Life is not a spectator sport.
Modern society, however, is set up to encourage spectators rather than participants.
We live vicariously through video games, reality TV and social media – and the net effect is that we build habits that keep us on the sidelines; keep us from getting in the game ourselves.
For too long, I allowed this trap to keep me from pursuing my writing. I also used it as an excuse to let myself go physically – after all, it’s a heck of a lot easier to watch a triathlon than it is to compete in one.
I’ve always admired the doers in life –people who push themselves to new heights in whatever discipline they choose; who seem to have a knack for success, no matter the odds against them.
But it’s one thing to draw inspiration from others – it’s quite another to allow their work and achievements to distract you from pursuing your own goals.
There’s a fine line between spectating and participating; action and inaction; living and merely existing.
Being a spectator is easy; it’s passive behavior that demands no effort or intellect. It allows you to take the path of least resistance, which often leads to destructive choices:
Order a pizza – Not cook a healthy meal
Surf the internet – Not learn a new skill
Watch TV – Not exercise
Browse social media – Not have one-on-one conversation
Consume – Not create
None of these choices are inherently bad on their own, but there is a healthy time, place and way to use each of them. The problem is that if not used in moderation, they allow you to put off the better choice indefinitely.
And indefinitely easily becomes forever.
The simple way to eliminate bad habits is to replace them with better ones. The excuse we too often use, however, is that forming good habits is too difficult – which releases us from changing our behavior and allows us to wallow in our bad habits.
So how long does it take to form a good habit?
There is a well-traveled myth that forming a new habit takes 21 days, but it is an oversimplification. In 2010, The University College of London performed a study on habit-forming that showed the amount of time required to form new habits varied widely, depending upon the complexity/difficulty of the habit as well as individual ability to adapt to new behavior. The study effectively debunked the 21 day habit-forming myth:
“Interestingly, however, there were quite large differences between individuals in how quickly automaticity reached its peak, although everyone repeated their chosen behaviour daily: for one person it took just 18 days, and another did not get there in the 84 days, but was forecast to do so after as long as 254 days.”
Personally, I’ve found that if I repeat something for roughly two weeks, it becomes a habit – so I must be on the lower end of the UCL test sample. That’s good for me, but there’s another side to it. It takes me two weeks to form a good habit, but I’ve also noticed that I can break it again with as little as one to three days of neglect.
Which means I have to work to maintain it.
Leo Babauta wrote a great article on how to habituate behavior through the simple act of starting; repeating his advice is also great for continuing that behavior. Making it easier to start and continue a habit is key. The easier you make it on yourself to just keep doing something, the less likely it is that you’ll give up.
Bad habits are easy to keep up – which is why they so quickly become habitual.
Good habits take more work – so make that work as easy as you can.
The point is that if you’ve formed a life habit of being a spectator, you’ve taken the easier but less fulfilling route, and eliminated yourself from the contest altogether.
You’ve willingly joined the crowd, faded into the background, sat on the sidelines.
Living your life to its greatest potential requires hard work, focused action and good habits.
It requires you to participate, not spectate.
So get moving.
Get off the bench.