Like many other people around the country, I’ve spent a good portion of my evenings over the last two weeks sitting in front of my television, watching the Summer Olympics. It’s ironic that an event like the Olympics – which showcases people who are among the most physically fit and active in the world, and who are competing and performing at the highest level possible – turns so many of us into couch potatoes.

But starting next week, I’ll get back to normal – although, inspired by the Olympics, I’d like to make some changes to what I consider my normal routine.

One change, of course, is that I won’t spend several hours in front of the television every evening. That change will happen automatically as soon as the flame is doused on the Olympic torch when the games come to a close. Another change is that I won’t be up until 11:00 every night watching them. This is not to say that I won’t be up until – or sometimes way past – that time, but if I am it’s because I will be busy with other things.

That’s one of the habits I do want to change, because I know I would be more alert and energized every day if I got to bed a little earlier than I normally do. And even though I always tell myself I need to stay up just a bit longer in order to finish something important that I’m doing or a project that I’m working on, I know it really just comes down to a habit that I’ve acquired, and that won’t change until I decide to change it and take active steps to make that happen.

One of the things I thought about while watching the Olympics is the habits and routines it takes to become a world-class athlete. Or a world-class anything, for that matter. Sure, there’s talent involved.  Skills, training, coaching, practice – endless hours of practice every day. And it takes a focus and determination that most of us can’t even begin to fathom – a desire so strong that it slices through and charges past any obstacles, objections, alternatives, or other
options that present themselves.

So how do you put something like that into practice?

Any change that we want to make in ourselves takes, first of all, a conscious, specific, and deliberate decision to change. We need to make a commitment to it, we need to come up with a plan for accomplishing it, and then we need to take the steps necessary to get there. And we need to continue taking steps over and over again – first, until they become a habit, and then, until they take us to our goal.

I’m sure that people who are the best in the world at what they do don’t wake up every morning needing to force themselves to get out of bed and get moving. But that might be the first challenge for someone who decides to get in shape and vows to get up early in order to exercise first thing in the morning. Until it becomes a habit, it can take effort and energy just to get started, let alone to accomplish anything.

Once we get that first habit in place, however, we can move on to the next one. If our goal is about exercising and getting in shape, we may start pushing ourselves to work out harder or longer in order to get faster and stronger.

And this doesn’t apply only to goals of physical fitness and health. It goes for goals and dreams we may have in any area of our lives. The process is still the same: make the decision, plan the route, commit to the journey, and get moving until the habit you need to establish is solid and strong. Enjoy the accomplishments you achieve along the way, and continue developing new and more ambitious habits that serve your new and more ambitious goals.

No matter what your stage or arena, or what event or accomplishment you wish to pursue, develop the habits that will help you get there. And who knows? In four years – or even less time than that – you could be going for the equivalent of Olympic Gold.

If you do, I’ll be watching!

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on August 9, 2012.

© Betty Liedtke, 2012

I welcome your comments on this column. Please be aware that all comments require approval before appearing on this blog. This is to protect all of us from unwanted spam.