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One Small Change

The Simple Psychology of Consistent Training


For this month’s One Small Change blog I started a workout streak in order to explore firsthand the challenges of exercising more consistently. So far, my streak stands at 21 consecutive days, which I was really proud of until I heard about Dale Webster. This guy is to fitness streaks what Lady Gaga is to glam pop—the very definition of it. He’s caught at least three waves off the coast of northern California every day since September 3, 1975. And no, that’s not a misprint. We’re talking nearly 35 years.

As I nurse my baby streak and worry about the kink in my shoulder and how I’m ever going to find time tomorrow since I have to take my mother to the hairdresser, Webster soldiers on. Apparently not one for philosophy, he explained it to Sports Illustrated this way: “My attitude was always, ‘If I can just get to the beach, the rest of the day will take care of itself.’” But in an interview with Surfer Magazine, he went a little further: “Anyone can do what I did,” he said. “If you love it enough, you can do anything.”

Bingo. Just like that Webster put his gnarly, surf-wax-caked finger right on it—the obvious but overlooked key to being consistent and successful in anything.

“It’s very simple,” says sports psychologist Douglas Newburg, Ph.D. “If you drill down and keep asking people what they want or why they do something, it always comes back to how they want to feel.”

In other words, if you don’t love whatever it is you do in the same unmitigated way you love month-old puppies, Mom’s lasagna, and Penelope Cruz then don’t expect to be consistent, let alone a champion, at it. People like Webster don’t view what they do as a workout or even a streak; it’s just something they enjoy so much they can’t get enough of it.

This type of thinking is actually Newburg’s specialty. He’s a sort of anti-sports psychologist in a sense—a guy who refuses to treat every performance woe with the standard relaxation exercises, visualization techniques, and new training programs. In his work with elite athletes, musicians, surgeons and business people, he tells them it’s all about feel.

“The first step is learning to pay attention to how you feel,” he explains. “That may sound touchy-feely, but it’s very concrete. Have you ever analyzed the effect your feelings have on performance? Most people haven’t. So if you’re looking for a competitive advantage, this is the place to start. Spend five minutes before bed thinking about what made you feel really good today. Eventually, everybody calls me back and says ‘I can’t believe what I’m learning.’ This is low-hanging fruit about ourselves that we’ve been told to ignore because it’s selfish.”

But it’s not. In fact, noticing and then indulging in this fruit is the secret to realizing your potential. “Most people will get two-thirds of the way to where they want to go in life by doing what society tells them to do,” continues Newburg, author of The Most Important Lesson No One Ever Taught Me. “But those who make it the final third are the ones who are doing what makes them feel good.”

So if you’re an on-again, off-again exerciser (or employee or spouse, for that matter), ask yourself this question: Is my chosen activity giving me joy? If the answer is no then you’ll never make it a priority, and you’ll never get really good at it. You’re better off trying different stuff until you find something that does and that you naturally want to do more of.

For Newburg, it’s bike riding. But it’s not about cycling for fitness, weight loss, or even the environment. “Riding just makes me feel free,” he says, “like I’m living out of my chest. And I never tire of that.”

It’s also not about what’s trendy or what other people expect or think of you for doing it. “The No. 1 killer of motivation is judgment,” he adds, “yet people invite it all the time.” When you’re doing what truly makes you feel good, that’s enough.

If you can find your thing—and everybody has one, says Newburg—then you’ll experience a revelation. Fitness will morph from an interruption to life into life itself. Then, and only then, will you be embarking on a streak that’ll endure and one with the potential of eclipsing even Dale Webster’s.

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Attitude, Motivation, Longevity, Health