You know the familiar pattern of goal-setting, shortly followed by goal-forgetting. Even the most ambitious and high-achieving everyday endurance athletes fall victim to this.
Have you ever created an annual race plan that you couldn’t execute? This was the story of my life last year. I quit my corporate job at the end of 2018 and created a travel and racing schedule for myself in 2019 that I couldn’t live up to. Free of the 9-to-5 shackles, I thought I could travel somewhere every month while training for all of my goals, which included:
Competitively racing my first 140.6 Ironman since 2015
Smashing my half iron PR
Learning how to mountain bike and finishing my first Xterra off-road triathlon
Mastering the basics of sport climbing
The actions I needed to take day-to-day to make this all happen could fit into a day planner, so I figured it was doable. But living this schedule was stressful. I spent most of the year feeling like I was about to free fall from a tight-wire. And my fears played out. My Xterra was cancelled by a sick dog who I couldn’t leave for the weekend. Then, I crashed my bike during a training ride in the peak of my fitness, which resulted in surgery and 3 months of downtime. There goes my Ironman. And the rock climbing? Well, as it turns out, rock climbing is not the best training for a triathlon.
Looking back on 2019, it is hard to not feel like a failure, athletically speaking.
I can accept the unexpected turn of events, like the bike crash and the sick dog, that kept me from racing, but the thing that really weighed on me was that feeling of falling from the tightwire. I spent the year chasing a schedule of training, racing, traveling, and establishing a new work pattern, which gave me an always-on, out-of-control feeling.
How is an ambitious person meant to stay on track with all of the activities in their schedule, in order to accomplish their goals?
I found the answer in some recent reading about habit formation, and here it is -
Stop putting your energy into new behaviors, and start focusing on creating new habits. The difference between behaviors and habits is that behaviors require willpower in order to sustain, and willpower wanes in the face of adversity. Your motivation won’t get you to the finish line. On the flip side, if you understand how habits are formed, then you will be more successful in creating new ones.
Here’s what you need to know about your big brain (please note: I’m not a psychologist, so I’m just paraphrasing from what I’ve been studying):
It is difficult to form new habits because your brain is wired to work on auto-pilot. You must inject conscious, intentional thought to change the deeply treaded neural pathways.
Therefore, the one habit that will keep the fire in your belly alive all year is conscious, intentional thought - also known as mindfulness.
Here’s how it works. If there is a behavior you want to stop doing, you need to add friction to it. If there is a new behavior you want to create, you need to add a reward. To establish these new neural pathways - and eventually, habitual action - requires conscious, intentional thought of these frictions and rewards.
For example - If you regularly have trouble sticking to your training plan because you are a self-proclaimed workaholic, add a friction to the beginning or end of the work day:
Schedule a daily calendar notification at 5:00pm to say Training Time.” Seeing these words pop up every day will trigger you to move away from your computer and toward your gym bag.
Block your schedule before 9:00am or after 5:00pm. Commit to keeping these non-negotiable workout blocks.
Put your workout clothes by your bed before you lay down every night, so they are the first thing you see when you wake up. In the morning, just put those clothes on and get your workout done.
Sticking to a training plan is one of the hardest habits to form because your brain wants an immediate reward for your actions, and in the case of training, your race (the reward) is several months away. Think of ways to add a daily reward to your training. My only “rule” is to not reward yourself with unhealthy foods. Here’s some ideas for workout rewards:
“Reward” yourself with 30 minutes of work only AFTER you’ve completed your workout (if you love to work).
Create a playlist of guilty pleasures and only allow yourself to listen to this playlist when you workout.
Get a coffee from your favorite coffee place at the end of a tough workout.
Buy yourself a new workout outfit after completing a 4-week training block in your plan.
New habits take conscious effort to create. When training becomes a habit for you, rather than a behavior, you will get more satisfaction from your race season. I would love to hear your thoughts about habit formation, and what frictions or rewards you have, in any, to stay on track with your training plan. Send me an email with your thoughts.
Check out this episode of the Hidden Brain podcast, “Creatures of Habit”
This wasn’t a blog post about mindfulness, in the traditional sense, but here are some great articles about remaining present in the moment: