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July 2002
Success Harmony Newsletter

"HABIT BUSTING: Winning Your Own Wimbledon Game"

Apparently, I frustrated my horse trainer in my last lesson. At some point, she even said, "we have gone over this a number of times, and you're still doing it your old way. You haven't gotten any more effective with using your old habits!"

I was also frustrated - at first with the trainer. Don't like the message, shoot the messenger! For a few moments, I seriously toyed with the idea of letting the trainer become the issue. "Aaah, if I'm not getting it, that must be because YOU are not teaching me right!" I stopped myself before any words got out of my mouth but I did get upset with the horse. How embarrassing SHE is, especially in a lesson. "Bad, bad horse!" Next time I asked for what I wanted, I yanked at the reins a bit too hard. The response? A confused horse, and a more frustrated trainer.

My trainer stopped us for a while and gave me a pep talk. "Old habits die hard. When you started to ride, you were a beginner. Your horse was also a beginner. So you were learning together. She couldn't teach you, and you couldn't teach her. She trained you to ride in a way that felt comfortable to her. You have learned to ride a certain way from that but you can't blame her now. And remember, every horse you ride will respond to you the same way - until you change what YOU are doing." Yikes!

She gave me some time to digest it and then, she continued, "Now, you have more knowledge but it will still take a while to change the habits. You may know what to do and you may really want to do it right, but your muscles need to relearn everything. The horse's muscles need to adjust to your new ways, too. That takes time - and that's OK." I did change my perspective, my riding improved and the horse responded better. But I'm sure this wasn't the end of it.

Have you have ever tried to change a habit - like in quitting smoking or dieting? Have you ever struggled with relationship dynamics that keep showing up no matter who you are in a relationship with? If you always get the short end of the deal, or always get your way but leave a tornado-like aftermath behind you, those are examples or your own relationship habits that you take with you wherever you go - and people respond accordingly. "They" may have trained us to get our habits but it isn't their fault that we are still the same! Huh? Yes, we are the ones who can change our habits any time we choose to begin - and train "them" to treat us differently!

So, what do we do to change? According to Dr. Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, habits are formed in the overlap between motivation (why to do something), knowledge (knowing what to do), and skills (being able to do the thing). All three need to be present for a period of time, in order for a new habit to become just as ingrained as the old one. Therefore, to change a habit, you will need to take care of each one:

1. MOTIVATION can be through pain or through desire for pleasure. Pain is great for the short term. "Oh no, she will leave me if I don't quit smoking. I'd better go cold turkey!" Unfortunately, pain doesn't work well for the long term. "Well, I haven't had a smoke for three weeks. One won't get her too upset, will it?" Long term motivation rarely comes from others, it needs to come from ourselves. "I have noticed that I feel better when I don't smoke. I want to feel like that all the time." Take time to think of what is important to you for the long term and how you would like your life to look - the clearer you are, the easier it is to get motivated.

2. KNOWLEDGE is everywhere around us. University degrees, night school courses, how-to books, biographies, ebooks, online training, newsletters, audio programs, video training, you name it. The list is virtually endless. Beware not to get stuck here: books and courses give you the knowledge of what to do but, because of their time frame, simply don't do well to instill new skills. At the same time, practicing a skill without new knowledge only results in a deeper bad habit, so knowledge is crucial.

3. SKILLS are the toughest part because they take a while to get. Depending on how long you had your old habit, it may take 5, 10, 500 or 5000 repetitions of the new skill for it to become a part of you. Remember that it is easier to learn a new skill from scratch than it is to unlearn what you already know, so be patient. As an immigrant with no English skills, I found that my native language was in the way more than it helped. When I threw away the dictionary and began to learn from my environment, English became easier to learn.

You wouldn't expect to win Wimbledon after you, a tennis beginner, had a weekend crash course on the pro's secrets to tennis. You would expect to spend long hours in front of the training wall, hitting endless balls at an unmoving target. Once you got that, you would move up to hitting balls across the net to your patient instructor. Then, you would move up to some basic level competition. Years later, you might arrive at the pro courts and, if you are really good, eventually win Wimbledon. Even at that point, you wouldn't say "I already know this game, I can stop practicing".

Be willing to go the "beginner to professional" journey with the important things in your life. For example, if you want the dynamics in your relationships to change, stop criticizing the people around you and pick up a beginner's guide to relationship dynamics. Spend a few months trying the different principles. Don't try something once and give up because "it didn't work". You might not hit your first tennis ball over the net, either. Think of the hundreds of times that tennis player needs to hit the ball to get a reasonable "on target" average. Why would that be any different as we learn to communicate differently, interact differently, or replace any other habit?

Beginner level may be sufficient for you in certain situations. For other habits, you may want to go all the way to the pro level. Either way, be willing to go the distance. You will never regret it when you get to carry away the Wimbledon trophy of your changed habits!

(And, as for me? I guess I'll be getting back on that horse again soon...)


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"It is never too late to become what you might have been."

George Eliot
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Andy Rooney

"To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are."
Muhammad Ali




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© 2002 Pavla Michaela Polcarova, CPR Coaching Services, Vancouver, BC, Canada