The Psychology Of Fitness

Mindsets, Body Types and Everything In Between

Large vs. Small Changes, pt. 2

What is better, Large or Small Changes when it comes to incorporating exercise into your life? Part 1 discussed some issues I’ve had with both of these measures.

The answer I’ve come to discover is multi-faceted.  You must make a large change and a small change and if that sounds a bit confusing, let me explain.  For those in the contemplative, preparatory phases of change who begin to take action, they typically want to see results…FAST.  And if they don’t see the results by yesterday, they aren’t happy (but I guess that goes more to managing expectations, a future post).  They also typically try to be “perfect”, sort of like me with my super-program and diet, without laying any foundational aspects.

So what should they do?  One is they should create behavioral standards that are much higher then they’re currently at…the large change.  If you’re only working out 0-1 times per week, make it a goal to workout 6 days per week and only focus on that (especially if you have a strong enough why, a plan and support).  In doing so, you “aim for the stars” while only changing one habit.  The second thing you do is to make only that one change and let everything else stay at maintenance…the small change.  You workout 6 days per week, but it’s only for 30 minutes each time.

So, one is you have to create much higher behavioral standards for yourself and typically with those higher standards, you may miss at the beginning by aiming for the moon, but if you have accountability and support, you’ll land amongst the stars.  The problem with the program I ran last year was that those newer and higher standards weren’t in place and so all they were reaching for, felt like mediocrity.  And mediocrity is not something that gets us motivated and moving.

And unlike my superprogram, you focus on just one aspect of it.  You don’t try and change your diet, your supplements (and hence your budget/priorities) and your workouts.  Focus on your workouts.  Complete those.  Do that for three months, with higher standards and then pick another one thing to change.  In doing so, you have “non-perfect” measures built in.  I don’t have to eat like I’m going to compete in a bodybuilding contest next month and that’s alright.  And if I miss a workout, shit I can make it up, and I know that I only have to focus on improving that.  Getting to the gym consistently.  Nothing else.  Not a super program.  Just get to the gym.  Even if I have a shitty workout, I got to the gym.  And that’s all I am working on.

With enough time, I will be so far from where I was originally at, that adding more quality or time to my routine or adding another day shouldn’t come off as hugely frightening and I can progress from there.

Oh and here’s one more random tidbit of information.  If you are going to change ONE habit, how long should you have done it before you think it’s something you can do keep and adhere to easily and hence, it’s a “habit”?  Most people say 21 days is the magic number, but I think that’s complete bullshit.  Many people cite that time length, because psychologists did a study that showed if you want to change a habit, 21 days is typically the amount of time you need to change that habit.  The only problem with is that, is the study they’re getting this information from was one in which they were getting people to drink 8 cups of water a day.  Hence, it’s not something you really have to change your life completely around for and can for the most part, easily incorporate into your day.  So if something that really isn’t that hard to do takes 21 days, imagine the amount of time for something that is larger in nature.  I think the golden number I’ve heard is 90-100 days for those larger changes.  If you can conquer a habit for 90-100 days, AND your mindset has changed so that it no longer takes self-discipline along with a constant conscious effort to incorporate that HABIT into your life, then I think it’s fair to say that you have obtained a new habit.  From experience,  it’s usually anywhere between 3 – 8 weeks where people start to get caught up in a habit change.  At the beginning their “why” is in the front of their mind and their willpower can sustain them.  After 3 weeks, that why and willpower wears off, they get tested (just like they did the first 3 weeks) and they start to doubt their own change and fortitude to keep it up.  They start to crave the known, even though they KNOW logically, that they want to change that known.  They start to revert back to their old habits out of convenience, because their emotions took over and  completely forget why they started to make the change in the first place.  Again, this typically occurs because the change they took on was too large for them to maintain in the first place.

So with all of that said, let me wrap this up with some points to remember:

1—Create a higher standard of behavior to hold yourself accountable to.

2—Pick only ONE aspect and behavior to change.  Maintain the rest of your habits, as is.

3—Give yourself enough time to create that habit.  Don’t do a New Year’s Resolution type of habit change where tomorrow you think you will transform into Cinderella and live as a princess forever.  Instead, Give yourself a fair amount of allotted time (100 days) to take on that new habit.

4—Start on Day 1.  When you slip up, which you will inevitably do, forgive yourself and keep moving forward.  Focusing only on that one aspect, until you’ve got it locked down.

5—Not talked about in the article, but I think is still critical to success:  Enjoy the journey, even if the work feels like a bitch at times.  Love that bitch for all she’s worth, because if you don’t you’ll fight it the whole time and even if you reach 100 days through sheer willpower, you’ll revert back to your old ways because your mindset has never been transformed.

In the end, it’s your life and God-willing , you’ll be here in a year either way.  The question is, will your life have changed for the better, or will you be in the same crappy place as you’re in now?  The choice is yours.

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0 comments found

  1. It’s the rule for experimentation! Change one variable at a time, otherwise your results won’t tell you what you’ve tested at all.

    What studies did you cite for the 90-100 day theory? I need to hack into the Rutgers Journals subscriptions… mmm. knowledge.

    And you know me… I’m a contingency person. What happens when that ONE change falls through… because it’s tied to so many other changes like your finances, your family, your worktime, etc? I would probably guess: find a new change[?] But even then, that digs into your sense of belief you can obtain the goal doesn’t it? How do you know what to do first?

    I can’t wait for your post on managing expectations. *twiddles thumbs*

    1. Yes, changing one variable at a time is the rule for experimentation, but that doesn’t mean that that’s what people do in their lives. In fact, they often do the opposite and follow the all or nothing rule.
      As for the studies I used, I can’t remember where I read it and that’s why I’m writing a blog and not scientific papers on the subject. There were two points to this post: 1 – It’s not the amount of time that it takes you to make a change, but how long that change persists afterwards. If it takes someone 2 years to lose a measly 50 pounds, but they keep it off for life, then that’s a friggin success. If on the other hand someone takes 3 months and loses 50 pounds, but then puts it all back on in the following 6 months, that to me is a failure.
      In the case when you fail at making ONE change happen, then you need to go back and make sure that that’s what you truly desire. If you can’t make ONE change in your life, then you are either helpless or don’t want to change. The amount of self-discipline you have is always correlated to your actual desire to change and not necessarily your professed desire. This is why I was able to change so quickly when I was younger. I hated the walls that had been put up by others and felt restricted. Bring those walls down and Boom! Instant change. For the example I gave where I failed, it also relates back to desire…I didn’t want to really change all that much. I like my body for the most part and have no real intentions of making those drastic changes unless I truly want drastic changes in my body. It’s like smokers that logically say that they want to quit, but emotionally, they’re like, “F’ that, I’m going to have a cigarette and no one is going to stop me.” There’s conflicts of interest in that change (and that’s a future post also.)
      As for your example, I’m thinking you might have missed the whole point of the post, with the second part of the post being: Changing one thing doesn’t have to put your whole life in disarray. So if you’re saying that you can’t take on exercise without these other things being effected, that’s nonsense. If someone can purchase a 20-lb dumbbell (not even a pair) and bust their for 15 minutes 6 days a week, they have effectively not changed their finances or intruded on their family or career time. They don’t need super duper workout clothes, with a super duper gym and special supplements…all they need is to find 15 minutes, 4-6 days per week to start a lifetime habit. They can build it up from there.
      If they truly do want to change and are having conflicts of interest, then yes, typically it does go back to their beliefs.
      As for what to do first, there are no set rules. Some people like overcoming obstacles and “building self-esteem” one day at a time by taking action. As they take action, they start to find justifications and reasons for continuing which eventually builds into a form of identity for themselves. Other people have problems even thinking about having fitness be a part of their identity and hence may start with self-discovery, beliefs and conditionings as to why they think they’re incapable in the first place. The bottom line to all of it is, start something. Good or bad, you would have learned something and then use that knowledge.

  2. I understand now. I grasped at the fact that yes, your amount of discipline aligns closer to your actual desires… meaning if you were disciplined enough to change your frequency going to the gym and nothing else, you truly have the desire to change your exercise habits. I guess what I meant was your opportunity cost to those 30-min sessions 6 times per week at the gym… whether you usually spend time with your kids, do work, etc. You’re saying that if your prior engagements come back to haunt you and you give in… this means your “changed” habit never really aligned with your actual desire to change in the first place, correct? And how is that combatted with what your true desires are as opposed to what is “right” or “better” for you? Because granted… if I failed at something as simple as just ATTENDING the gym 6 times a week for 30 minutes with no attention to intensity, duration, or mode… according to you, I wouldn’t have a “true” desire to be healthier, even though I know it’s “right” for me. I would be pretty bummed and confused as to what my TRUE desires would be if I knew I wanted to be healthier, etc.

    apologies. my brain vomits every so often.

    1. I think you’re confusing one’s true desire to change a habit with one’s overall priorities. One’s priorities can be pretty consistent, but if you honestly can’t align one aspect of change, into a time frame of 100 days, and you started on day 1, with your overall life priorities, then yes, I think you should be bummed and confused as to what your TRUE desires are. Also, I’m not saying that 6 times per week for 30 minutes is the gold standard of one change…it can be 3 times a week of just going to the gym and stretching, which to me might not be a lot, but to someone else might be HUGE.

      Also, NO…I am not saying that if there was bad planning on your part and prior engagements got the best of you, that you don’t want it. I am saying to Re-Adjust and continue to figure out how to integrate that ONE change into your life.

      And if you remember from a previous post, The Crucial Step in any Successful Change, I talked about Shame, Guilt and Regret as being three great catalysts for change. If you “Truly” want to change and don’t feel those things when you fail to make one change in your life, then you’re bullshitting yourself. And if you do feel those things, then you’ve gotten feedback. Figure out what is holding you back and adjust course. If after you do that, you still aren’t changing that ONE habit, then continue to adjust course, etc. If it is something you TRULY desire, then honestly, you’ll get it done. If not, then you will just find more and more excuses.

      I don’t know what else you’re looking for, because honestly, if you or a “hypothetical” individual are doing these things and can’t integrate one change in their lives, they better be working 90 hours a week, raising 2 small children on their own and going to school full time, because if not, they’re just bullshitting themselves. And that’s fine, but don’t expect miracles when that occurs.

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