The power of habit

I read the newsletter from below today and thought it would be useful to share. You don’t need to be a swimmer for it to be relevant to you, it’s about how consistent routines, or habit, can be very powerful. I add my own reflections at the end.

Yes yes, I know, the word routine is generally pejorative, signalling boredom and staleness. 

"Same old routine." 

"That was very routine."

But there is a lot of power in consistent routines.

I read a book by Charles Duhigg recently called The Power of Habit, which I highly recommend for just about anyone. It breaks down how habits are formed, why we have them, and just how ridiculously powerful they can be (both good and more notably, the bad). 

(Note: I used myself as a guinea pig using some of the principles outlined in this book to alter one habit that had previously remain unchanged since birth for yours truly... Namely, making my bed. My mother would be proud to learn that I have made my bed every day since. Of course, this is a very tiny example of what is possible using the power of habit, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to boast about my made bed. Whammy!)


It's probably not surprising to hear that Phelps, the greatest Olympian of all time (and a so-so swimmer I guess...) had systems and routines in place for his swimming.

He prepared the same before big races. He ate the same meals on race days. Two hours before race time he'd begin the same stretching routine, starting with his arms and moving down to his ankles. 

His warm-up was identical, doing a mixed 800, 600 kick, 400 pull, 200 of various drills, and a few 25m sprints to give his heart rate a start. 

This set of routines was what helped him swim to a world record while completely blind in Beijing.


When Bob Bowman first stumbled across a young Phelps, he knew the kid was gifted. And more importantly, he knew that what would eventually make Phelps great would be his mental approach. How he approached his races. How tough he would be when anxiety and doubt made their appearance.

To help calm an over-excited Phelps as a youth, Bowman would instruct Phelps to "put the videotape in" when he went to bed at night. The videotape wasn't a movie, a DVD or a television show. It was a mental rehearsal of the perfect race. 

Phelps would lay in bed, eyes closed, and visualize every nook and cranny of the race. The start, diving into the water, his finger tips flicking the water at the end of his stroke. He visualized the lead up to the race, which he did in identical fashion each time. He swung his arms three times right before the race, the same way he always did. 


In Beijing in 2008, during the 200 butterfly, an event that he had dominated without peer for the better part of a decade, the competitive swimmer's nightmare came to fruition for Phelps - his goggles filled with water. 

Most swimmers would freak out. Panic would swell up inside them, tensing them up, sending their mind into a deep spiral of anxiety and panic.

Phelps was as calm as ever.

He'd imagined scenarios like this one in his nightly "videotape" sessions. (Bowman had even once had Phelps train in a darkened pool in anticipation of such an equipment failure.)

Knowing how many strokes he had to do, Phelps powered his way through the last 50m completely blind, touching the wall in a new world record.

He was asked afterwards what it felt like to swim without vision. "Like I imagined it would," was Phelps telling response.

It was routine, it was "boring."`

What routines do you have? When you think about this question you’ll probably become aware of a few routines that you consciously perform, or habits that serve you well.

For example, what’s your routine for getting up in the morning? Do you jump up when the alarm goes or do you hit snooze? If you hit snooze, do you do that once or multiple times? Do you allow for that in the time that you set the alarm? I tend to hit snooze twice. Perhaps I should just set my alarm later and get up when it goes off!

Let’s look a little deeper. There will be thousands of routines that you run automatically that you’re just not consciously aware of…..

  • I bet that when you put trousers on that you start with the same leg each time.

  • If you park your car at the supermarket, at work, or at the leisure centre, given a choice do you park in roughly the same place?

  • How do you know how to open a door? You will have learned that the handle is always on the edge of the door that swings open and the hinges on the side that pivot. Whether you push or pull is the variable with a handle often indicating that you pull.

  • With the English language you’ve learned that you read a book from front to back and pages from left to right and top to bottom.

There are literally thousands or even millions of routines that you do to simplify life. If you had to consciously think about everything you did, you’d probably never make it out of the house.

Most habits and routines are helpful. You can use these to build success. Wouldn’t it be useful to predictably take yourself into a peak performance state? There are NLP and hypnosis techniques that can help you build a trigger to take you into this state on demand.

Just occasionally routines are not helpful. For example, some people get extremely nervous before a big event. The sort of nerves that have a detrimental impact on performance. Some people have an irrational and unwarranted fear of something innocent - maybe a teddy bear. Again there are NLP and hypnosis techniques that can help you update your ‘programme’ to something more appropriate - building a new and more position habit.

If you have an unhelpful habit that you want help to resolve or you want to learn how to build a new positive habit, get in touch with me for more information. If you want to learn how to create a peak performance state at will, I can help you with that too.

How are you going to build routines and habits to create success? ~ 07702 814690 ~