One of the most difficult challenges in life is to start something new, whether that means taking on a new hobby, starting your own business, changing careers, developing a healthier way of shopping and eating or something else entirely. Fear of failure, judgment or rejection can mean we barely have the courage to take the first step let alone all those steps after it that would lead to our eventual success.
That word “eventual” is important because in today’s world we’re inundated with quick fixes, miracle diets and instant success. Planning for and actually envisioning not just your eventual success but all the struggles that you will encounter on your way will allow you to maintain realistic expectations and establish contingency plans consisting of secondary and tertiary strategies. More than anything planning for success means planning to be relentless.
To overcome that nagging, persistent fear of starting out, I recommend my clients take the belly flop entry accompanied by the bumper bowling follow-up. What in the hell does that mean, exactly? Well, for starters it means that dipping your toe isn’t going to get it done. Toe-dipping is accompanied by too much time to over-reflect on how you’re just not ready yet, there will be a better time, you’ll be more prepared with another class or twenty…and so on. So even if in actuality we carefully orchestrate our first step, let’s think of it as a massive, bad-ass belly flop call to action.
On a bit of a side note / segue, you will find a good number of coaches and general “gurus” who recommend announcing your plans “to start a business” or “lose 50 lbs.” or “give up cigarettes” etc. on social media, but the science suggests otherwise. This is just another form of toe-dipping, the shameful variety. By announcing our plans to others we are hoping to shame ourselves into success, but this method has proven far inferior over the long-term to actually owning our desires and goals and acting on them…not waiting or hoping for someone else’s sanction or approval. The “shame ourselves” strategy actually makes us more reluctant to act on our own behalf by initiating our instinctual rebellion streak against outside instruction. By hoping for some outside pressure we’ve created imaginary parental figures with pointing, judgmental fingers. It’s not a long-term strategy for success.
So back to belly flopping and bumper bowling. Throwing ourselves into the deep end – what I call “belly flopping” is a great way to overcome all those nagging thoughts. Start by starting. It’s that simple, and it’s that damned hard. You start through action – any action you can take in a direction toward your ultimate goal. You’re not looking for style points, you’re looking to unsettle that excruciating “comfort” that you’ve been living in which in reality is anything but comfortable.
Before I go deeper into the belly flop, let’s visit the bumper bowling. Bumper bowling for those unfamiliar, is where they install long tubular barriers in both gutters of a bowling lane to ensure the ball hits some damn thing. We can ease the shock of our deep end flop by setting up some barriers against failure. How will that look? Well if you want to get fit but have trouble getting to the gym, you sign up for 6 personal training sessions…the pricey investment ensuring that you break through your “exercise later” barrier at least once a week. The right trainer may inspire you to increase your visits to the optimal 3-5 visits per week.
Bumper bowling in small business could mean renting a WeWork space that establishes a higher commitment level. Perhaps you’ll get a glimpse of Adam Neumann and be inspired…to grow your hair out into fabulous 80’s hair band locks or overvalue your company too, who knows? You might place an ad for this new side business of yours which ensures you’ll have to actually come up with a phone spiel, an elevator pitch, a brand, and a website.
It’s important to note that jumping in the deep end or belly flopping doesn’t mean you take foolish risks. You may start with an online class or certification that would act as your paddleboard and arm floats. You might just start your business after working hours and on the weekends at first, keeping your office rental to a couple days a week. Getting a separate space to kick start your fledgling business will give you some much needed headspace and seriously up your commitment level.
Let’s say you’ve been “thinking about” changing careers for as long as you can remember. Your belly flop into action may be contacting a killer resume writer and investing in his or her services…or contacting a career coach and sharpening up your interviewing and job search skills. I happen to know one hell of a career coach who just happens to also be a resume genius…not that I would ever shamelessly promote myself in such a scholarly column of course, but contact me and get a complimentary coaching session where I will give you the down and dirty on your current resume as well as a professional kick in the butt / pat on the back on everything related to your job search or career change.
The whole idea behind the belly flopping / bumper bowling method is to get you to acknowledge that you must take risks to move your life in a new direction, but you can also mitigate those risks by being smart in your preparation stages, planning for setbacks and visualizing what you will do when the crap hits the fan. Take a moment after reading this and close your eyes. Visualize yourself exactly where you want to be in one or two years, see the belly flop that will start the march toward real change, envision the bumpers you will put in place to keep yourself on track, think about a huge challenge or setback that could occur and how you will fight your way past this obstacle and remain relentless as you pursue your desired life. Take the time to really sit with your future success and acknowledge that it is a product of all the things you still have to learn; you will learn them. See the books you have to read. You will read them. Look at the courses you must take. You will take them. Embrace the difficulty and challenges you will have to overcome. You will overcome them all.
How did that feel? Pretty damn awesome, right? So, what’s stopping you from acting right now? Decide how you will belly flop and bumper bowl your way toward real, long-term change. And if you would like some professional guidance with all the above,
One of the most difficult challenges my coaching clients face is behavioral change. There are many factors that go into real, long-term personal transformation but if we look at the biological roots of change, it’s easiest to compare our brains to computer programs. Despite the relative grand size or our brains compared to other mammals, there’s a great deal of miniaturization that occurs to get the most bang out of our cerebellum buck.
If our brains had to “think” out each element of every common task we perform, they would have to be more than twice their physical size. To minimize the physical capacity necessary for us to perform so many complex neural functions, our brain reduces our most commonly performed tasks into optimized synaptic transactions, essentially what would be macros on your Word program – little efficiency buttons that show up as habits and routines in the real world.
So, if you begin to work out every morning at 5:30 a.m., over time that routine will link several synapses together and whittle them down into an efficient habit loop requiring little thought to complete – therefore more easily overcoming any mental resistance to exercise. Which is all good and well until you realize that the same is true for that trip to the bathroom or break room that takes you by the reception desk with the candy bowl: now every time you want to stretch your legs or use the john, you’ve hardwired your need for a hundred sugar calories.
The wonderful thing about habits is the bitch about habits: the efficiency that enables us to do so much amounts to a well-worn little brain path trod upon time after time, until that path is free of rocks, grasses and obstacles…your own little shortcut through the forest of never-ending distractions and potential choices or decisions, arriving at a decisive action or habit. That well- worn path is in your brain permanently unfortunately, which may account for my late-night sugar lust, where despite doing my very best at the grocery store to avoid shitty processed foods, instead finds me raiding the chocolate chips my wife bought to make cookies or drinking the orange juice designated for weekend breakfasts.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to create and realign synaptic connections in response to knowledge gained, a new personal experience or injury to the brain (a stroke victim who’s lost use of their left arm can be retrained to call upon those synapses usually used to actuate their right arm). While its study is useful to many disciplines including occupational therapy for stroke victims, in coaching we use neuroplasticity to gain greater control over the habit trails we’d like to abandon and the new healthier ones we’d like to explore.
While the science is in its infancy, what’s pretty clear at this point is that we can’t just “undo” these wonderfully efficient, albeit unwanted synaptic habit trails – we have to write over them with a new habit trail and keep those better habits up, lest our old trail begin to rear its darker path to Skittles, tasty little Snickers bars and those individually wrapped Swedish fish – damn them and their sweet, sublime, squishy jellyness to eternal hell. Our old habits, even when effectively written over with flashy, healthy new ones, still lurk underneath our new, more desirable pathways.
So how do we bury the habit trails that shall not be buried? Well now when I go to the fridge for my late-night sugar fix, I survey the landscape longingly, then reach in and grab the filtered water jug and pour a glass of cool, refreshing H20. I can tell you my water intake has definitely skyrocketed. Instead of reaching for the crackers and cheese, I grab a baby carrot or two. Now this original period of change is no joke – sugar withdrawal is real, but if you can get through the first couple weeks, your cravings will vastly diminish.
Because my new habit has many links in relation to my old, unwanted behavior (going to kitchen, opening refrigerator door) it’s an ideal replacement path to overwrite my unwanted bingeing. Now I still have to make the decision to go for that water or those baby carrots which is another challenge too complex to include in this column. In brief, I use the same mindfulness methods I teach my clients facing similar sugar addictions or emotional eating challenges – taking the time to truly see my behavior as if a spectator or audience member to my own show. I’ll go into this in more detail in following columns.
This powerful habit science isn’t limited to sugar highs and cracker binges. One of the principle mechanisms at work behind the higher success rate for AA over other addiction programs is that members are replacing drinking with meetings. “If you had time to drink, you have time for a meeting” the saying goes. Replacing one habit for another is simplifying the process, for sure…there’s a great deal more that goes into effective addiction treatment and transitioning to a healthy diet for that matter, but understanding the brain science behind our most common habits, good and bad, is essential to begin to build a more positive path toward our life goals.
In the next column, I will explore how you can leverage the power of neuroplasticity to take on new, uncomfortable challenges you’ve been avoiding and create an atmosphere that allows you to forge a new, more productive and fulfilling path while mitigating the accompanying risk and uncertainty necessary to finally realize effective, long-term life change.