Words, Actions & Habits

In 1998, I started martial arts. As a wide-eyed nine-year-old who watched Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles, and Dragon Ball Z, my mental depiction of training consisted of punching bags, learning how to use various weapons, and loads of sweating and yelling. Though this was somewhat true, the exercises changed constantly. However, every class started the same—a routine that transcended any type of physical activity. We recited, out loud, our goals for training and our mission as a school. As the students lined up, feet shoulder-width apart and palms cupped together behind our backs at belt level, the instructor prompted “What is our goal?”

We answered, “CANI – Commitment to constant and never-ending improvement, with black belt excellence, sir!” We then recited our student oath. Once black belt training began, we committed to memory Mastery by Stewart Emery and Attitude by Charles Swindoll.

A Tumblr-worthy quote by Frank Outlaw goes,

“Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits”

and so on.

This sequence does hold true. Our habits reflect actions we’ve repeated until automatic, but how do we change our actions or modify our unwanted habits? To do this we must change our beliefs.

But, how do we change our beliefs?

I recall throughout high school and college that whenever the topics of excellence, mastery, or attitude arose in an essay, my language would automatically mirror many of the themes and statements I recited and memorized during training. My words had become my thoughts, and those thoughts became my beliefs. These eventually became my actions and habits.

This is why exercises like words of affirmation, positive self-talk, and what-went-wells are so valuable to alter our mental and emotional states. The rituals we develop keep our minds framed, so developing these positive attitude, growth-mindset oriented practices help us push on day after day.

These days, I don’t recite the words of my old martial arts studio anymore, but they are still ingrained in my belief structure. Every morning as I grab my cup of coffee or ride the train to work, I write in my journal the question Benjamin Franklin would ask himself in the early hours of the morning—what good shall I do this day? I answer it as best as I can. I finish my coffee, then go to work.

What rituals do you use to frame your mind and shape your beliefs? How do they affect your habits?