Do not wait to break before you start to build.
What I mean by that is trying to start healthy stress management habits such as meditating, journaling, and moving your body; when you become stressed is not the point. The point is to start building those habits now. This way, these habits will be in place and, therefore, much more effective and efficient at helping you handle stress when they are already part of your daily life.
When it comes to building habits, oftentimes, we know what to do, but we won’t, or it feels like we can’t get them to stick. Let me remind you what a great philosopher once said.
“You can do anything you set your mind to, man.”
You can do it, whatever habit you want to create or goal you want to set. You can do it, but you might not know how to do it.
Here are three suggestions of how to start.
1. Start small
Oftentimes, we swing for the fences before ever getting on base. We want to hit a home run right now and get instant gratification. But first, you have to master the basics.
For instance, if I am super stressed and have never meditated before, sitting down for a 20-minute meditation is going to stress me out more. However, if I sit down when things are not too stressful, and meditate for one minute every day this week, then I am starting to lay a basic meditation foundation for myself that I can build upon.
I’m all for swinging for the fences, but when it comes to building habits, you have to start small before you can go big.
2. Consistency is key
Consistency is key because it helps rewire your brain. When you start to consistently hit small goals, your brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that plays a role in rewards and making us feel good.
We can go a step further by attaching a positive emotion to a small, consistent habit. This will cause even more dopamine to be released, which will cause an even bigger rewarding feeling. Things you can do to attach an emotion to hitting that goal include celebrating by giving yourself a high-five, doing a celebration dance, saying an affirmation, or you can come up with your own.
So, after you meditate for one minute every day this week, dance around to your favorite song like no one is watching.
By the way, the great philosopher mentioned above did not start out great at what he does. I don’t know what sort of habits the man had or did not have, but his mindset was on point, and he believed in himself when no one else did. But that’s another topic for another day…
In the meantime, imagine pushing a boulder down a hill. At the top of the hill, the boulder is going to be hard to push. But once you start to move it a little bit, it starts to get easier as it goes down the hill. By the time the boulder reaches the bottom of the hill, it is unstoppable.
Going back to #1, start small; the boulder is not going to start with unstoppable momentum. It is going to gain consistent, small pushes at first. That’s why the first two are important. Once you gain momentum, the habit will become automatic.
Also, say you built up that meditation habit and are now meditating as much as a monk. When things do get stressful, if you can’t meditate as often, you still have developed the habit and can still reap the benefits. Maybe you only get one minute of meditation during a tournament weekend. A benefit of having that practice in place could be being able to find your breath and stay calm during a big moment in the championship game. And it will be much easier to pick the habit back up after the tournament.
Let’s use another example. Say you want to eat healthier. First of all, if step one is to start small, then step zero is to be clear about your goal or habit you want to build. Eating healthier is not clear, plus eating healthier means different things for different people. Do you want to eat less junk food? Eat more or less of a certain food? Fuel more and/or fuel better? Get enough vitamins and minerals?
You have to be clear about what you want to do or not do. But let’s keep it simple and start eating healthier by drinking more water.
Working with youth athletes, I know most of you do not have great hydration habits. Outside of practice and games, most of you drink maybe a glass of water per day or maybe one glass per meal. So, we can start small by getting you to start carrying a water bottle with you. Do you even have a water bottle yet? Getting one could be a good place to start. The first goal is to carry that water bottle around with you for a week and remember to give yourself a high-five every day you do this.
For week 2, start filling it up. You might have filled it up last week. Awesome, keep it up and celebrate. On week 3, you drink one full bottle every day, and of course, celebrate the days you accomplish this.
I actually developed this habit because I was nervous when I started coaching. I felt like I needed something to do with my hands, so I started carrying a water bottle. Since I had the water bottle, I actually began filling it up and drinking it multiple times throughout the day on week 1. Sometimes habits are that easy to build, but sometimes they will not be. Stay consistent even if you miss a day. Eventually, you will build momentum and be unstoppable with your new habit(s).
What habit do you want to start? Maybe you want to start journaling or mediating to work on managing stress. Whatever habit you want to begin, remember to be clear, start small, be consistent (celebrate), and build momentum.