Mental Tricks and Routines to Help Form New Habits
This may seem obvious, too easy or even too good to be true but in my 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, I have found making the commitment to yourself is the prerequisite to accomplishing positive habit formation. So that’s the foundation, you have to make a commitment to yourself to never quit, never stop attempting to improve everyday. Doesn’t require anything fancy like a contract but you are welcome to draft one up if that resonates with you. Once you are committed to the process of change and improvement then all subsequent steps fall into alignment.
Habit linking is an easy concept to understand and not much more difficult to put into practice. If there’s something that you want to do (a desired behavior) that you are not currently doing then link the desired behavior with something that you do consistently already.
One example, would be developing the habit of staying hydrated throughout the day. One strategy is to front-load your day with water consumption. This strategy means you will drink more water earlier in the day and then taper off toward the evening. That way you don’t have to play catch up at night and consume too many fluids before bed (because you are thirsty) which then interrupts your sleep as you inevitably will wake up to go to the bathroom. So the desired behavior would be to start your day by drinking say 12 ounces of water (about one full glass), say upon waking. Strategies to implement this could include putting a glass of water on your nightstand before you go to bed, having a large glass on your bathroom sink or literally putting your toothbrush behind the glass so that before you can even brush your teeth you must pick up the glass and hydrate. You are therefor linking the “habit” of waking up or brushing your teeth, (something you already do every day) with the desired behavior of drinking more water. Following this system to its logical conclusion provides a framework for creating almost any type of behavior and desired result.
The States of Behavior Change Model
The states of behavior change model teaches us that we must go through each phase of change prior to moving on to the next or we will not create new habits. The five stages are as follows, Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action and Maintenance.
In the precontemplation phase we have not even considered changing our behavior. This could be equated to unconsciously eating anything and everything that is put in front of us. In precontemplation one is simply unaware of any need to change. If I asked you a year ago what are you doing to prepare for the coming global pandemic you would have looked at me like I had two heads. Once we become aware of a problem we can then contemplate whether or not we want to change our behavior.
Thus, the contemplation phase moves us into the state of considering changing our behavior. Our behavior that we want to change, for example, could be overeating. In the contemplation phase the behavior does not need to change. One simply must begin to contemplate what it would be like to make the change. Many people get stuck here and constantly repeat the same behaviors, all the while wishing they behaved differently. “I just don’t have any discipline,” they lament. However, because they are unaware of the need to move to the next stage of behavior change most people never take the correct next steps. Enter the preparation stage.
In the preparation phase one must prepare to change the behavior through education, planning and implementation of varying strategies. At minimum someone who wanted to improve their diet would possibly want to research healthy foods, find out their basal metabolic rate (BMR) and resultant caloric needs, consult with a nutritionist or dietary professional, follow fit or healthy people on social media, buy books and magazines devoted to healthy eating, etc. Basically you would want to surround yourself with accurate information and support groups that would facilitate you moving on to the action phase.
Once you have sufficiently educated yourself you should start to gain the confidence to take action and this put you automatically into the action phase. However, just taking action doesn’t mean that you will be immediately successful, but if you continue to educate yourself as well as refine your action steps progress will be made and changes will start to become evident. This is the same as applying the scientific method to our lives. Results come from doing the work, testing what works and then reapplying oneself to the task. It’s not about willpower as much as it is about working on and developing one’s own personal style and system. Simply, this is how behavior change occurs. Then in order to maintain the behavior you move into the maintenance phase where not as much effort needs to be put into creating the behavior as it does simply maintaining it and keeping it going. This is why people who have devoted their lives to fitness eventually can make it look effortless. Basically they have so many good habits in place that even if they have a cheat day or cheat weekend it doesn’t throw them off course.
You Must Desire Change
Ultimately in changing habits we are changing the outcomes of our life. Therefore, the prerequisite for habit change or new habit formation would be the desire for different outcomes. You literally have to want to solve a problem that you can point to as causing dissatisfaction within your life today. Overeating and not getting in sufficient amount of exercise can both be considered unhealthy behaviors however one is not a prerequisite for fixing the other. In other words, some people may be meticulous with their diet and therefore have a lean or healthy appearing body and therefore see no reason or benefit for doing strenuous exercise. However, if this person was to move into the phase of contemplating what their life would be like if they never chose to improve their strength or fitness level they probably could conclude that eventually their life will be diminished by not having some base level of fitness especially as they get more advanced in years. We have to be willing to examine our lives and not be fearful of finding areas in need of work. That’s where true growth hides, in our areas of dissatisfaction.