“The Power of Habit” applied to fitness

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“The Power Of Habit”  by Charles Duhigg is a book that sat in my Amazon wish list for a long time before I pulled the trigger and bought it.  While the book made a lot of great points, I wont ruin it by giving you a summary.  Instead, I got to thinking about how the principles in the book reflect value in our fitness pursuits and healthy habits.

As David mentioned in a previous article, we often start out on fitness endeavors fueled by motivation.  However, as time passes, that motivation tends to fade.  Its not a fault of any person, it is just the cyclical nature of motivation.  Sometimes you have tons, others you have none.   Unfortunately, in fitness, the process of furthering yourself is painfully slow.  Accordingly, there’s a really good chance that your drive to continue will wane.  During these times, its important that you have developed habits to carry you through these lapses in ambition.  Below are some tips in making sure you are laying the groundwork for beneficial habits.

1. Identify habits you already have in place.  For a lot of people, this means looking at the big picture of their day, and seeing what is being done without fail each day.  Maybe you wake up, drink coffee, cook breakfast, get dressed, take the dog out, and go to work.  From there maybe you work until lunch, and during lunch you take a nap under your desk.  After work you head home and decompress  a bit, watch a little TV, cook dinner, brush your teeth, and go to bed.  I’m sure there are things that get done within the day, but we are talking about habits. For a lot of people, this is a fairly basic layout of the essential habits they have in place.

2. Assess your goals.  Are they realistic for your lifestyle?  For most people, fitting an within their day to hit the gym is more than reasonable.  Maybe they would have to adjust and wake up earlier, or perhaps hit the gym during their lunch break as opposed to taking a nap.  Statistically, most people make time for the gym after their work day is done.

Want to lose weight? This is one of the most obtainable goals in fitness.  Losing weight requires some time in the gym, and a lot of time addressing your dietary habits.  Want to compete in a powerlifting meet?  This may require a bit more time and planning, as the training is a bit more structured for competitive lifting, but still easily done with proper planning.  Want to hit a bodybuilding show? This is probably one of the most time consuming goals, but again, can be done with some restructuring of your day.

3. Address bad habits.  Seems simple enough.  When you have aggressive training goals, there is really no room for repetitive counterproductive actions.  Maybe you want to lose weight, but at night time you fall apart and start eating everything in the house.  Its time to really zero in on the “cue” that triggers you to binge.  According to Duhigg, cues fall under five categories:  a location, a time of day, other people, an emotional state, or an immediately preceding action.  In the above example, the cue is a time of day and the routine involves getting off the couch and binge eating.  The reward for binge eating is the satisfaction of feeling full.  The reward is the reason we tend to repeat actions, even if they are blatantly harmful.  When looking at these actions, we have to decide if we want to reinforce or change these actions.  Obviously if the goal is weight loss, you will want to change this habit.

4. Rewire bad habits into productive habits.  Once you have identified the offending action, you must either remove the cue, or formulate an attack plan.  If you binge at night, having an action plan is really your only option.  You certainly cannot stop night time from occurring.  If the reward for this habit was feeling full, you have a couple of different options: you can find foods that fill your stomach but are not calorically dense.  Perhaps you can allocate a meal closer to your bedtime so that you are getting a real meal in.  Maybe you should just go to bed.  This is a time to experiment with options that transform your bad habits into productive habits.

5. Repeat your action plan until it is the new habit.  And finally, repeat the most effective plan every time the cue occurs.  Slowly, this new action plan will become the habit and you wont spend much time thinking about it.  Importantly, this starts the trend of WINNING in your fitness life.

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