Good Behavior

To break through, make a break for a different kind of goal.

“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” — John Maynard Keynes

Maybe the last time that you were on a plane, you flipped through the pages of the onboard magazine and turned to the infamous nine dot puzzle. There are three rows of three dots otaling nine (obviously). The objective is to draw a series of straight lines through all the dots without your pen ever leaving the paper. This exercise is extraordinarily difficult — some say impossible.

The key to the task is not a matter of training yourself to think better but to think differently. When most people look at this puzzle, they assume they must stay within the square. The problem is, there’s no square, just three columns of dots. However, your brain has been conditioned to view that pattern as a square or a box.

The moment you allow yourself to “think outside the box,” what was frustratingly difficult is now surprisingly achievable. The secret is to let go of your traditional way of thinking.

We are taught that success lies in the achievement of our goals, so we focus on the outcomes we most desire (goodbye, 20 pounds). While there’s nothing wrong with this, focusing exclusively on an outcome presents challenges that are analogous to a basketball player who’s performing poorly at shooting free throws and sets a goal to “get the ball in the net more often.” The problem is that outcomes are not always in our control but behaviors are. Even if our basketball player sets a specific goal for the exact number of free throws he will make per game, he is still employing a strategy that will end in frustration rather than accomplishment.

Daily habits become you

Conversely, what if our basketball player plans to practice free throws for one hour per day, six days per week, focusing on the specifics of form and technique that will improve his precision, therefore probability of success? Further, what if he had a specific methodology for evaluating his results and modifying his method of practice until he measurably improves? Clearly, with this approach, he’s far more likely to achieve his desired outcome.

If he persists in his practice consistently, he will take pride in it. Because all of us have a need for consistency, the more he practices, the more he is likely to continue practicing and therefore improving. Soon, the practice will become habitual — not merely something he does but part of who he is. Similarly, each time you engage in the act of movement, the more it becomes part of you. What you do daily is who you become permanently. When behaviors become habitual, New Year’s resolutions are inessential.

If you’re part of the majority who have struggled to keep your resolutions in the past or you’re simply inspired to be the best version of yourself in 2017, you may benefit from setting behavioral goals. Behavioral goals, contrary to convention, focus on the process, the doing as well as the being aspects of transformation. It’s not that results aren’t important, of course they are. However, it’s our behaviors that bring them about.

Set behavioral goals

Here are the four components of behavioral goals.

1. Identity: Who do you want to be?

Much of our behavior is driven by our identity or what we feel the greatest affinity for and connection to in our lives. We tend to do things that are reflective of who we believe we are as well as who we believe we are not. Imagine 2017 as a blank canvas. What inspires you? Who do you want to be? What behaviors would that type of person engage in every day? Conversely, what type of behaviors would that type of person engage in rarely, if ever? Be specific. Come up with just one behavior that you can commit to as well as another you can omit.

2. Make it enjoyable.

You don’t need to encourage an artist to paint or a writer to write. When you enjoy as well as value what you do, you don’t require much extrinsic motivation to do it. Rather than seeking out the “best” program or exercise technique, what about choosing the type of movement that you’re most likely to stick with, the one you believe you’d most enjoy. What group exercise classes have you wanted to try because they look fun?

3. Find support.

One of the greatest determining factors of your success lies in your support network. Who in your life actively encourages you to make the changes you desire most? Who in your life would those changes affect most? Perhaps you can make a written commitment to that person to stick to those changes. Or perhaps you can enroll that person in engaging in fun activities with you, such as a brisk walk for 20 minutes per day, five days per week at 7 p.m. What type of fun physical activity would you want to engage in with your family regularly?

4. Get ready for a relapse.

It happens to all of us, and it will happen to you. Things come up that we sometimes just can’t anticipate. However, it’s not the obstacles we run into that matter in the long run; it’s the meaning we attach to them and how we respond. When unforeseen obstacles come up, ask yourself the following:

What does this mean?

What have I learned?

In what ways am I better prepared than before this happened?

How can I minimize the chance of this happening again?

Committing to do something you have never done before requires that you become someone you’ve never been before. Who we become is largely shaped by what we do. You can start by experimenting with moving for the sake of movement, just for 30 days. Eventually, you might notice that working out is not just something you do —it’s becoming who you are.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock, pathdoc.