Because I had never seriously done anything athletic before, I really wanted to join a sports team in high school. I went down the list of all the sports at my school. Every time I played a sport with a ball, the ball consistently found its way to my face. So, nothing with a ball. Then, the list got very short: running, wrestling, or swimming. I took some swimming lessons when I was in elementary school, so I decided that I’d found my sport. I asked my swim team friend how I could join. I needed to make the team by swimming faster and learning butterfly. In doing so, I learned not only how to swim faster but how to build any new skill, like writing or dancing.
1. Get someone/something to keep you accountable
Nothing feels better than starting a new activity like that new yoga class or that new diet. But reflect back on all the times you have tried to change your life. You will find a lot more beginnings than endings. Why? Because starting is actually a lot of fun. It isn’t too hard to try something new when it feels exciting and different. The hard part is what happens between the beginning and the end- and a swim instructor or workout partner, for example, can help you with just that. Think of those moments when you feel as if your body cannot lift itself out of bed; when absolutely anything sounds better than going swimming or going to the gym; when cleaning your desk suddenly jumps to the top of your priority list.
Your mind will give you every excuse possible not to improve, but having an instructor you have paid for will make your consistency a lot easier to maintain. Instructors are not the only options either. Joining a club, team, or even a competition can all help you to push yourself by providing an imaginary gun to your head- with social pressure as the ammo.
2. Do not talk about your new goal
Think about your very successful friend, the one that is going to Harvard or has a nice job. There are usually two options: 1) That person brags about their accomplishments, not what they plan to do, or (the more pleasant, common option), 2) Everyone talks about that person’s accomplishments for them.
In both these examples, the successful person doesn’t prioritize talking about what they plan to do.
Here’s another way to see this in action: say out loud: “I’m going to lose weight. Tomorrow, I’m going to meticulously plan out my calories for each meal by writing it in the Notes App on my phone. Then, at 8:00pm everyday I’m going to jog for 3.576 miles.”
Feels good, doesn’t it? Imagining yourself putting on your running shoes. Imagining yourself eating some kale. But learning new skills requires getting your happiness from actually carrying out your plans, not just the satisfaction of verbalizing them.
3. Recognize that failures are bound to interrupt you
I remember periods in my swim career where I had a really tough workout and then my times got faster. So, as long as I pushed harder, I should have kept continuously improving, right? Nope. Sadly, there will be periods where you push harder, but you just can’t make your times faster. Or you can’t understand that math problem. Or you get an injury that prevents you from achieving your goal. And that’s okay.
Point #1 is great for getting you through those hard times. Perceive obstacles as something else to work on, like a new drill that will better your form or improve your breathing. Then, when you are able to, you can go back to your regular approach. Switching up your regime can keep things fresh and less stressful.
By working with the YMCA instructor, I improved my times enough to join the swim team. Then, the swim team helped me to improve my times and form with grueling morning practices. Now, it has been two years since I have been on a team. But one of the best feelings you get from acquiring a new skill, is its lingering control over you. Every so often, I seriously feel like I need to strip off and get into a pool and complete some laps. These thoughts belong to the same guy who once dreaded taking a 30-minute lesson to learn butterfly. Follow these tips and soon enough, you won’t need to push yourself: your new hobby will push you.
Featured photo credit: Ed Gregory via stokpic.com