How to Make Widespread Changes with Small Wins

If you ever wondered how some Olympic athletes, PowerOfHabit like swimmer Michael Phelps, can routinely outperform their competition at razor thin margins of victory, some credit can go to the keystone habits in their training regimen.

This is according to a new book called the Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize winning staff writer for the New York Times.

In the book, Duhigg outlines how Phelps used the power of positive habits to transform himself into a winner of 22 Olympic medals.

Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman believed creating the right routines were the key to victory. Routines, or keystones habits as Duhigg calls them, would set Phelps apart from his competition.

Duhigg goes into great length in describing Phelps’ seemingly mundane routines, such as:

1. Visualizing the perfect race before falling asleep
2. On raceday, waking at 6:30
3. Eating breakfast at 7 a.m.
4. Stretching at 8 a.m.
5. Listening to the same warmup music at 9:35 before a 10 a.m. race

This sounds so simple, and by itself, it’s hardly believable that it can turn someone into a world champion. And make no mistake, it’s only a piece of a much larger process. This is simply the building blocks to other tiny advantages Phelps gained by training this way. Habits, like these, save us mental energy & help us function productively.

Duhigg writes that once Coach Bowman established some core routines in Phelps’ life, other habits (his diet, practice schedule, sleeping habits, etc.) all fell into place. These keystone habits became “small wins,” which are how keystone habits create widespread change.

“Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win,” Duhigg writes in quoting an unnamed Cornell professor. Duhigg went on to say that small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

One way of using this approach as a public speaker is to break down your prep into segments, like:

Day 1 – research/brainstorm your topic
Day 2: Write the first draft
Day 3: Edit/Rewrite the draft
Day 4: Create/incorporate visual slides, if necessary
Day 5: Rehearse your presentation

Small Wins Approach
Phelps’ practice regimen incorporated the “small wins” approach by finding tiny advantages in training to help him overcome chaotic situations that all swimmers face from time to time, such as goggles filling with water or slipping awkwardly out of place after a dive.

To combat that, Bowman would have Phelps – on some days – swim in the dark, so he could learn exactly how many strokes it took to get from one side of the pool to the other. A keystone habit would be to count his strokes, and know on which stroke number to lunge for the wall at the finish.

As a public speaker, you can use these techniques to learn exactly how long each segment of your presentation should take (i.e. – four segments broken into 15 minutes each). Preparing and rehearsing in this fashion, will prevent enormous headaches, when your boss or conference organizer tells you at the last minute: “We’re short on time, so your speaking time has been slashed from 60 minutes to 30.”

If you have other techniques 0r approaches, feel free to list them below in the comments section below.

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