Have you ever sat down and asked yourself, “why do I do what I do?”. Or “Why do I make the choices I do?” About a year and a half ago I read a book called The Power Of Habit. Not only did the book change my life, but it also changed the way that I approached coaching others. It is my firm belief that if I can get someone to make one positive change it has the ability to change their entire life.
About a year ago I was sitting on my couch flossing my teeth. Mid way through pulverizing my already bleeding gums I asked myself “why can I not make this a habit”. My entire life my hygienist would say “you have to floss your teeth or you’ll lose them”. Every time I got out of that chair I would leave with a sense of “I’m going to do this once and for all”. Then I would leave, do my part for a few days, and fall right back into the slump of not prioritizing my oral health.
Now, at this point I’m sure you thinking where the fuck is this dude going with this meaningless teeth post. I’m getting there I promise. Us coaches are really not that different from the person screaming profanities at us while we show them how to exercise. We may not have been exactly in your shoes, but like everyone else we have bad habits, future goals, and people we look to to help us better ourselves. The thing is, most good coaches, and those that make their health a priority have SYSTEMS in place that set them up for success. Since I made flossing a nightly habit a little over a year ago I really sat down and asked myself, “How can I replicate this?”. How can I use this system to help other people, and also change my own life for the better. After all, we all have bad habits, kind of like staring at this computer screen at 9:15pm when I should be resting for my early start tomorrow (I know, I know, shoot me).
So, getting back to the book. In The Power Of Habit there is a phenomenon discussed called a habit loop. Basically, the brain gets what’s called a craving which sparks a chain of events that eventually leads to a habit. The reason why our brain does this is it frees up space for our brain to focus on more challenging tasks. For example, let’s say you wake up and you feel a bit tired. Well the nearest Starbucks is 10 feet away. So instead of dealing with the tiredness you pop on over for your Veinti Iced Frappuchino Mocha Chai Latte with extra whipped cream and happiness. Boom, you have just taken the first step to creating a habit loop. Because in this situation you have given your brain a positive response to its craving. Now, this habit can be fine, but we all know that friend that survives on Monsters and black coffee. Many times it gets to the point where you start grabbing a coffee even on the days you wake rested just because it’s part of your daily routine.
That’s kinda how it is with poor health habits. Do you know how easy our society makes it to get what you want when you want it at all times? You can literally walk out your door and be surrounded by a smorgasbord of your favorite treats and delights all within walking distance. Heck these days with the tip of your fingers some weird guy will deliver your favorite food right to your door, right after he eats a few of your fries that is. Or skipping the gym. Not only do you have the most hectic of days, but now you have to find an extra 60 minutes to get to the gym not including drive time. This shits hard man, help me.
The truth is, the more these decisions are made the deeper and deeper we dig that habit loop. Can’t cook, no problem let’s just hit Uber Eats. No gym, no problem I’ll fill my time with TV at the end of the day that really de-stresses me. The thing most people miss when they walk through my doors is we have to now undo several years of the same choices and habit loops all without having any extra time in the day. It can be a bit much for well everyone.
That is why I believe in tackling just one thing at a time. Cue the flossing story. After about a month of flossing on the reg (oh yes this is how I speak) staring in my bathroom mirror at my pearly whites I thought “I’m onto something here”. So next I thought why not start doing the dishes every night. Boom 6 months later now it’s a rarity to see dishes in my sink overnight. Was it perfect? Nope I missed some days. Was it easy? Definitely not, and as I said I didn’t win every day, but every day I focused on that one habit. Over and over and over until it just became the new normal.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “I have so many things to change, making just one change won’t be enough to see progress”. Let me tell you why you are wrong. Sure maybe eating an extra serving of vegetables might not get rid of the extra holiday fluff you’ve been working on since Christmas. But, you know what it will do? It will give you momentum, and it will show you that you have the ability to grab your life by the balls and show it who’s the boss. Because one serving of vegetables a day plants a seed (literally according to my siblings when I was young) of bettering your health. One serving of veggies becomes two, then 5, then before you know it your plate has more veggies on it than pasta. Then you start taking a loop around the neighborhood because you have extra energy from those veggies you just crushed. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And you know what it’s not sexy to sell this stuff. Everyone want’s to talk to you about their new diet pill or magic vitamin. But, how often does someone ask you how happy you are with your habits?
Now, usually when I sit down with a client I walk them through a step by step process of how to change different things and when, but for the sake of making a blanket system I think there are a few steps you should take when forging a new habit.
1) Start small
Whatever the easiest thing is for you to change, start there. Most people get. Discouraged easily especially when it has to do with health and weight loss. The more positive wins you can create for yourself the better.
2) Be realistic
If you aren’t working out at all right now and you make the goal of lifting 2 hours a day 5 days per week odds are you are setting yourself up for failure. Not everyone, but for most that’s a bit too big of a bite. If you aren’t doing any activity even taking a 10 minute walk 3x per week will do wonders for your health and wellness.
3) Ask yourself why you do what you do
Recently I started cutting our caffeine in my diet. My caffeine came in the form of a delicious Bang almost every day, even when I wasn’t tired. When working on cutting it out I really thought about why I drank them. Yes they give me energy, but in reality they just taste amazing and that was the main reason why I drank them. So I picked up some flavor drops and started replacing my bang with flavored water. If you can figure out what exactly the habit you have now is doing for you it becomes much easier to change it.
4) Create a system
When I started flossing my system was to make sure the picks were in sight every night when I went to brush my teeth. If I saw them it was a constant reminder of this is what I have to do every day. Your system could be removing easily consumable food from your work station, that way when the boss loses their shit it won’t send you down the sour patch hole.
5) Expect to fail a little and be ok with it
It’s not going to be perfect and most days it isn’t going to be pretty. But, that’s why we start small and work our way up. It’s much less discouraging to have one loss after you’ve had 10 wins rather than to start your journey out losing. Some days life will get in the way. You’ll miss the gym, you’ll gorge out on that popcorn, whatever, shit happens move on. Remember you got this.
“And once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom and the responsibility to remake them” - Charles Duhigg