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As a sports official, you want to operate with your desired outcomes in mind as you begin any training regime for improving your performance.

Your decision making and your ability to move smoothly, safely and efficiently are areas you want to constantly improve upon to be the best at your craft. Ask yourself what areas are currently holding you back. What does that look like for you on the court, pitch or field?

Once you’ve determined that, then you want to create an “operational blueprint” of how you want to act, look, think and feel to get there and then work backwards from it. Some people make the mistake of thinking you have to already have good discipline to build good habits, but the truth is, being consistent with even one habit for a few weeks helps you build discipline.

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Habit-building is discipline-building.

If discipline was easy, all of this would be easy. Habits, as James Clear says in his book “Atomic Habits”, are “the compounding interest of self-improvement”.

Habits are the stepping stone to becoming a well oiled, disciplined machine that gets it done, even when it hurts, even when you’re tired and even when you just don’t feel like it.

Oddly enough, there’s a level of freedom that comes with being disciplined. Not much feels more empowering than achieving a goal when you’ve put the work in.

After 25 years of professional coaching, here are 4 habits that “the greats” do that you can absorb into your own regime.

1. Eliminate self-sabotaging thoughts

Self sabotaging thoughts hold you back. How you frame your “self talk” matters. Instead of saying “I have to do X” when it comes to meeting a goal (eg: “I have to workout” or “I have to go to bed on time so I feel rested”), say “I get to do X”. Instead of your task feeling like a burden, it will feel like an accomplishment when you do it. It’s inherently positive. That positive feeling is addictive for our brains, and slowly but surely, you’ll want more of it.

2. Have a system

Losing weight is a real struggle for a lot of people, even though the instructions seem clear enough: eat well and exercise. Why, then, is it so difficult for millions of people? It often becomes a yo-yo battle of temporary success and failure, of rinse-and-repeating the same things that aren’t working. It goes on for weeks, months or even years.

After the roller coaster, you might stop and wonder why you aren’t meeting your goals. James addresses this in his book, saying it has nothing to do with not rising to the level of your goals. Rather, you’re falling to the level of your system to get to your goals. What that means is that “the what” you’re doing might not actually be wrong. It might be “the how” that’s the problem.

If you’re trying to lose weight, you may feel tempted to (excuse the pun) bite off more than you can chew all at once. You might think it’s best to go cold-turkey on all the bad habits and replace them with good ones. That sounds noble, but it’s probably doomed to fail. Changing too much all at once isn’t sustainable, and that leads us to…

3. Improve by 1%

Consistency is a key habit for any great athlete, but the expected improvement doesn’t have to be huge. In coaching, we seek a 1% per day improvement on what we’re trying to accomplish. You can’t go from being on the couch to a 10k overnight, so why would you think it’s a good idea to form your habits as if that was a reasonable or sustainable expectation? It doesn’t matter what your goal is. Your new habits have to be sustainable in the long term (think lifestyle change, not temporary fix), and those changes have to be small and layered on each other.

4. Celebrate those 1% wins

It’s important to immediately reward yourself (in a healthy, positive way) when you complete one of your new, good habits. It could be a simple “I did it” or you could give a friend or family member a high five. It could be recording your achievement in a self improvement/fitness app and proudly check in as the markers increase, day by day. Screenshot it. Share it with a friend.

The possibilities are endless for fruitful positive reinforcement.

Don’t stop there. At the end of the day, reflect back and see if you met all of your small improvements you set out to do. Did you wake up on time so you’d have a chance to work out? Did you add some leafy greens to all of your meals? Did you cut out a guilty snack? Again, reward yourself.

Use that positive self talk. “I did all of these things today and I get to do them again tomorrow”.

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About the author:

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Duane W.Carlisle, MSc, MSCCA, CSCS
Founder, Carlisle Performance Systems
Founder, Lightning Fast Training Systems, LLC

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