Recently, I coached a young woman whom I'll call Mary about how to make critical lifestyle changes. Mary had always struggled with her weight. She had no control over her eating and she could not maintain a consistent exercise program. That's when I suggested that Mary try the 5-Minute Success Strategy to help her overcome her problem behavior. The beauty of this strategy is that you can use it both to eliminate an unwanted behavior and establish a desired one.
STOPPING WHAT YOU DON'T WANT
I told Mary that anytime she felt compelled to eat when she wasn't hungry, she was to commit to not eating for 5 minutes. If she still felt the urge to wolf down unwanted calories after the 5 minutes had passed, she was to refrain from eating for another 5 minutes. Often, one or two 5-minute sessions are sufficient to allow the urge to pass. However, if Mary still felt that she had to eat, I told her to continue to commit to not eating for 5 minutes at a time until the urge disappeared.
I used this strategy personally when I decided to quit smoking. In the days of the dinosaurs when I quit smoking, nicotine withdrawal aids did not exist. The only way someone who was addicted to cigarettes could successfully quit (make no bones about it ? I was smoking up to 2 packs a day and was definitely addicted to nicotine) was through sheer determination and strength of will. Of course, a few mind games were also useful and that's mainly what I used.
For a long-time smoker, the urge to have a cigarette is often overwhelming. When I made the decision to become a non-smoker, the thought of never being able to smoke again brought sheer terror to my mind. It seemed like an impossible task that I was certain I could not achieve. So I decided not to quit forever. I would just focus on not smoking for the next 5 minutes. Sometimes I had to not smoke 5 minutes at a time for six straight times in a row. But each time, I only focused on not smoking for a measly 5 minutes. This might seem like a simplistic mind game, but it worked for me. I have been smoke free for 24 years and I have never had a relapse.
What would you like to stop doing? Would you like to stop blowing up when the people on your team don't meet their commitments? Do you want to stop getting stressed when you find yourself having to wait for other people? When you want to eliminate an unwanted behavior, don't focus on changing it forever. Just stop doing it for 5 minutes at a time.
ACHIEVING WHAT YOU DO WANT
Getting back to Mary, I told her to begin some sort of exercise program (after getting clearance from her doctor). She had tried to maintain exercise programs in the past, but invariably she came up with excuses and quit. Once again, I pulled out my 5-Minute Strategy. I told Mary to commit to doing some type of physical activity every day for 5 minutes. If she started to come up with an excuse for one type of activity such as walking ("My back hurts, I can't walk."), then she was to switch to something else ("You can ride a bike.") The idea was for her resist every excuse for not doing what she wanted to do for at least 5 minutes. When people commit to doing something no matter what happens, they realize after they begin it, that it isn't as difficult as they had imagined.
I use this strategy with my running program. I am trying to reach a point where I can run 60 minutes straight. The mere thought of it boggles my mind. When I think of me being able to run 60 minutes at one time, the first thing that comes to my mind is, "No way! You'll never be able to do that." That's when I pull out my 5-minute strategy. Each week I build my distance by 5 minutes.
Last week, I went from running 30 minutes straight to 35 minutes without stopping. On the first day that I am scheduled to increase the running time, I don't focus on the new target because then all of my doubts begin to surface. What I do is focus on the amount of time that I have already been able to run successfully. So last week when I began my run, I was only planning on running 30 minutes, which I knew I could achieve since I had already run it several times before. When I got to the point where I had run 30 minutes, then I decided to run for only 5 more minutes, because running for only 5 minutes is easy. Net result? I ran straight for 35 minutes, which was really my goal. It's another mind game, but it gets results.
What do you want to achieve on a regular basis? Do you want to become more computer savvy? Do you want to get more organized in your work? Then focus on building the new skills and behavior by using 5-minute increments. Commit to doing the new behavior for only 5 minutes. Then you can add another 5 minute segment, and then another, and before you know it, you will have adopted the desired behavior.
The 5-Minute Success Strategy may seem simplistic, but it is a powerful technique that can allow you to take control of your behavior and your destiny. Most people do not make changes easily. They fall back on patterns that are familiar. When you use this strategy, you are making small changes that will allow you to transform your behavior in an easy, natural, painless manner.
Della Menechella is a speaker, author, and trainer who helps organizations achieve greater success by improving the performance of their people. She is a contributing author to Thriving in the Midst of Change and the author of the videotape The Twelve Commandments of Goal Setting. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to free Peak Performance Pointers e-zine - send blank e-mail to email@example.com.