Always remember that the future comes one day at a time. ~Dean Acheson
Editor’s note: This is a guest article by Scott Dinsmore of Live Your Legend.
Most life changes are simple to make.
Not at all easy, but quite simple.
Yet change continues to be one of the most challenging human actions on the planet.
And lasting change, well that’s an altogether bigger and stronger beast.
Why is the formula for losing weight, for example, so basic (eat real food, eat a little less of it and work out a little more), yet the majority of our country (and much of the world) is obese?
This puzzle has always blown my mind.
Over the past ten or fifteen years I’ve made a pretty deep study on change, motivation and what influences behavior. Granted, the majority of the tests have been on myself, but the results have been pretty powerful.
In fact what I’ve learned has allowed me to experience change in a way I would have never thought possible.
Some big changes include: switching from a meat-every-meal diet to mostly vegan, becoming a barefoot ultra-marathon runner, losing 20% of my body fat, building a career around helping people in a way I truly love, starting two successful businesses including a highly-trafficked blog, becoming fluent in a second language, overcoming a fear of the ocean, learning to mediate and winning a few Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments.
In looking at these accomplishments, I noticed a process, a handful of actions and habits, consistent in most all my change. And as I began to study more of the world, I noticed that most these habits were not unique to me (surprise, surprise). Most people who’ve been successful in making meaningful change, seem to do the same.
I’d like to share them with you with the hopes that they’ll be as powerful for you as they have been for me.
The 9 habits for change
1. Write down what inspires you. Nine years ago I spent a summer studying at the London School of Economics. The culture and approach to life and the world was night and day from the U.S. What specifically stood out was meeting some people with jobs who really inspired me. One worked as a security consultant for the U.K. Government. Another studied Kung Fu in Shaolin. The list went on. As I came across these inspiring lives, I started to write them down in my notebook. Usually a paragraph or two (sometimes more or less) about what they did and what about it made me want that job.
From then on I wrote down every job and person that inspired me. Over the years I had complied a huge list of interests and possible career paths. This later had everything to do with me finding the work I am most passionate about at Live Your Legend. Our minds can only process so much bouncing around inside our own head. Ideas have to be given room to grow and thrive. Take constant note of what inspires you.
2. Start very small. A few years ago I started to get pretty interested in barefoot running. I had been a runner for years and was able to run 5-10 miles without much trouble. But when I picked up my first pair of Vibram barefoot shoes, I was given a huge warning to ease into it. The inclination was to strap them on and take off for another five or ten miles. But instead I started small. Very small. The first day I walked around in them for an hour. Then I jogged a quarter mile. Then a little more.
A friend of mine took another approach. He had recently completed an Iron Man (which includes a full marathon as the finish), so he made his first barefoot run a typical 8-miler. He had to stop after four, and the blisters and pain were so bad he couldn’t run for over a week. That was his first and only barefoot day.
Meanwhile I continued to slowly build up my miles. Over time I eased into a 32-mile ultra-marathon in the mountains for Lake Tahoe.
Frustration can kill most change before it even starts. I don’t care how confident or experienced you think you are, start as small as possible and build momentum.
3. Get completely immersed. Ever since I was about 11 years old I’d studied Spanish. I even took advanced Spanish in high school and had a minor in it in College. The problem was, after ten years of study, I couldn’t speak my way out of a paper bag.
Then I moved to Sevilla, Spain to live with a family for five months. They didn’t know more than three words of English. The first few weeks were absolutely brutal. But by the time I left, I could hold a conversation in most any situation, and I loved it. I was even dreaming in Spanish. And I didn’t take a single Spanish ‘course’ while I was there. I was just in a situation where the task at hand was a requirement. And it didn’t hurt that we spent most our nights drinking sangria, dancing and eating some of the best food I’d tasted…
Put yourself in a sink-or-swim situation and most of us will start paddling.
4. Write down dreams. In 2007 I attended Warren Buffett’s annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. He’d always been a model of mine, and my best friend and I wanted to experience it live. The weekend blew our minds. We spent three days inundated with people deeply passionate about Mr. Buffett’s style of business and his values-based approach to life. It was incredibly refreshing, especially given the type of people I was used to finding in most every other area of finance. It opened us up to a whole new world.
On the flight home we were literally bubbling with ideas and excitement. On that flight we told ourselves “One day we are going to build an investment business like so many of the inspiring people we met had done.” For the next four hours we mapped out the vision. Exactly what we thought the company would look like and all the reasons it was so important to us. We left that flight on cloud nine. The vision was incredible. We had no specific date of when we’d start, but we did have the idea, and that was all we cared about.
You know how long it took that life-time vison to become a reality? Less than a year from the day we stepped off that flight from Omaha. W’ve now been running our investment partnership for just over three years. When we first mapped out the vision, there was no timeline, and yet it ended up happening decades earlier than we would have expected.
It’s nearly impossible to stop an idea or vision once it’s caught fire. But you first must let it catch. Dream big. Write down what you want. I don’t care how crazy the idea is. Give it attention. Let it grow and watch what happens.
5. Find someone you know you can beat. Three years ago I got a call from a family friend asking me to join him for an Escape from Alcatraz swim – he wanted to swim 1.4 miles in the 56-degree San Francisco Bay from Alcatraz Island to the mainland. There was no way. I wasn’t a good swimmer, I hated cold water and I’d been deathly scared of deep dark water ever since I saw the Jaws movies when I was about seven.
Then I was told one more thing about the swim that changed my mind in an instant.
My friend’s 11-year old son was going to be swimming with us, and so were 60 other kids between 9 and 13 years old. The event was designed to get kids to expand their belief of what’s possible, and there was no way I was going to sit on the sidelines in fear while kids who were half or a third my age were excitedly doing it. Obviously if a 9-year-old could make the swim, then I could too!
We all know those unsuspecting people who have finished that race, quit that job or lost those pounds, whom we know we could outperform. There are examples everywhere of people with less opportunity, fewer resources and more of the deck stacked against them than you, who still manage to move mountains. Find them. Join them. And prevail together.
Btw, the swim was amazing – and this will be my third consecutive year!
6. Take the pressure off. I’m convinced that part of the reason why it’s so hard make changes like quitting smoking, losing weight, running a marathon or becoming a vegetarian, is because the world continues to reinforce how hard it is. The endless news stories of obesity and health problems, or even the talk about “the wall” people hit around mile 18 of a marathon.
The more we can disconnect from these mainstream ideas, the more likely we are to get results. This is why the road less traveled seems to be so powerful. The harder it is to compare to typical standards, the less pressure there’ll be and the more likely you’ll stick to something.
Last year my friends and I decided to run what we called “The Accidental Marathon”. We mapped out a course on Google Pedometer, picked a morning and five of us just started running. The only rule was either we finish together or no one finishes. This was not a race. It was an experiment. We’d done little training and half the group had never run more than 13 miles. But we were out there to have fun. We took pictures and videos, stopped for the occasional Snickers and Gatorade, and took in the gorgeous San Francisco day.
And then at a hair under 5 hours, we all crossed the finish line. There was no “wall” or any of the other hype you hear about these long runs. We just went out to have fun. No pressure. No psyching ourselves out. Just fun.
7. Prove yourself wrong. Most people don’t do things either because they don’t think they are capable of it or they don’t think they should. The more of these personal assumptions we can test, the better. As it turns out, most things we believe about ourselves (and even about the world) can usually be proven otherwise if we let them.
My whole life I’ve been a massive meat eater. Three meals a day had to have meat or I wouldn’t be full. That was my belief. Then one day I decided to see what I might be missing. I was challenged to go vegan for 10 days, so I accepted. I was convinced I’d starve.
I was dead wrong.
Not only did I not get hungry during the ten days, but I finished it feeling amazing. My whole life I had convinced myself of something that simply wasn’t true – that I needed meat to be full. I then began to learn all I could about the health benefits of eating mainly plants and I’ve been mostly vegan ever since. I’ve also gone back to some of my vegetaria friends to apologize for my lack of understanding in the past ;).
Realize your beliefs are not always correct. Be open to being wrong.
8. Surround yourself with people doing the impossible. Environment is absolutely everything. For years I’d had a dream of having an online business where I could write and help people, and get paid to do it from anywhere in the world (not a bad dream, right?). So I created a website and started writing. Then I waited for the magic to happen…
For the next four years I proceeded to make exactly zero progress. I managed to get 111 followers the first year (mostly friends and family who were just doing me a favor). Four years later the number was unchanged. I almost shut the site down.
But then I moved to San Francisco and started to make some new friends. A couple included Corbett Barr and our very own Leo Babauta. Then I met dozens more. I saw these people had literally built the type of businesses I’d dreamed of. I started hanging around with my new friends as much as I could – grabbing beers, doing workouts, having dinners and Skype sessions. All of a sudden having one of these businesses not only seemed possible, but it actually became the norm.
You know what happened in the next six months? My site grew by 10x. And less than two years from meeting these people, it had grown by over 160x, and had turned into a real business.
Environment. Is. Everything.
Get this right and the rest will follow.
If you notice, every one of the above habits comes down to surrounding yourself with the passionate people who turn the impossible into your new normal.
If you want to lose 40 pounds but everyone around you is massively overweight, you hardly have a chance. If you want to do work you love, but all your co-workers want to put their forehead through their computer monitor, odds are you’ll want to do the same.
If the people around you don’t support and inspire your dreams, then find new friends. There is no other way.
The fastest way to start doing things you don’t think can be done, is to start hanging around people already doing them.
Remember, change is simple.
It’s no doubt incredibly challenging, but it’s still simple.
Combine a proven process with a group of people who elevate you to a new level, and over time the results will become obvious.
Scott Dinsmore is the founder of Live Your Legend. Download his free Epic Work Toolkit or check out his course, Live Off Your Passion: An Unconventional Guide to Finding Passion and Building a Career around Work You Love.