they know it is very detrimental to health. Much of what we have learned is by imitation.
Do you recognize this autobiography? You may know me. I’m your constant companion. I’m your greatest helper. I’m your heaviest burden. I’ll push you onward, or drag you down to failure. I’m at your command. Half the tasks you do might as well be turned over to me. I’m able to do them quickly, and I’m able to do them the same every time, if that’s what you want. I’m easily managed. All you’ve got to do is be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want it done, and after a few lessons, I’ll do it automatically. I’m the servant of all great men and women, and of course, the servant of all the failures, as well. I’ve made all the great winners who’ve ever been great, and I’ve made all the losers, too. But I work with all the precision of a marvelous computer with the intelligence of a human being. You may run me for profit, or you may run me to ruin. It makes no difference to me. Take me! Be easy with me, and I’ll destroy you. Be firm with me, and I’ll put the world at your feet. Who am I? Why, I’m Habit.
The force of habit is your greatest tool for success. We all first make our habits; then our habits make us. And it happens so subtly over time, imperceptibly, quietly, beneath the notice of anyone. Habits are like submarines; they run silent and deep. The chains of our habits are usually too small to be recognized until they’re too strong to be broken.
First, we observe the behaviors of relatives, friends, or role models. Then we imitate that behavior. Then we repeat and internalize the behavior, and the idea, notion, act, or belief grows layer upon layer from a flimsy cobweb into an unbreakable cable to strengthen or shackle our lives. It’s amazing how parents continue to pass their own hang-ups on to their children. It reminds me of the story about the young bride who cooked a ham for her new husband. Before putting it in the pan, she cut off both ends. When her husband asked her why she did that, she replied that her mother had always done it that way. At a later date, when they were having baked ham dinner at her mother’s home, he asked her, casually, why she cut both ends off the ham. The mother shrugged and said she really didn’t know, except that her mother had always done it that way. Finally, he asked the grandmother, why she always cut the ends off the ham before she baked it. She looked at him suspiciously, replying, “Because my baking dish is too small!”
Habits, like comfortable beds, are easy to fall into, but hard to get out of. If we won’t master our habits, our habits will master us. When we allow unhealthy habits to be our guide and counsel, we give up control of our actions, and find ourselves at the mercy of that blind giant who calls the shots without any concern for our well-being. However, when we begin to deal with the attitudes and actions that bind us, we give ourselves permission to take control and to build new habit patterns that help us perform to our ultimate potential. There are 4 ideas that we call the 4 Cornerstones of Change. Understanding these 4 concepts will help you understand the right way to develop healthy habits.
Cornerstone #1: No one else can change you. You must first admit the need for change, give up any denial of your role in the problem, and take full responsibility for changing yourself. You must also understand that you can’t change anyone else, either. You can influence and inspire others as a mentor, but they, as individuals, are ultimately responsible for gaining new inputs, practicing them, and surrounding themselves with a team of positive supporters.
Cornerstone #2: Habits are not easily broken; they are replaced by layering new behavior patterns on top of the old ones over time. Since many habits have been internalized for years, it’s foolish to assume that 3 or 4 weeks of training will override the old, destructive patterns. To change any habits, including substance abuse, self-ridicule, eating disorders, and any other destructive lifestyles, forget about the 30-day wonder-cures, the 60-day diet delights, and the get-fit, get-rich-quick fads. Give yourself about a year to internalize permanent change. Be patient. It took a number of years and observation, imitation, and repetition for you to pick up, and store your current habits.
Cornerstone #3: A daily routine adhered to over time will become second nature, like brushing your teeth, or driving your car. Continue to practice your mistakes on the golf driving range, you’ll remain a high-handicap duffer. Learn from a professional, and then practice the correct swing with each club as demonstrated by the pro, and you’ll become the pride of your foursome.
My favorite true story is about United States Air Force Colonel George Hall. He was a pilot who was shot down and parachuted into enemy territory. Five and a-half years in solitary confinementin a prisoner of war camp. In his cell alone, in black pajamas and bare feet, pacing in his cell for five and a-half years, with no light, no talking to other prisoners, and one plate of rice each day.
To keep his sanity and pass the time, he decided to play golf in his imagination. You see, he had been a four handicap golfer, averaging about 76 strokes per 18 holes, before he was captured.ity. He played one round of golf every day for five and a-half years. He put an invisible ball on the tee and drove the ball down the fairway. He used his other clubs and irons to reach the green. He measured the putts going through the motions of pulling the flag out and watched his ball go in the cup. For five and a-half years, he re-played every game he’d ever played well. He also pre-played every game he’d only seen the pros play on television. Pre-play and re-play. After five and a-half years, he became atrophied and his eyesight weakened. And, he was withered and underweight. And, he came back and went to the New Orleans PGA Open and shot a 76. Four over par matching his former handicap. But he hand not played on a real golf course in nearly 6 years. And, the media said, “Wow! Congratulations, Colonel! Beginners re-entry luck?” He said, “Luck? Are you kidding? I never three–putted a green in five and a-half years.” And, they said, “Sir, did you have a golf course at the POW camp?” He said, “Yeah, in a way. We all have one. In your imagination, you never miss.” In the POW camp he was doing within while he was doing without.
If you are a change master, you never miss in your imagination. So, you have this ability to set up in advance what you want. And, when you don’t make it, you correct it. When you do make it, you confirm it. Practice makes permanent. Practicing negative behaviors leads to a losing lifestyle. Practicing positive behaviors leads to a winning lifestyle. It’s so obvious, it often completely overlooked, especially by the entertainment and news media, who help form our basic opinions on how the world works.
And Cornerstone #4: Once you change a habit, stay away from the old, destructive environment. The reason most criminals return to prison is that they make the mistake of returning to their old neighborhoods and their old friends when they’re paroled the first time. No matter how much they regretted their actions while in prison, and want to go straight, they’re easily dragged back into their old ways by exposure to the negative environment. When dieters reach their desired weight, they usually go back to their former eating routines because their new behavior patterns haven’t been imbedded long enough to make them strong enough to pass by the dessert section of the buffet. Overweight individuals and dieters should stay away from buffet lines.
When our mind talks, our body listens and acts accordingly. We need to understand there is a victor’s behavioral circle. Our self– image determines our practice. How we practice determines our performance and that instantaneously, immediately after every performance, we engage in self talk in words, pictures, and emotions to confirm or adjust our self image about that particular action. It’s a cycle. It’s a cycle up or a cycle down. And, the self– talk we use after every performance determines whether the new self– image will reinforce the win or reinforce the loss.
Think of where you want to be and you’ll move toward that thought. Self–imaging is what Olympic athletes, actors and astronauts do. 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.
The greatest coaches of the greatest teams, the greatest parents of the greatest kids, and the greatest leaders of the greatest companies and countries use the same basic techniques. Explanation, demonstration, correction, repetition, and affirmation. Remember the idea is to replace habits; not to try to erase them. You can’t always practice in person, on the field, in the office, with a client, or before the boss. But, you can rehearse in your mind, and when your mind talks, your body does listen. Here are some definite action steps that you can take to reinforce the victor’s circle in your professional and in your personal life:
1.Set aside 20 or 30 minutes a day whether commuting to and from your place of business, at lunch, or in the morning or evening. And, as you relax during this time, imagine yourself achieving and enjoying your most dreamed of personal desires. And, do this as though you were previewing three television shorts. Picture one sequence achieving a professional triumph. Imagine the award ceremony, the promotion announcement, or bonus payment. Picture another scene involving family happiness. Imagine a special reunion or an outing together.
2. When you visualize yourself in the present, as if you were already accomplishing one of your goals, make certain that your visual image is as you would see it out of your own eyes and not watching you do it through the eyes of a spectator.
3. If you failed the first time, try again. If you fail a second time, get more feedback as to why you failed. And, if you fail the third time, your sights might be too high for now, so bring your goals in just a little bit from the horizon.
4. Don’t scold or berate yourself with left brain criticism when you make a mistake. Develop an affirmative statement about five words in length describing your current performance in the present tense. And, relax and listen to yourself state the affirmation and visualize the accompanying action and feeling.
5. And, finally, use positive self talk from morning to bedtime. It’s another good day for me. Things usually work out my way. I expect a great year. Next time, I’ll do better. We’re going to make it. I’m a winner. I’m a change master!!
All pursuits begin with an idea of what is to be accomplished or attained. An image of achievement is a tool that permits us to provide accurately-encoded information to the brain, so that the mind can work with that information and can begin sharpening perceptions and marshaling resources toward the imagined goal. What we need most in life is continuing support and reinforcement of other winners with similar goals. Every week, meet before work, after work, or during lunch, with one or more role models. Form a network with other success-conscious associates in your local community. In everything you do, think, speak, act, behave, and get the habit of success-by-association. Your mind and body can’t distinguish rehearsal from the main event. It stores as reality whatever you practice. You become that to which you are most exposed. Constantly expose yourself to successful individuals, whose personal habits match their professional accomplishments. It’s one of the most important concepts I’ve learned in all of my life.