A new guide to building habits
By any standard, my usual training and eating regimes are pretty healthy. I practice what I preach: I train well most days, I eat healthily most of the time, and I take care of my body. But I have always wanted to go one step further, and drive in a few extra habits that I have so far avoided. To name a few: cut out alcohol except for 1 day a week, start jogging or cycling to work, and stop eating processed and packaged foods. I also wanted to challenge myself, and understand what my own clients go through when they decide to make changes to their lives. For these reasons, on the 1st of April I started a “focus” phase, extending over three months until the end of June (and the beginning of summer!), in which I will drop any old unwanted habits, and in their place build new positive ones. Forming new habits can be a challenging task. Any change means surrendering some part of your former self, life or routine, and installing in its place a healthier, improved, and better way of doing things. Like anything, this takes time, determination, and self-control. Few people I know are able to switch their habits without batting an eyelid. No one is perfect, and I certainly don’t pretend to be. However, there are a few tricks to help you along your way;
1. Realise how great your body is Every one of us has an amazing body. Regardless of its current shape, size or form, it is an amazing piece of machinery. It contains an incredible amount of systems, levers, pistons and motors, that all work in unison to produce movements. It is capable of great strength, flexibility, speed, and stamina. It can learn any movement, and can adjust to any environment. It can be stimulated to grow or to shrink, and will even adapt to any injury or imbalance.
Realising just how great your body is, is the easiest way to guarantee a lifestyle change. Once you understand what amazing things it can do, you will automatically respect it, love it, and want to take care of it. You will think of it as your pet: a pet that needs feeding, exercising, looking after. You will become your own guardian angel, listen to your inner voice and avoid too many of the foods, drinks and bad habits that may damage it.
2. Understand your inner voices I am going to be honest with you: what triggered this article was in fact my failure to resist temptation on a couple of occasions within my first week. It came as a good wake-up call: if I, a fitness professional, cannot make changes easily, what is it like for the general population? Over the past few weeks, I have had a number of interesting discussions with my clients about their own thoughts, feelings and inner voices when it comes to training and nutrition. Their experiences directly echo my own, and have given me a clear picture of how we, or most people, operate.
We all have two voices within us: the voice of our will, and the voice of our feelings. Picture an angel on one shoulder, and a demon on the other. One voice telling you to stay away from the bagel, another voice telling you it doesn’t really matter, to have it anyway. Sound familiar? You must understand which voice is which: which is willing to stick to a discipline, which feels like being lazy and slipping back into old habits. You must also learn to balance these voices out, to let them talk to each other, reassure each other, and find a common ground. At first, your will should take over, but in certain circumstances, learn to attend to your feelings as well. Over time, as you build your new habits, these two voices will merge into one and fade into the background, as your will and feelings become the same.
Inner voices are not the only voices you need to understand and deal with. The worst kind of voices can in fact be of those around you. Your social circle can become your worst enemy when it comes to building new habits. Powerful negative voices may come from your friends, colleagues, or family members, as they will not always be supportive towards your goals – mostly through their own guilt or lack of understanding. However a lot of times the pressure to conform actually comes from within. We may not want to be seen as outside of the norm, we do not want to miss out, or we do not want to put others ill at ease. Sticking to your guns in social circumstances is in fact a habit in itself. You will need to make the conscious decision to follow your new habit, regardless of the situation, and to express your goals to those around you. Turn it around: help them understand that you are not being boring or missing out, but that in fact you are doing something great for yourself. Ask for their support and understanding, and shine by example instead.
3. Be realistic, and be positive The key to setting new habits for change is not to set impossible ones. Which sounds easiest: going from two hours of exercise a week to three, or to five? Breaking down bigger habits into smaller achievable ones will make the task at hand much more accessible. Give yourself 3-4 weeks to build a new habit, and then add a new one. Research shows that most people can only make one lifestyle change at once, however that is up to you to decide.
When building a new habit, focus on the positives: congratulate yourself every time you do it right, but don’t feel guilty the times you don’t. Guilt is a very negative emotion that should try and avoid at all costs. Acknowledge the feeling, and understand where you can improve the next time round. Remember not to focus on the short-term: if you are consistent, occasional slipups will not matter in the long run. No one is 100% good, 100% of the time – myself included!
When faced with a choice, figure out which will bring you short-term satisfaction, and which will bring you long-term fulfilment. Repeatedly favouring long-term fulfilment will over time bring you more health and positivity, helping you feel better, healthier, and more in control. And best of all, having a certain level of discipline over your diet, your training, and your lifestyle will allow you the freedom to actually enjoy making bad choices once in a while.
Love & Health,
A few more tips for everyday health living:
- When you eat out, avoid the bread and replace any potatoes, rice or fries with vegetables or salad
- Plan your training in advance and set in in the diary as important appointments. If you need to re-schedule, make sure you re-plan the session as soon as possible
- Cut out processed, fried or packaged foods, and feed your body raw, organic and fresh foods, full of quality nutrients that will support its health and well-being, in turn helping you feel great
- Cut down on your consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, or any other products that may damage it. A body that spends its time and energy fighting off negative intruders will be more vulnerable to disease and injury
- Decrease your sugar intake, poison for your body, and instead increase the daily amount of fruit, legumes and vegetables you consume, to give it more than enough vitamins and minerals to be health
- While training, don’t over think the exercise; instead focus on feeling your movements and clearing your mind. Your body is always capable of more than you think it is, so do not give in to any negative thoughts (“I can’t”, “I need to stop”)