“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
– Leo Tolstoy

I changed everything over the course of a summer.

Leaving Junior High, I was a borderline outcast. I was practicing all the wrong behaviors to make friends, and didn’t have much to fall back on by way of looks or personality. I could count my friends on a single hand, and even those four people were not very close to me. It had been a lonely and semi-desperate ride, and I knew something had to change. Fortunately, I lived in a neighborhood that ensured very few of my junior high classmates would be attending the same high school. If ever there was a chance for a reset, this was it.

That summer, I worked three jobs to save up money, lost a bunch of weight, decided to take care of my acne issues, bought a few men’s fashion magazines, went about picking out a new haircut, and learned a lot more about the habits of extroverts. There was very little fun about that break, but it quite literally changed the course of my life. All that was missing was a montage.

That first year of high school, I was a full week in before either of the two people I knew from junior high even recognized me. By the time they had, I’d already made five new acquaintances who eventually became great friends. Things were on a decidedly different path. In retrospect, I’m still not certain any of the new friends would have given me a moment’s time without the time I’d put into a “new me.” Always good to get a chance to be the new guy.

Every summer, your Denver Nuggets are afforded the opportunity for some down time. Time to rest their weary and injured bodies, get some time away from each other and the league, and reflect on the previous season. Some players, like Gary Harris, are notorious for their offseason routines, shaving off the rough edges of their games, intending to come back a little more complete and competitive than the guy they’d been the season before. Others nearly disappear, with little insight or news as to what they may be up to, possibly in hopes of achieving some respite from a game that ensures they are connected to a massive fan base at every minute, every turn, and every tweet.

Even as one of the best athletes in the world, there are several effective tools that psychologists and self-help gurus agree can be keys to making sweeping changes when trying to reinvent one’s self, whether by one degree or 180. Here are a few touch points that can make a ton of difference for anyone looking for new outcomes, even a guy whose routine is pretty well set in stone between October and May.

Focus on the Good – It’s an easy line of thought to think that focusing only on the negative is the easiest way laser it out of your game (or life). But making sure to include thinking around what you’ve been doing right not only makes the time spent on the negatives a lot more palatable, it also ensures that you don’t lose the aspects of what made you special in the first place.

Change Your Diet – This works better for those of us who were tubby Junior High kids, or a center who used to drink a ton of Coke, but your diet can also consist of the things you’re feeding your head. Make a shift to how you shove that negative sh—into your skull, and watch how much “weight” you’ll drop. Oh, and don’t drink all that Coke.

Clean Up Your Physical World – It’s so much easier to focus on a task at hand if you don’t have a bunch of visual stimuli making you think about how messed up everything is.

Clean Up Your Emotional World – Same concept as above, and possibly even more important. Whatever baggage you’re bringing along is only going to weigh you down during your own montage.

Change Your Routine – The NBA season is one primarily structured around routine for players, and for damned good reason. An 82-game season is a lengthy slog, and making sure you prepare, train, and approach things the same way time and again is a key to long-term success. But when you’re taking down time and trying to pull things back apart to make them better, you need to shift those routines to jump start growth in new areas.

Get Uncomfortable – It’s so easy during down time to take it for rest and relaxation only. I’ve worked hard already, you say. I deserve that nap and that Dove bar, and that bottle of Coke. OK, I also really like Coke. But when it comes to making changes in a “structure” you’ve already spent a lot of time building, the only way to make true change is to shift a few of those key building blocks. The only way for things to be different is to break away from all of the comfortable habits that got you there. That is nothing shy of uncomfortable.

Try Something New – In addition to changing up the routines in your area of focus, try and stretch yourself in ways you never have before. Try writing something, learning to cook, taking dance classes, or… well, anything. Fly fishing. Needlepoint. Chew on the other side of your mouth. Something. The neural pathways you develop by learning a new skill could very well give you a brand new way to look at your old problems. At worst, they get you away from the thing you have been deeply focused on.

Express Yourself – Similar to the line above, it helps to find ways to get some of the emotion behind your efforts out. For some, that may be taking up a new artistic endeavor, but for others, that could be finding a hobby or way to give to others that resonates deeply and spiritually. Talk to someone you trust about what those things make you feel. Whatever is down there when you deal with all you’re trying to change, let it out, both good and bad. Sometimes you don’t know how you feel about something until the words are literally spilling out of your face.

Go Slow – It took you a loooooong time to get to be an expert at whatever it is you’re trying to shift. Making changes to that will NOT be coming overnight, and that can really try your patience when you’re dying to make a change. Sometimes the hardest person to be patient with is ourselves.

Visualize where you are headed – I struggled with this concept for a long time, the notion that wishing and wanting something could simply be enough to make it happen. I wasn’t buying, and to be fair it’s not wholly true. With no effort, you can visualize yourself in that new spot all day, and find yourself exactly where you started. But seeing your long-term goal in your head (and on your refrigerator door) can not only propel you forward faster than leaving this step out, but can also help you course correct when you find yourself heading off slightly askew.

None of them terribly tough, right? Not as fun as a nap and a bottle of Coke, but nothing in there that is impossible, either. Your favorite basketball team has another month-plus before they come back to start training camp. With so little down time in their lives, it’s important they use that time not only to improve, but to refresh and recharge. Here’s hoping they can each find the time and ways to not only improve themselves on the court, but in ways that makes them healthier, happier, and closer together. Happy Summer Break, Denver Nuggets.

Enjoy that down time wisely.