Tuesday Psych Post ~ Having Problems Sticking to a New Habit?
Whenever we take on new habits, we usually start out with some momentum and enthusiasm. We have typically gotten to a point where we’re fed up and desire to make a significant change in our lives.
All goes well – for the first week or two. We’re gung ho about our “new body” and transforming our body.
Then IT happens?
What is it? We’ve been on a roll and then one day we’re really tired and so we miss the gym. Or we’re really hungry and we allow ourselves to be “free” by drinking as much wine and eating as much food as we want.
What happens next is what I believe to be the cause for 90% of all failures in body transformation (at least those who aren’t Type A personalities).
We do one of two things:
1 – We recognize that instance as something that we don’t like and work harder to make up for it,
2 – We justify that action and allow it to dictate our thoughts the next time.
You see, the decision we make after that instance is key, because it starts to engrain a pattern that will occur every time we are tired or especially stressed. In other words, we are more apt to flock to what is familiar.
For example, if your normal habit after work is to turn on a TV instead of going to the gym, you are more likely to fall back on that pattern of behaving (which is why it’s called a habit) when you’re tired or especially stressed. If after you’ve missed the gym the first time, you use some cognitive dissonance to justify the behavior, you are more likely to continue to use that justification the next time. And the next time and the time after that.
Because you have started the habit of justifying. Those justifications lead to a specific train of thought, which leads you to take a specific action. This then leads you to need to explain that action to yourself which leads you to needing to justify that action again, and takes you back to the original habit.
No where in that chain of events do you allow yourself to move towards the new action you want to take on.
So how do you go about keeping that initial momentum and motivation?
With four steps:
1 – Truly know why you want to change – I don’t care if it’s to impress a girl that you see every day, if it’s because you’re disgusted with the way your body looks or if it’s for an unseen health reason. The bottom line is that you need to truly desire the change that you’re trying to make. Usually aesthetics and competition, whether that competition is against others or your perceived best, play the strongest motivators for change.
2 – After you have figured out why you want to change, find the one or two reasons why you haven’t made the change earlier. Don’t use the, “It wasn’t on my mind,” reason, because that can always be true. Instead be truthful with yourself.
For example, if your problem is that you think eating healthy is “No fun,” delve into that line of thinking. Why is it “no fun?” You do realize that eating healthy does not have to be synonymous with eating bland, tasteless food? If so, you’ve found a limiting step.
There are countless limiting steps people can make up and use, but usually there’s 1 or 2 main reasons why You haven’t been able to change a habit. This is true whether it’s with food or not working out. Find those one or two reasons and you are more apt to be on your way to actually changing them.
3 – Flip those reasons in your head, into reasons that reach to a “higher” element of your identity. In other words, if you see exercising as “torture” think of it as something that reaches a “higher” element of your identity, such as I am a person that sticks to my word and I will stick to my word of going to work out 4 times per week.
If it’s with consistently eating foods that you know you shouldn’t, think about what it’s doing to your body and decide to respect your body – not torture it. In other words, if you eat a lot of sweets, mindlessly snack on potato chips or eat a lot of French fries, think about what those things are doing to your body. Not only are they adding to your waistline, but they’re slowly and imperceptibly ruining your health. Sugar ages the brain at a much quicker rate than almost any other food you eat and is the main cause of type 2 diabetes along with a number of other diseases. The trans fat from fries will start to make changes to your cell structure, making you less likely to burn fat, and increasing your risks of both leptin and insulin resistance.
In other words, if you’re eating a lot of “bad food,” then simply change the way you relate to those foods. Those foods aren’t “delicious” instead they’re like con-men ~ Good at getting you to do something they want (eating them) and then leaving you high and dry at the end. Don’t be conned by those foods.
4 – Make 2 or 3 “If-Then” statements for what you’re going to do when you are tired and or overly stressed. Life happens. Obviously if we want to change our “status quo” habits then we want to practice those new habits when we’re feeling good. On the other hand, what throws us off of our new goals and habits the most is when we feel fatigued, stressed out and hungry. We haven’t had enough time to establish well-engrained new habits and therefore need to mentally rehearse and practice what we will do when “life happens.” This is essential so we don’t mindlessly fall back into habits that will make our life worse.
So how do you make an If-Then statement?
In three easy steps:
1 – Figure out a situation that causes you the most problems (this should already be done from step 2 of why you falter). 2 – Figure out an alternative, actionable step so that you know what you’re going to do, next time you’re confronted with that situation. 3 – Practice that situation in your head a couple of times, and write down that If-Then statement to start to embed that new “fall back” habit whenever life happens.
If you do this step, then you are more likely to actually follow through with your new habits – even during the times when you really don’t want to.
Here are a couple of examples. The two biggest excuses I hear of not going to the gym are, “I don’t have the time,” and, “I’m so tired, all I want to do is rest.”
The perfect, “If-Then” statement is this:
If, I am really tired or feel like I don’t have the time, Then I’ll go to the gym for 5 minutes to stretch. This way, I will start to at least to build the habit of going to the gym and being in that environment. If I feel good after the stretching and have the time, Then I’ll work out for a bit.
From the diet-end, you can have an “If-Then” statement concerning what throws your diet off the most. This can typically range from your work environment to when you go out to eat with your friends and family.
Now, after reading these 4 steps, you might be thinking, “God, this is so stupid and ‘foo-foo’ bs. I’m not doing this, because I don’t have the time.
Seriously though – you do have the time. These steps shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes at most. In all honesty, it should only take around 5 minutes.
So stop simply reading the post and do the work that will allow you to move past your biggest blocks with sticking to a diet. In doing so, you put yourself in charge of your habits instead of the other way around.
If you have any questions about this post or about Personal Training in Hoboken, feel free to email me at John@ThePsychologyOfFitness.com.