In How Champions Think: In Sports and in Life, America’s preeminent sports psychologist delivers a groundbreaking guide to success in all aspects of life—not just sports—from business to relationships to personal challenges of every variety.
People make commitments at the beginning of a new year but commitments are easier to make than to keep
In my work with businesses, I often find a pattern in the results of both a company and the individuals who work there. The numbers are good in the first quarter and good in the fourth quarter. But in the middle two quarters of the year, they decline. That’s because the individuals in the company often start the year with good intentions. They work harder for a couple or three months. But they don’t mantain that level of effort. They slack off. Then, in the final quarter of the year, they realize they’re headed for an annual review that will not be pleasant, that might even end in termination. So they rouse themselves, work harder for a couple or three months, and finish the year with results that are not what they wanted in January but are good enough to make the annual review bearable.
Most people have more trouble with perseverance
It’s easy to decide to change direction in your life. But any important change requires hard work over time. It could be a short time. That’s happened. But it is more likely to take a longer time. It’s more likely to that there will be setbacks and plateaus along the way. The higher one’s aspirations, the more likely this is to be true.
If someone who can’t break 100 on the golf course comes to me and says he’d like to be able to shoot 85, the journey is likely to be relatively brief. That’s because the 100 shooter probably has a few fundamental flaws in his swing and doesn’t practice his short game. If I can get him to take a few lessons from a good pro to improve his swing and to spend some quality time at the practice green chipping and pitching, I can be fairly confident he’ll reach his goal in a year or two. But if the 100 shooter wants to be a scratch player, the task requires a lot more perseverance. It’s simply harder to go from 85 to scratch than it is to go from from 100 to 85, even though the numbers tell you the two journeys cover the same distance. That’s true in most areas.
Habits are powerful forces in our lives
When we act from habit, we don’t need the grit-your-teeth type of willpower. We just do something without thinking much about it. It’s almost a reflex. Exceptional people tend to have habits that help them achieve what they want. People who are struggling tend to have habits that undermine them. It may be useful to see free will not as means of gritting your teeth and forcing yourself to do something, but as a tool you can use to make an intelligent, informed effort to change your habits.
Thanks to research over the past few decades, we now more about habits and what it takes to change them. We know that habit is rooted in the subconscious mind. One of the keys to success for athletes, musicians, surgeons, and anyone whose work involves fine motor skills is learning to allow the subconscious mind to govern the application of those skills. A good golfer plays his best when he doesn’t consciously think about the mechanics of the swing when he is hitting the ball. A concert violinist produces his best music when he stops thinking about where his fingers go and just lets the music flow out of him.
Complement How Champions Think: In Sports and in Life with The 4 ways to successfully adopt new habits. Knowing your personality type and its pros and cons are instrumental to adopting new habits and behavior.