When it comes to making changes in your life, one thing stands out with all our personal training clients, habit change.
Whether you are trying to improve your nutrition, increase activity or improving a skill, building habits can help support this.
That’s the underlying principle behind our entire coaching method. And it works.
Research on human cognition and attention shows that we do our best when we focus on one thing at a time – one goal, one habit, one behaviour, or one task.
Habit changes come from choosing behaviour strategies that become part of a routine or unconscious. These habits begin to be automatic until they are just another factor that we perform consistently in our lives.
Creating these habits can come in both good and bad forms. For every brushing your teeth before bed habit, there is a staying up late weekends habit. Both have unconsciously become part of a routine as you’ve done them so many times.
When you think about it, it becomes pretty clear that habits play a prominent role oinwhether or not you successfully achieve your goals. Let’s say that you’ve read somewhere that a vegetable omelette in the morning the secret to your goals. You barely have time to put on your coat in the morning, but you decide that you are going to create a new habit of cooking and eating this omelette every day for breakfast.
The week starts off strong by waking up an hour earlier to make the omelette. Sure, you’re tired, but you can stick to this! Then the next day the alarm goes early again, you get up, but this time that same can-do spirit isn’t quite there. On the third day as the alarm goes off, you angrily throw the alarm clock out the room and then go back to bed (or was that just me?).
This type of habit is a well-intentioned idea, but it can become a struggle to maintain if the change is unrealistic to our capabilities. We give up on the habit and revert to what we did before, feeling as though we have failed.
Unfortunately, this is a common theme with clients who are trying to improve their health. Extreme calorie restriction diets and unrealistic exercise plans are examples that can bring “results” at the beginning of any personal training intervention. But time and again they can develop into something too challenging to maintain. These quick fixes tend to lead to fast disappointments.
So the obvious answer is to choose habits that we find simple to follow. Pick the low hanging fruit. But that’s too easy you say. Try holding yourself to it for the next two weeks and then we’ll see how easy it is. Trust us, this works.
Choosing a habit such as waking up early to cook food, when before we woke up with barely enough time to get out the door, is unlikely to be manageable.
Instead, waking up slightly earlier and eating a pre-prepared meal (from the night before obviously ;)) is a lot more realistic for us to achieve.
If this is sustained for a consistent period, we can then aim to wake up even earlier and prepare the food in the morning. This process can be followed as long as we find the habit comfortable.
Deciding what type of habit to choose, depends on the person. For some, all they want is to be told what to do, no matter how challenging the habit may seem. For others, even the smallest habits can be challenging to stick to. What is most important is to find what we are comfortable with. We want to believe that we can maintain the habit for the next year, two years, ten years! If this is not the case, the habit needs to be changed or made more manageable.
A useful exercise we use with our personal training clients when they begin a new habit is to ask yourself the following questions:
Can you keep doing this for the long haul? What needs to happen for that to occur?
Some habits may need longer than others to consolidate. Others will happen easily. The primary goal though is to create permanent change that supports you in your journey towards a healthy body composition, performance and above all happiness!