I’ve now been involved in martial arts training for over a decade. Over the years, I’ve realized that the biggest issue is always one of consistency. What stops people from reaching their goals is not talent or circumstances but rather an inability to be consistent or “stay the path”.
Haven’t you heard people complain that they need more willpower or more discipline? But that’s not really problem.
“Discipline is not the problem. You are totally, completely, 100 percent disciplined… to your existing set of habits.” Bad Habits (or lack of good ones) are the problem!
When you make the commitment to start training, you are trying to establish a set of habits. Unfortunately, this is a lot harder than it sounds – it’s not just about making a new habit but breaking an old one. You need to break out of the momentum of what you’re doing NOW and establish a completely new set of behaviors.
So here’s my advice to First-Timers.
1. Attend the same class on the same day at the same time with the same instructor for at least 8 weeks.
This solves two problems. Firstly, everyone knows you in the class and so the anxiety of new social situations fades away. You’re participating in a new activity at new gym and are surrounded by new people. This can be draining. Think the first day of school over and over. Furthermore, you might need to overcome the fatigue and soreness that accompany your new exercise regimen. By establishing a regular routine you won’t be burning nervous energy by coming to the gym, rather you’ll enjoy coming and working out with people you know.
Secondly, a regular training schedule allows you to adjust the other areas of your life. Imagine a bill that is due at a different time every month. It would be very hard to budget for that. Likewise, it is difficult to workout regularly on an random schedule. Its much easier to set aside 90 minutes 2x a week on the same nights and make that work.
2. Establish one habit at a time to create a stable training situation.
When you begin training, you are now subtracting 2-3 hours a week from time allotted to your current schedule. It’s going to be disruptive to your day to day life at the beginning – positive but still disruptive. It’s not smart to also change your diet, stop smoking, and start running in the mornings too (not yet anyways). You have to build up to it.
You have three major resources – money, time, and energy. You need to allocate your resources in order to establish your new habit. And all three of these areas need to be in sync in order to maintain it.
I had a friend in college named Aaron. Aaron was part of our crew, a bunch of struggling 20-somethings who were trying to be good at Jiu-Jitsu. But there was one difference – Aaron refused to get a job (but wasn’t a trust fund kid either). So while the rest of the us were making do with crappy jobs, he was living off credit cards. His logic was that he wanted to focus on training and getting a job would take time away from that.
You can guess how this story ends. A few years go bye and Aaron has to completely stop training. I’m not talking about cutting back – I’m talking about just stopping. In order to make ends meet, he had to quit completely and work full-time as well as overtime in order to get his life back together. Out of our group of friends, every other member is still involved with Jiu-Jitsu today (more than a decade later). He is the only one who is completely uninvolved.
The point is, you have to replenish your resources: Time, Money, Energy. In this case, he completely gave up on money in order to have time and energy for his activity of choice. But there always comes a time, when you have to pay the piper. This is why I recommend building up one positive behavior at a time in order to create a sustainable habit.
For most new students I recommend start with two sessions per week. Then push to 3-4x / week. Then make the jump into the more advanced, longer classes.
3. Eliminate friction in your day-to-day routine.
What I mean by eliminating friction is to remove obstacles to your positive habits. When you’re drained, every little thing can feel like a big deal. So you want to eliminate the negative little things and add in positive little things. Think an EZ-Pass. On a single trip, you’ll probably save 1-2 minutes. But over the course of your driving life, you’ll save a LOT of time.
In the gym, I’m always surprised to hear some of the excuses people give for why they missed practice. Students always tell me…
“I didn’t have time to stop home and get my equipment.” (SOLUTION: Leave your equipment in the car.)
“I didn’t have time to wash my gi / handwraps / rashguard / shorts last night.” (SOLUTION: Buy additional equipment.)
Take measure of your daily routines and write down common bottlenecks and obstacles, then figure out how to get rid of them or at least make them less annoying. It can be as simple as leaving your laundry basket in the laundry room – which eliminates the step of bringing your dirty clothes down from your room. These little fixes add up.
Success in martial arts (and life in general) is to be able to establish positive habits. These habits then compound on one another and create extraordinary results. But the beginning is to be able to establish the first one.
For more on the how habits compound upon each other, check out my blog post on the Multipler Effect.