Your habits decide on victory or defeat.
Not only in the gym but also generally in life, habits dictate most of our actions. But today’s article is all about Fitness Habits. We will cover:
But what are the most important habits for fitness success?
Strategic Habits for Achieving Fitness, Health & Aesthetics
Every day we are confronted with a multitude of environmental triggers and many choices we have to make. It may seem that the choices we make are careful and well considered. Furthermore, it seems that they are based on rationality and deliberate information processing, but in truth, we reflect our behavior very little (or not at all).
Sometimes our behavior is an automatic response to a stimulus from the environment. Such triggering stimuli may be impulsive responses to certain characteristics of foods, such as food. Our behavior can also be triggered by a particular situation, such as the birthday cake at work, which a colleague has brought. Surprisingly, our intentions for a specific behavior do not make very good predictions about how we do it exactly as planned.
Habits, therefore, play a fundamental role in modulating our behavior and strategically helping us achieve our goals in terms of fitness, health & aesthetics.
What is a habit?
A “habit” is both an abstract and socially defined concept, so there is no “correct” way to define it.
Some definitions describe a habit as a very specific behavior that is generated by specific processes, while others see a habit as a tendency to action for a particular behavior or as an automatic nature of behavior. The latter definition is probably the most useful because it allows us to explore the underlying cognitive processes of behavior. The definition is therefore retained for the remainder of this contribution.
Which types of behavior are habitual?
Habits have been applied to a variety of health-related behaviors, including diet, physical activity, and alcohol intake.
It is important to note that such behaviors, such as physical activity, consist of a series of steps (e.g., packing a gym bag, going to the gym, changing clothes, starting a workout, etc., etc.).
When this behavior becomes habitual, it does not necessarily mean that all aspects of this behavior are subconscious. The ride or walk to the gym may be habitual, but performing the exercises in the gym is likely to require conscious thinking (thinking in terms of a number of reps and sets to complete, etc.). Of course, the reverse can also be the case – have you ever seen someone tear down kilometers on the treadmill?
How long does it take to form fitness habits?
You’ve probably heard the phrase “It takes 21 days to change a habit.” The magical number 21 appears in many articles about the formation of habits, but little is known about its origin.
So where do these magical “21 days” come from?
In the preface to the book “Psycho-Cybernetics” by Dr. med. Maxwell Maltz, states the following:
“It usually takes at least 21 days to bring about an effect that results in a perceptible change in the mental image. After surgery, the average patient usually needs 21 days to get used to his new face. If an arm or leg has been amputated, the “phantom limb” will last for about 21 days. People who move into a new home need about 3 weeks before it feels like they are “at home”. These, and many other typically observable phenomena, tend to show us that it takes at least 21 days to replace an old mental image with a new one. “ Maxwell Maltz
It is unclear how anecdotal evidence from patients undergoing surgery in plastic surgery has led to such broad generalization. Although the “21 days” rule may be used to habituation in plastic surgery, it can not easily be applied to habitual patterns of behavior.
So, if it does not take 21 days for a new habit to form, how long does it take?
Researchers at University College London (UCL) conducted a comprehensive study on habits formation. Participants – in response to a daily stimulus (e.g., after breakfast) – performed self-directed, healthy dietary or activity behaviors (e.g., drinking a glass of water). They were required to provide daily reports on how automatically (habitual) the behavior felt. The scientists were accompanied for 84 days.
Interestingly, there was a big difference in the automation of behavior in individuals. It takes only 18 days for one person, and another for no less than 84 days, although it was previously predicted that it would take 254 days. There was also a variation in the strength of the habit.
It is possible that some behaviors are better suited to forming habits than others. The strength of habit for simple behavior patterns reaches its zenith sooner than for more complex patterns of behavior. It is also possible that individuals differ in how quickly habits form and how strongly they are formed. This means that it probably takes more than 21 days to establish a behavioral habit – but with each repetition, the behavior becomes more and more automatic.
How do we form fitness habits?
It is not enough to know how long it takes for a behavior to become a habit. We also need to learn how to steer and promote the process.
The first step in forming habits is putting our intentions into our behavior. The pure intention to do something does not say much about whether we will actually do it (how many people solemnly swear that they start their diet on Monday?). Studies have found that among individuals who have an intention to do something, less than 50% of individuals actually do what they say. This phenomenon is known as the “intention-behavior gap”; You have to do it, but do not do it in the end.
Intentions for implementation represent a kind of “action plan” that specifies when and where behavior is performed.
For example, instead of saying, “My goal is to go to the gym 3 times a week,” which is non-specific (enough), it would be better to say, “I’ll be on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 5:00 pm Work go to the studio “. It also contains the stimulus that serves for conditioning (after work).
Make a plan B
Intentions for implementation also include “if-then” plans that serve as backup.
For example, “If I have to work longer on Monday, then I will catch up on Tuesday morning, at 6 o’clock in the morning.” It is important to record such plans, as this will ensure that there are obstacles on the way encounter, be expected and successfully overcome.
It has also been shown that this method increases the likelihood of behaving and habits over time. It is believed that this anchors attention to a particular situational stimulus and thereby forms a stronger relationship for specific behavior. It is important to note that omission (e.g., a missed workout) has little effect on habitual behavior as long as behavior resumes shortly thereafter. A good example of this is e.g. the flexible diet.
Stay consistent with your habits
Once we have begun to perform a certain pattern of behavior on a regular basis, it is important that you also remain committed to achieving your goal. Studies have shown that repetition usually depends on how pleasant the behavior is perceived by the individual.
This is not too surprising, but it emphasizes the importance of seeing the process as enjoyable.
How can we maintain fitness habits?
Satisfaction is an important factor in maintaining the behavior you need to achieve your goal. This is so important because it is an affirmation to the individual that the decision to practice the behavior was the right one.
Satisfaction occurs when you actually achieve the desired goals that you want to achieve with the behavior.
For example, you want to become leaner by taking a workout program and tracking your calorie and macronutrient intake. This can be problematic if people have unrealistic ideas about the consequences of their behavioral change (for example, go to the gym for a month and expect a six-pack). Expectations need to be appropriately assessed and adjusted at the beginning and during the process – this is very important to ensure continuity.
Research suggests that individuals should focus on different outcomes that are related to their behavior depending on their goals. This may focus attention on outcomes that are unexpected.
For example, if you change your diet, it may be better to focus on having more energy and better digestion, rather than stiffening only on fat loss.
There are a number of variables involved in self-observation that can help you maintain your behavioral change permanently. For example, tracking gym performance, energy levels, sleep patterns, and measures such as weight on the scale. Studies have shown that so-called “self-monitoring” can be an effective way to get people to stick to their behavioral change, especially when there is positive feedback (such as from the trainer).
Self-observation can also ensure that goals are modified when necessary (depending on the goals achieved or missed).
For example, if you are going through a stressful period and the fat loss is stagnating for several weeks, it may be useful to take a break from your diet and temporarily maintain it. This measure should increase the efficiency in the studio, as well as the energy levels and sleeping capacity.
Self-observation ensures that these variables (and their change) are tracked.
Although contextual repetition of behavior is necessary to make it habitual, it is unlikely to be sufficient. Rewards can be an important, reinforcing factor.
There are different types of rewards:
Extrinsic (tangible rewards, such as a delicious post-workout meal).
Intrinsic (for example, the feeling of satisfaction after a hard and exhausting workout)
Extrinsic rewards can also be perceived as expected in advance – depending on behavioral performance (e.g., going to the gym) or achieving a particular goal (e.g., 5kg weight loss).
But beware, granting extrinsic rewards every time you want to repeat the behavior can have a negative effect on the habit. This is because future performance is tied to expectation, which reduces intrinsic motivation to perform the behavior. If we do something specific just to get a reward, it’s not a habit. If the reward is removed, the behavior is usually set.
Extrinsic rewards are therefore meaningful only if they do not degenerate into the ultimate purpose of performing the behavior. And that means: use rewards with caution!
As mentioned earlier, stimuli are an important behavioral trigger. In theory, certain environmental properties can become stimuli, but some stimuli are better than others when it comes to promoting a habit. Behavior tends to occur in the composite, i. that one type of behavior builds on another (for example, flossing after brushing your teeth).
So if you use a certain stimulus to establish your habit, then it is best to use a behavior that is at the end of a chain of tasks (for example, when you leave the office).
Breaking bad fitness habits?
One possible solution to breaking a habit is to avoid/remove the individual situation that triggers the behavior. This can sometimes be possible, but it’s not always in our hands.
Old habits can be broken better if the environment naturally changes (for example, when moving, working at a new job, etc.).
Memories can also be useful if you are trying to break a bad habit, as they disturb your behavior and make you pause. It is important that such memories not only contain the instruction that you should not do something (say, do not eat this cookie) but instead promote alternative behavior (for example, eat an apple instead of this cookie).
Self-reflection is also useful when breaking habits. Identify situations and conditions that trigger your behavior and try to avoid it (if possible) – or create a plan B.
Conclusion: Fitness Success Habits
There are some important things that you should keep in mind when it comes to habits.
- Habits take on average 66 days to form.
- Continuously repeating the desired behavior is necessary to form a habit (this can be enhanced by rewards and self-observation).
- Choosing a suitable stimulus is important when it comes to establishing a new habit.
- Natural changes in the environment are a good time to establish new habits and discard old ones (such as moving, new jobs).
- Memories are useful when it comes to breaking old (bad) habits
… here is your homework:
Think about what habits you would like to express. Write 5 of them!
Make a specific plan and sort the habits according to their priority.
Try to stay tuned for 3 months, track your progress, and reward yourself at the end of each week.