• Helen Hattingh

What small steps can you add to your day to get you where you want to be?

Michael Phelps improved his own world record at the Olympic Games by adding 3 things to his daily routine that only took 3 minutes of his time:

1. Visualization: Each morning he spent 2 minutes each morning on waking visualizing his swim. He saw himself on the starting block, felt his muscles prepare to dive and imagined the time he took to get into the water from when the start gun went off. He watched himself pace through the first length and concentrates on getting as much forward motion from each pull and kick as he goes into the tumble turn. He sees his body reach maximum exertion and observes himself push through the barrier to increase his pace and reduce his breaths as he cuts the water towards the finishing line

2. One extra kick: for 3 months before his race Michael was instructed to add one extra kick after his tumble turn to get maximum reach before regaining his swim stride. That’s one extra kick for every 2 lengths that he swims.

3. 5 practice starts: Each time he started a training session in the pool he practiced his starts 5 times.

The total amount of time added to his daily routine was no more than 4 minutes. It made the world of difference in the race that counted the most.

So, you’re not Michael Phelps. No- you may not be Michael Phelps or Lewis Pugh and you may not even like swimming. Fair enough, but the point of the story is that with tiny additions to your daily routine over a period of time, wonderful things can be achieved. They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit and this is the crux of the matter. Daily, minor changes can lead to large long-term changes in your life.

The Kaizen model of coaching, used widely for personal and corporate transformation, shows that tackling big scary goals with motivation alone brings a whole lot of enthusiasm for a week or 2, but it’s extremely difficult to bring about long-term change with motivation and determination alone., which is why most people abandon their goals so swiftly. Bring on one bout of flu or a business trip and the goal goes out the window. Big scary goals bring forward a hugely detrimental factor called fear. Fear of failure, fear of not achieving your goal, fear of ridicule and fear of not being good enough. These fears – albeit perceived fears, will undoubtedly offer plenty of resistance to getting to where you want to go.

Kaizen works under the FEAR alert from your subconscious brain. The tiny additions to your schedule mean that you trick your brain into seeing the added steps as being easy to achieve. This, coupled with the fact that your conscious brain constantly strives to bring you pleasure and deter pain, allows your conscious brain to perceive the added steps as doable and brings you pleasure, without raising the fear factor. The steps are so small that they easily fit into your schedule and quickly become a habit.

By repeating the small, easily achievable steps into your routine, for a period of a month or longer, you create an indelible change in the firing of your brain neurons. You will find that these added steps become part of your routine and soon you will be doing them unconsciously on a daily basis.

This does not only apply to the swimming pool but can apply to any aspect of your life that you are wanting to change. Want to cut sugar from your tea or coffee? You will find that reducing your sugar intake from 3 teaspoons to one teaspoon is fairly easy as the habit of adding sugar has not changed. Try taking away a couple of sugar granules every day from that last teaspoon of sugar. Soon you will find that that there is no more sugar to remove from that last teaspoon and the habit is broken. Want to eat less? Practice leaving a tablespoon of food on your plate and putting your cutlery down. Visualize yourself as this lean, strong and healthy person and the task will become even easier. Soon your brain will start dishing up smaller portions. Want to wake up earlier to ensure you have time for meditation and / or Yoga before your day begins? Try setting your alarm clock 5 minutes earlier every day. Soon you will have the extra hour to dedicate to being mindful. Want to start an exercise program but you’re terrified of failure? Try marching in front of your favourite TV program for 1 minute each day. You may not burn the calories as you would by attending a Zumba class, but your brain will tell you that the 1 minute of marching is easy and will soon be asking for more challenging action steps.

It’s the insignificant things that add up and cause lasting change. In the 3 months prior to his Olympic swim Michael did 4800 extra kicks. He did 300 start practices and he spent 120 minutes visualizing his swim. Small daily changes add up and begin to grow exponentially. Soon the ability to do remarkable things does not seem so scary and because you have not met Mr FEAR along the way, your brain is asking for more challenging steps.

What small steps can you add to your day that does not take more than 5 minutes of your time to change habits to align with your goals?
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