How do we overcome bad habits? Behavioral conditioning? Hypnosis? Removing ourselves from the stimuli that leads us to act on them in the first place?
Go Fast and Flat-Out
All those things can work. But I think what can work best is a focus on what you want. More specifically, it’s to place your attention whole-heartedly on something that inspires you. Get yourself into the flow of living awesomely. If you can spend most, if not all, of your time doing that, you will have little need for bad habits.
When I go on vacation, I probably engage in physical activity at least twice as much as usual, if not more. If there’s a body of water nearby, I’m swimming every day. If there’s a mountain nearby, like there is when I go to Lake George every Summer, you can expect to find me on that sucker every morning (Prospect Mountain only takes about an hour and a half, especially if you run down). That’s in addition to the running I always do. And then, of course, I’m apt to play games with the people I’m with, such as basketball or some form of throwing a Frisbee around.
As an athlete, I love being in the flow of constant physical activity. It’s incredibly gratifying to me. As I have spent most of my life as a student, and I now am focused on making a career out of personal growth (which requires me to do quite a bit of writing, such as this), such a flow isn’t practical for me most of the time. But when I’m in that flow, all the bad habits I struggle with at home vanish. I wake up before 7 AM every day when I’m on vacation. My skin clears up because I’m not obsessing over it anymore. I’m far less likely to yell angrily or rationalize with someone—even someone who I do this with often at home (hehe).
When my life is lively, filled with activity I enjoy, there is no need for these things. Who needs to mire in self-loathing when they’re having tons of fun? Again, it’s such a gratifying way to live. When my head hits the pillow at night, I’m satisfied. I’m fine to sleep for a few hours. And when I wake up the next morning, I’m ready for it. There’s no, “But I don’t wanna…”
So now, as I go to work on my career, I am slowly beginning to implement the same idea. I’ve been doing quite a bit of planning and brainstorming in the last week, and as I slide into this path fully I see that I will have an incredibly exciting and stimulating life ahead of me. Sometimes I get caught up in fear and self-doubt, and my habits stay about me. But the time to charge full-speed ahead on to this path is imminent. I feel more and more inspired every day. Once I break down the wall of doubt and hesitance, I will be unstoppable.
Indeed, it is that speed that helps to keep the habits at bay. If you stop too often to let yourself wallow in self-doubt, your destructive habits are likely to return to you. They’re comforting. They’re time-wasting. They waste the time you’re afraid to spend working.
When you go to slow it’s too easy to keep the habits on the back-burner. I even find that when I write. Write too slow and I’m thinking about stupid stuff the whole time (whether that’s a habit per se is debatable). But when I write as fast as possible, there isn’t time to do anything else. There’s no space to pay attention to anything else. There are no cracks for uselessness, doubt, and destruction to slip in. Full speed ahead. Nothing will stop you.
I suppose I’ve been hesitant about charging ahead with my career in part because it is new to me… But, really, there is no viable excuse. As far as I’m concerned, all excuses are invalid. What the hell do they do for you? When your head hits the pillow at the end of the day, do you feel gratified that you made excuses to get out of what you were afraid to do? Especially if what you were afraid to do was what you wanted to do? No? Okay, then what’s the point of the excuses?
There are some times, of course, when there is an obviously valid excuse present. For example, if I were to break my leg I would probably stop running for a couple weeks (probably). I would not physically be able to run without turning into a human accordion. But is that an excuse to stop all the presses?
I can still visualize myself running for a few minutes every day. I can read testimonials from the next ultramarathon I want to run to keep me inspired, and my imagination flowing. Surely I will heal faster if I have some incentive to, such as a fun race to look forward to. So if I don’t already have a race planned, then I can go on ultrasignup.com and look around at races that excite me. I can even visualize my leg healing. I have heard of this actually speeding up healing, though I’m afraid I have no sources for you right now. Sorry Charles. :P
Anyway, I could also visit one of those race courses, if I’m physically able. I can talk to other runners, whether it’s about fun running stories they have or about how they got back into running after an injury. Then I can start to make a plan for myself for when it’s time to start running again. I’d like to think a solid idea of what I will do once the injury goes away will aid healing somewhat, too. I can also do exercises that are safe, such as upper-body work. Well, and I can give one-legged squats a try. :)
You see, maybe I can’t run for a little while if I break my leg… But there’s still a whole lot of running-related stuff I can do. My whole running life doesn’t have to come to a halt. I can keep it going. I can even stay immersed in it. Stay full-speed ahead. There is no need to wallow in sorrow. I’m limited with that injury, but not that much.
Sometimes with my career, I like to tell myself that I’m limited due to a lack of money and connections… But there’s still a whole lot of stuff I can do, which includes obtaining those things. Not having those things in the first place doesn’t keep you from getting them. Besides, who, in actuality, has absolutely zero dollars and zero social connections? Not too many people I can think of. Maybe you only have $1 or 1 person who talks to you, just as you might only have 1 leg that is healthy. But that doesn’t have to stop you. Charge full-speed ahead, and see how quickly that game changes.
To go full-speed ahead is essentially to use the strategy of overwhelming force. You put as many resources as possible at once into attacking a particular problem—maybe even more resources than you need. It’s like dropping 10 nuclear bombs within a single 100-mile or so radius. Indeed, when you make a full, fast, flat-out effort, you will probably find that your own willingness was, on its own, resource enough.
That willingness to go for what you want and to go for it now—really, that is what attracts the resources to you. If you’re slogging along and you appear undedicated and unmotivated, people will see no reason to help you out. It’ll be clear to them that you’re not going to get a whole lot done, so why bother?
But if you’re ready to rock and roll, people who are interested in the type of thing you’re doing would love to help you. They’ll be excited. They’ll want to hop aboard. And they’ll try to keep up with your pace, but they might have a tough time. That’s okay, though—you’re encouraging them to grow and to be in the highly-motivated flow, too. It is a fun and worthy endeavor that all will benefit from (well, unless your endeavor is to blow things up… in which case, well, don’t blame me for encouraging you. It is your dream after all).
Plan and Start-- At the Same Time
Indeed, to keep it going full-speed ahead it does help to plan. That way you don’t have to waste time oscillating about what you should do—you can just go. Of course, paradoxically, it can be tempting to get caught up in the minutia of planning and try to plan as concisely and carefully as possible, which tends to be, in itself, a very slow and deliberate task.
How precisely you need to plan depends on the type of project you’re doing. If you’re, say, building a rocket ship which will make a trip to the moon, I’d imagine you need to plan rather carefully. Even for an ultramarathon, you do need to plan and prepare quite well.
What I like to do, though, is to start doing and planning at the same time. It’s hard to plan for when you should eat during an ultra, for instance, if you’ve never done one before. So before I ran my first ultramarathon last year (a 100K), that’s precisely what I did—I ran a little over half the race distance. That was far enough to help me figure out when I need what (food, water). Of course, I couldn’t be sure of how things would go over the second half of that race, but I was able to prepare well enough that things went just fine on race day.
If I hadn’t just gone out and run another albeit shorter ultra first, things would have been fuzzy on race day. So if you’re planning for something new, I encourage you to at least do some sort of test run (literally!) before you lock that plan into place.
The reason you may want to avoid planning down to the minute (again, depending on what you’re doing) is that you simply cannot account for the details of every minute in advance. It’s too hard to know what’s going to happen before it happens. The experience of running a 100K is not with you until you’ve actually done it to completion. Even then, no two races are the same. Reality just doesn’t work that way.
Trying too hard to stick to the plan, however detailed it may be, can slow you down. If you slow down too much you’ll start failing to make progress, and then doubt and fear may creep in. Trying to stick to the plan is also discouraging if it doesn’t match up to the realities of game day.
Planning still tends to engender more productivity, progress, and success than having no plan. It inspires you to get going. It gives you clear destinations to reach, and with each one you gain more motivation and momentum to keep going. And if it’s more vague than that, it at least gives you a direction. It helps to keep you from going off-course for too long.
If the Wicked Witch of the West comes along the trail and asks you to eat a juicy apple from the tree of knowledge (is that the right story?!), you’ll say, “Hey, wait a second… This was not on my goals list! I am not going there!” Then you’ll shoot water at her from your Camelbak and forge onward, full-speed ahead.
Curiosity and The Gray Zone
If you had a little too much Openness and not enough Foresight, you might have let curiosity take over and pull you away from the important stuff. Curiosity and Openness are nice things- very nice things indeed- but it does to have some clarity about what you’ll let yourself be open to. Go ahead and play with the darkness for a little while if you want. I’m not stopping you—I’ve done it myself. Then when you get bored or knocked on your ass, you can come back into the light of clarity, on the path that truly is yours, and charge onward once again, full-speed ahead.
Being a little too curious engenders stagnation. It can be quite frustrating. This is especially true in the Information Age of today, where you would need at least two lifetimes to peruse all the things that might nudge a small spark of curiosity within you.
Periods of curiosity are fine if you establish them consciously. If you’re on vacation, you can give yourself full permission to explore anything new or unusual that may tickle your fancy. Go on ahead. But when you have clear goals, steering off the path toward those goals will just irritate you at the end of the day. It’ll feel like a waste of your time. You’re better off staying the course, full-speed ahead.
In fact, I think it’s generally best to satisfy your curiosities by setting aside a period of time to fully immerse yourself in them—that is, to go after them, yes, full-speed ahead. Curiosity does not have to be a slow process, though it can be enjoyable sometimes to be 100% goalless and simply go toward whatever interests you, like a dog sniffing around.
But say you’re curious, for example, about martial arts. You could dabble here and there, watching an occasional video on a technique or reading the rare page of a book. Or you could just sign up for several weeks of classes and go right at it. Hell, why not take a week to take a class every day? Or even multiple times per day, if that’s viable (I wouldn’t know)? By the end of that week, you’ll know damn well whether you want to keep going with this or not. Surely your curiosity will be satisfied.
Instead of being open to every single thing under the sun- including the possibilities of you failing- why don’t you be open to the idea of your success? More specifically, why don’t you be open to the idea that you can go about your success speedily?
When you work, work. Don’t go on Facebook. Don’t pull out your nosehairs. Just work. If you already know what to do, do so as fast as possible.
When you relax, relax. Just chill. Lay on the grass and stare at the clouds. Eat slowly and savor your food. Hold your girlfriend as long and as tightly as you want to. If your mind is somewhere else, she’ll know.
If you resort to bad habits when it’s time to relax, you haven’t fully unplugged. You’re still caught up in the flow of work. You’re in the gray zone, where nothing’s getting done yet no recuperation is happening. Get out of the gray.
The gray zone is where you go when you don’t really know what to do with yourself. It’s where you go when you’re indecisive. Do I run fast today, or slow? Do I write about this topic today, or that one? Do I visit this girlfriend today, or that one (hahaha)?
Maybe you’ve started taking action, but you still really haven’t decided whether today you’re going to do a speed workout or build your base mileage. Now you’re just in this weird, largely fruitless place where you’re running too fast to burn fat, yet too slow to build speed. So you end up not really doing anything—or, at least, the returns you get are rather small compared to the effort you put in.
When you’re indecisive, you have to put in way more effort than when you’re fully committed to a decision that you forge full-speed ahead on. When you commit and you continually take congruent action on that commitment, you build momentum that makes it easier to keep going and going and going.
But when you’re indecisive, you have to start over every minute and build a basis for momentum again. You spend so much time building the wall to flip-turn off from that you never actually get to make that surge in speed. You get stuck at home base.
The concept of Polarity is all about commitment and momentum. If you’re going to choose a life based on service, worrying about money will hold you back. It’ll slow you down and paralyze you, keeping you from what’s truly important. The money will come if you just get off your butt and start serving people, darn it. And if you’re going to choose a life based on personal gain, don’t even bother wondering whether you should help your mom bake a cake for her dog’s birthday (unless you really want to eat the cake, but if you’re trying to achieve things and be powerful, cake is probably not in your best interest).
Commit and Go
When there lies a path ahead of you that you are fully committed to, and you put all the speed and energy and strength you can muster into charging forth on that path, your bad habits will die. Doubt is crushed by the intense energy of inspiration and momentum (and love or fear, depending on which pole you prefer).
If you can always commit to keep going, carrying onward full-speed ahead, there will be nothing that can stop you. Not even the most tempting slice of dog-birthday-cake.
And if there comes a day where you must Stop and get off this path, you’ll know sooner the faster you go. Fail hard, my friend, and fail fast. That is how you grow.
(By the way, I just wrote 2900 words in 80 minutes… It usually takes me almost 3 hours to write that much. I’m glad I can take my own advice, at least occasionally. :) )
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