Craig Ballantyne has built his career around helping people learn how to achieve their goals in the fitness and personal development space through planning and discipline. Ballantyne runs the site Early To Rise, which offers daily updated articles and resources on health, wealth, lifestyle, and overall well being (including a weekly advice column that he writes every Monday). The following article discusses best practices for how to be disciplined and achieve goals, and is based on an interview done with Ballantyne. You can find the full interview and related materials in the the Science of Skill product, Willpower Overhaul.
The ‘perfect day formula’ was unearthed when Craig recognized similar threads that all of the competition and contest winners shared. “Every time someone won, I would read through their essay, and I’d go, “Wait a minute. They have this. They have this. They have this. They have this. They have this,’” says Craig. These commonalities are summed up in the following five transformational pillars:
1 – Better planning and preparation
2 – Professional accountability
3 – Social support
4 – Meaningful incentive
5 – The big deadline
While all five are essential for achieving lasting change, Craig elaborated on pillars four and five in more detail during our interview. What motivates people to get started in the first place, the trigger or catalyst if you will? Materialistic rewards are common movers at the start. Early to Rise’s contests are usually 12 weeks long, and most people enter because they’re enticed by a $1,000 cash prize (Craig has given away about $150,000 in prizes over four categories and 25 contests to date).
After three or four weeks, those competitors who are going to follow through and achieve have internalized benefits that are more personally meaningful than the green. If it’s a health and fitness contest and a person recognizes and feels good because of increased energy levels and the ability to keep up with his or her children or grandchildren, that person’s motivation going forward is far more anchored in the mental and physical results than in the elusive dollar. These feelings of meaning and value have to stem from real, personal buy-in; trying to achieve based solely on others’ or societal values won’t get a person very far in following through on set goals. Many adults struggle in this area, especially once they’ve fallen into a particular (sometimes unhealthy or undesirable) How can a person determine what’s of real value, what has meaning for them?
Craig advises individuals to begin sorting out and clarifying one’s personal values by creating a long-term vision of your ideal life. Craig, for example, wanted to improve his mindfulness and decided to learn Chess because of the values of wisdom and mindfulness associated with the game; however, he never learned to play. Why? Because learning the game had no real, anchored value for him. Instead, Craig eventually turned to the practice of daily meditation, something he has been able to consistently incorporate into his daily schedule for an average of 20 minutes (though sometimes as few as five minutes) a day.
Last but far from least is the fifth pillar, ‘the BIG deadline’, which Craig calls the most important and crowning pillar. Deadlines inspire action, it’s time-proven human nature, and it’s not just the work deadlines to which we don’t look forward – it’s whatever we’re doing that matters. Whether running a marathon or driving across country to see a friend, the last few miles inspire us to push a bit harder. “It gives you that motivation at the start, keeps you going through the hurdles and the humps as you get halfway through, and then you see the light at the end of the tunnel and you keep on sprinting to the end. That’s why it is so powerful,” says Craig.
A big deadline requires setting your own goals, and one of the best ways to break the process down is to do quarterly planning i.e. figure out what you’re going to accomplish in the next 90 days. If you meet your goal, don’t forget to reward or celebrate in whatever way you see fit; if you don’t meet your goal, it’s also worth having a negative incentive. You don’t want to punish yourself to the point of not picking up where you left off, but you do want to prove to yourself that you’re serious about making progress.
Discipline and rigor are important when it comes to implementing the pillars, and these are habits that become more ingrained over time. Craig notes that when many people read about the need to set ‘rules’ in their lives, they back away and think that rules are too inhibiting. In fact, practicing discipline according to your own inner lights is more liberating. Most people follow rules in their lives, but have never articulated them. Craig uses the example of stopping at a red light in traffic, something that we do automatically to ensure that we get to where we need to go safely and therefore in a timely manner.
Rules are important for getting where you need to go. Craig suggests writing down the most important rules or ‘commandments’ for your life. Frame them with a reason; for example, if you gained 10 pounds because you were eating too much of a certain food, don’t necessarily eliminate that food altogether but set a rule for when you’re able to have it during the week. If someone offers you that food outside of your window, you can refuse based on this self-set rule. Think about your most important valuable goals, whether it’s losing 10 pounds or finishing paying off your student loans first thing every morning.
This same principle goes for working towards a productive goal; for example, if you’re a novelist, you should write first thing every morning, not wait until all other tasks are done for the day. As Craig explains, “Willpower is like energy, you only have a certain amount of it,” and you should use that willpower to your advantage – in the morning – when it’s been refilled after a good night’s rest.
About Craig Ballantyne: Craig Ballantyne has been the Editor of Early to Rise since 2011. He’s also a Strength & Conditioning coach in Toronto, author of Turbulence Training, a contributing author to Men’s Health magazine, and a member of the Training Advisory Board for Maximum Fitness and Oxygen magazines. TurbulenceTraining.com features Craig’s best-selling “Turbulence Training for Fat Loss program” and TTmembers.com offers access to all of his Turbulence Training workouts and video clips (for men, women, mass-building, athletes, and bodyweight-only workouts). Craig also has an advanced research background, completing a Master of Science Degree in Exercise Physiology from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He continues to study the latest training, supplementation, and nutrition research to help clients improve health and wellness, as well as their physical and mental performance.
Image credit: Michael Hyatt
Coach Daniel is the founder and head publisher at Science of Skill, LLC. A martial arts black belt and self defense instructor, Dan has spent years training with and interviewing some of the world's best self protection experts. His passion lies in encouraging others to train smart and to improve the skills that make them safer and stronger.
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