At some point in the last week (or five minutes ago after doing a Google search) you decided to change your life.
Perhaps you've decided to exercise every day. Maybe it's time to eat better.
Or maybe you've decided to stop wearing jorts.
Good my friend, I'm happy for youand I want you to know that you have arrived at the right place!
We help people develop healthy habits as part of our 1-on-1 online coaching program so that you are in the right place to fulfill your resolution.
We can teach you how to properly build habits! Learn more about our online coaching program:
Here's what we'll cover in our book Guide to Building Healthy Habits in 2021::
Let's get started right away so you can rock in 2021!
Why do we suck on building healthy habits?
"I know what to do, I just can't bring myself to do it!" Welcome to the club – we all know what to do, but we just can't bring ourselves to make the important changes.
We know how to get in shape: move more and eat less!
We know how to train: Increase your heart rate, do pushups, get stronger.
We know how to eat healthily: more vegetables and less sugar.
Yet we cannot bring ourselves to stick with any of these things for more than a few weeks.
Easy: New healthy habits are difficult to develop, our lizard brains crave instant gratification, we don't fully understand how habits are built, life gets busy, and our standard behavior is often as unhealthy as it is simple.
As a result, we are not using the right systems to prevent change.
We also rely far too much on willpower and motivation.
We tend to bite off more than we can chew, walk too fast too soon, and then get overwhelmed too quickly.
Does that sound familiar to you?
- I will eat 100% paleo / keto AND
- I will run 5 miles a day AND
- I will work out in a gym five times a week.
If you're someone who eats a typically poor diet, never runs, and hasn't set foot in a gym since elementary school dodgeball with Mr. Wazowski, it's almost a surefire way to achieve just that, if you're all up change once of them.
We are prepared these days to expect and receive instant gratification. If we want food, we can get it from a drive-through, microwave a frozen meal, or sit in a 24-hour restaurant. When we want a game we can download it to our computers / phones / PS5s in seconds. If we want to see a TV show, it's just a few clicks.
Hell, Netflix will even start the next episode for you with no action required!
We expect to get in shape as well.
And that's why we suck on building healthy habits that stick.
We say to ourselves, "Hey, I've been engaged for two weeks, why don't I look like Ryan Reynolds yet?" Without reminding ourselves that it took us decades of unhealthy living to get where we are, what means it will take more than a few weeks to reverse the trend.
And then we miss a workout because life was busy or our child got sick. And we're disappointed that exercising or giving up candy isn't nearly as fun as Netflix, video games, and Peanut M & Ms.
Here everyone gives up:
- You're trying to change too many habits too soon
- You get impatient, the results won't come any faster
- You slip when life is busy
- And they go back to first place
So we're doomed to stay overweight and suck on building habits. It's the video game equivalent of attacking too many bad guys at the same time, which always results in:
We're going to cover the specific healthy habits and resolutions you should choose later in this article, but I have to ask you one big question first, "But why?"
The First Step in Building Healthy Habits (Know Your "Big Why")
Before we do EVERYTHING to actually build habits, You need a damn good reason why you want to build it in the first place or the changes will never last.
All this “change who I am” stuff has to be at the center of your decision making.
And if you don't have a good reason, you're dead in the water:
If you are here because you have decided to get in shape, you will fail with the second life busy.
If you drag yourself to the gym thinking you should be running a treadmill five days a week when you hate it, you're done!
When you determine the habits or resolutions that you want to establish, you are making the habit part of a bigger cause worth fighting for.
Not only are you going to the gym, you are building a new body that you are not ashamed of so you can start dating again.
Not only are you learning to like vegetables, you are also losing weight to fit into your dream wedding dress.
Not only do you get out of bed early, you get up early so you can work on your side business before your kids get up so you can set aside money for their college education.
In our 1-to-1 coaching program and in Nerd Fitness Prime we refer to this as your “big why”. Without it, you're just forcing yourself to do things that you don't enjoy doing – it will never last.
Tie it to a bigger cause and the chances are infinitely more likely to push your way through the dirt and swamp to get it done.
So dig 3 levels deep and ask why until you find the reason why you want to start a new healthy habit or change a bad one. Write it down. And hang it somewhere you can see it every day.
Do you have your reason Great.
Let us now come to the science of habit.
How to Build Healthy Habits (The Three Parts)
As Charles Duhigg points out in The Power of Habit (a must-have for anyone interested in behavior change), a habit has three parts:
# 1) cue (which triggers the action): It can be a feeling: I am tired, I am hungry, I am bored, I am sad. Or it can be a time of day: it's Monday at 9 a.m., work is done, etc.
# 2) routine (the action itself):: This can either be a negative action that you want to reduce: I drink soda, I eat cake, I eat, I drink alcohol, I smoke cigarettes, I watch TV – or a positive one: I go to the gym, I go for a run, i do pushups, i read a book.
# 3) reward (the positive result due to the action): I'm awake now. I am temporarily happy. My hands / mind are busy. I can forget the bad day that I had. I feel energized. I feel good about myself
Depending on your routine / action above, habits can either be empowering and amazing, or part of a negative downward spiral. Your body isn't smart enough to know what to do: it just wants to relieve the pain or chase the pleasure of the cue, and the way you react becomes a habit if done enough often.
Factor in brilliant marketing, behavioral psychology and an environment in which we can fail – and bad habits dominate us.
This is why we crave certain foods, why we can't help but check our phone every time it vibrates, and why we can't stop ourselves from watching another episode or grinding another level in World of Warcraft.
Duhigg puts things very clearly:
“There is nothing programmed in our brain that makes us see a box of donuts and automatically want a sugary treat.
But once our brain learns that a donut box contains delicious sugar and other carbohydrates, it will start anticipating the sugar high. Our brain will push us towards the box. Then if we don't eat the donut we will be disappointed. "
- We have trained your brain to take a cue (you see a donut), expect a reward (a sugar high), and do the behavior automatically (nom nom that donut).
- Compare that to a keyword (you see your running shoes), expect a reward (a runner high), and do the behavior automatically (run!).
The Dark Knight himself said it best: "It's not who I am under, but what i do that defines me. "
Let's take a look at every part of the habit forming process and start chopping the shit out of it!
Learn Your Cues: Know the Triggers.
Whether you're trying to change an old habit, quit an unhealthy habit, or start a healthy habit, it starts with the first step in the process:
When you want to stop drinking soda but feel like you need it every afternoon to get through work, your brain is wired to think about SODA after the keyword:
- Keyword: I am tired, thirsty and have no energy.
- Routine: I have a soda around 3pm.
- Reward: Weeeeee caffeine! Sugar! Happy! My life has meaning!
The first step in identifying bad habits that you want to avoid is the cue that sets the habit in motion. Being aware of the clue is a good start to breaking the cycle:
- When i get bored (Keyword), I eat snacks (routine) and it fills the void with a happy stomach (reward).
- If I come home from work (Keyword), I drop on the couch and play video games (routine) and it helps me forget about work (reward).
- If I getting nervous (Keyword), I start biting my nails (routine) to distract myself from the awkwardness (reward).
So the first step in trying to break a bad habit is to find out what cues are leading you to take the actions that you are trying to stop.
At the same time, like Pavlov's dog, you can mentally train yourself to build a new healthy habit by identifying the habit you want to build and the cue you want to use to continue:
- If I wake up (Keyword), I'll go for a walk (routine) and reward myself with an audio book on the walk (reward)
- If I get tired (Keyword), I will drink black coffee instead of soda (routine) and along with the caffeine boost (reward) after 30 days without soda (reward) I will get new running shoes and satisfaction from the weight loss thanks to fewer calories (reward).
- If I come home from work (Keyword), I go straight to my computer to work on my novel for 30 minutes (routine) and reward myself with Netflix after writing 500 words (reward).
Regardless of whether you break a bad habit or start a new one, it starts with recognizing the clue that is triggering the habit.
As soon as you have recognized or selected the cue, you can start correcting the routine (action).
The key to sustainable healthy habits: use systems
"Steve, I see, but I'm still having trouble with the" Building the Routine "part … for some reason I just can't bring myself to do it."
Yes – welcome to the hardest part of a habit:
The routine (the action itself!).
This is where we're going to start thinking and acting like nerds and scientists.
Whether we are trying to stop a negative routine (stop drinking soda) or start a healthy routine (running), both must be addressed with a different plan of attack.
For starters we will Stop relying on two things::
- Willpower: If you need to exercise, give up when you're too busy or when it's too cold.
- Motivation: If you need to be motivated, you will give up and then beat yourself up for not being more motivated!
Both motivation and willpower are finite and capricious resources that you leave when you need them most. Suckers and fools hope and pray that they will have enough motivation and willpower to build a habit. This is clearly a:
But not us!
We're going to cross both out of the equation and use systems and outside forces to make the routine even easier (or harder to create if it's a bad habit you're trying to swap!).
This can be done in several ways:
- Environmental hacks: Simplify the routine by removing the steps it takes to perform it or adding steps between you and a bad habit.
- Programming hacks: Add your habit to your daily calendar, keep track of your progress daily with a journal, and make it a part of your day.
We are products of our environment. We can use this information to our advantage and ease the process of building a new habit or changing a bad habit by changing our surroundings. I'll cover this in more detail in our "Build Your Batcave for Habit Changes" article, but I'll cover the basics here.
Take a look at the places where you spend your time. Reduce the steps between you and a good habit and increase the steps between you and a bad habit. They are less dependent on willpower and motivation and are more likely to do the healthy habit or skip the bad habit.
Here are five examples of environmental hacks you can use:
- RUN EVERY MORNING: Fall asleep with your running shoes at the foot of your bed with your running uniform already laid out. Hell, you can sleep in your running / training clothes. Put your alarm clock on the other side of the room so you have to get up to turn it off.
- After work, go to the gym: Pack your gym bag before going to bed the night before. That way, you'll already have a bag to throw in your car or bring with you every morning. Once it's 5 p.m., you're in your car on your way to the gym. (Gym Currently Closed? How To Build A Gym In Your Home)
- EAT HEALTHIER: Don't give yourself an opportunity to eat poorly – throw away the junk food in your house and prepare meals the night before. Lock your web browser to order pizza online (yes, you can now) and don't drive down the street that is full of fast food restaurants.
- WATCH LESS TV / WATCH LESS GAMES: Use your laziness in your favor. Unplug the TV / system from the mains. Increase the steps between you and the television. Set the parental controls on your own system and let your friend set the time limit and password. I knew someone who put their television in their closet and reduced their television by almost 100%. Don't rely on willpower – make it harder!
- Check your phone less: Turn off your notifications and uninstall the apps that are wasting your time. When you work, put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode and put it in your desk drawer. Don't rely on willpower lest you check your phone when it buzzes – let go of the buzz.
You can also use programming hacks to build NEW healthy habits:
- EXERCISE: If you want to exercise more, set calendar notifications at the beginning of your week so that you get an alert (ringing! On your phone) and a reminder to complete the activity every day at 8:00 a.m. You are much more likely to achieve the goal if the activity has been planned in advance.
- TO EAT HEALTHY FOOD: Consider batch cooking! If cooking healthy meals every night sounds like way too much work (I'm hearing you about it), do it all in ONE day – this saves a lot of time and also decreases the steps between you and healthy eating because the meal is already cooked and in fridge!
- WRITE: If you want to write a book, tell yourself that you have to write 500 shitty words every day. That's how I wrote Level Up Your Life. Buy a calendar and draw a big red X every day you do your task. Focus on the series each day (1).
Do the Reward Momentum Building
And we're finally on the third part of the habit:
If you want to replace bad habits, do a reward analysis of your bad habits:
Soda gives you a burst of caffeine and an afternoon energy boost when you are tired.
Can you reproduce this boost of energy for your body in a healthier way? Maybe you can switch to black coffee and go for a walk in the afternoon.
Here is another example:
You spend too much time watching TV because you love to escape worlds and it affects your health.
Can you only hear your favorite audiobook when you leave?
(This is called temptation bundling).
This step requires analysis by looking at the reward that you want to recreate without taking the negative action. This can get your brain into some difficult places, but it is healthy to deal with.
For example, if you want to drink less (or give up altogether) you may find that the rewards you are pursuing are actually "escaping a job I hate" and "avoiding social anxiety."
Do some research into your reward and what your brain is asking for, then see if you can undo a healthier routine with the same reward.
And then you use outright bribery to get yourself to do the new healthier and choose the better action / routine.
What works for science and physics is also true for habit building: inertia and dynamism work against you when it comes to habit building … until it starts working for you when the habit becomes automatic.
We can fix the third part of the habit formation loop, the reward, with impulse generation prices or outcomes to bribe us and move on. With every healthy and positive reward, with every routine completed, we increase the likelihood that the habit will become more automatic next time.
In other words, create rewards that will reward you back!
NOT Reward your routine (running!) With an unhealthy reward (cake!). That is "one step forward, two steps back". And diet is 90% of the equation when it comes to weight loss anyway!
TO DO Reward your routine (running 5 minutes a day for 30 days) with a reward that will keep you running (a fancy new pair of running shoes).
Our new app, Nerd Fitness Journey, specifically follows this "keyword, routine, and rewardFormat to build new habits. In the app, we “reward” you with cool loot and XP so that you can level up (literally) while getting lean and strong.
If you're interested, you can try it for free here:
5 hacks for building healthy habits with ease
Your life will be busy.
There will be days when you don't want to make your new habit. Or you want to fall back and get back to old habits. It will be pretty much every day, especially early.
In order to Don't leave it to yourself!!!
Stop relying on yourself and rely on outside forces. Here are the best tips you can use to get yourself into making a habit a reality:
1) Recruit allies: Find a friend or group of friends to help you build habits. A recent study (2) showed that:
Of the patients who were recruited alone and who received behavior therapy, 24% maintained their weight loss completely through months 4 through 10.
Among the recruits with friends and given therapy plus social support95% stopped treatment and 66% completely retained their weight loss.
You don't have to go on this habit building journey alone. Building a guild or recruiting a group of people to support, help you and improve you could make all the difference in building habits!
If your friend is already waiting for you at the gym, you have to leave. If it's up to you, skipping and watching Netflix won't have any negative consequences. Recruit friends and allies!
Don't you have this support group at home? Consider joining our 🙂
Remember, these first few weeks are the toughest, which means they will take the most effort to get started.
2) CULTIVATE DISCIPLINE WITH RESPONSIBILITY: When you can't bring yourself to enforcing a new healthy habit that you are dying to build, you make the pain of skipping the habit stronger than the satisfaction you get from skipping it.
Allow me to introduce some BRUTAL consequences:
- Every time I skip ______________ this monthI am paying my wife / husband / boyfriend $ 50 who will donate my money to a cause I hate.
- Every time I choose not to _______________ this monthI have to run around my house naked.
- Every time I do ____________ when I shouldn'tI'll have my three year old put on makeup before work.
Do any of these results sound like fun? If you can't afford to pay your friend $ 50 for walking around your house naked, you might get arrested, and if your kid's makeup skills get you fired like a drunken clown, you might just what you need to know to do. The more painful it is to skip something, the more likely you are to actually suck up and do it.
3) NEVER MISS TWO IN A ROW. What if you miss a day? Who cares! One day won't ruin you – but two days will, because 2 becomes 30 in no time.
One research summary said, “The lack of the occasional opportunity to perform the behavior did not seriously affect the habit formation process: automation gains resumed soon after a performance was missed. (3)
4) DON'T CHOOSE HABITS YOU HATE: "Steve, I know I should be running, so I'm trying to build a running habit even though I hate running." Stop.
Can you get the same results with another habit, like climbing or hiking or swing dancing? Pick a habit that isn't miserable and you are more likely to follow it.
At the same time, we have countless success stories of people who have transitioned from hate practices to loved ones.
That's because they made the habit part of a bigger picture, "I'm exercising because I'm building a kickass body so I can start dating again!"
This is because they had BIG enough to overcome their initial aversion to movement until they learned to love how movement made them feel.
5) TRY TEST BUNDLING: Combine a habit you don't like with something you LOVE and you are more likely to build that habit.
If you hate cleaning your home, just allow yourself to listen to your favorite podcast while you clean or do the dishes.
Do you want to go to the gym more? Allow yourself an hour of Netflix, but ONLY while on the elliptical.
This is known as temptation concentration and can be a powerful change.
The Secret To Fulfilling Your Solution (Do Less)
Now that you know the different parts of a habit like a boss, it's time to build one!
I'm going to give you one final piece of advice, if your decision is to run a marathon or save the world or lose hundreds of pounds, you're going to screw it up if you don't internalize the following information:
Or forgotten in the immortal words of Kunu from Sarah Marshall: "The less you do, the more you do":
Choose ONE habit, make it small and make it binary. Something to say at the end of each day: "Yes, I did it" or "No, I didn't do it".
Nebulous habits like "I'm going to exercise more" or "I'm going to start eating better" are more useless to Jabba the Hutt than a Soulcycle membership.
Here are great examples. Be precise. Be small And track it:
- Do you want to exercise more? Brilliant. For that first week, walk ONLY 5 minutes each morning. Literally 5 minutes.
- Would you like to prepare your own healthy meals? Just aim for one meal a day or one meal a week. Whatever works for you and your schedule.
- Would you like to stop drinking 2 liters of Mountain Dew every day? Scale it to 1.9 liters per day for a week. Then 1.8 for a week. Then 1.7 …
- Would you like to get out of debt and build the habit of frugality? First, save five dollars a day or find a way to make five dollars more a day.
- Would you like to learn a new language? Speak your new language out loud for 10 minutes a day. That's it!
Keep your goals small and simple. The smaller and simpler they are, the more likely you are to keep them. And the habit itself pales in comparison to the momentum you build from actually creating a new habit.
I don't care how many calories you burn off in a 5 minute walk, only that you can prove to the new YOU that you can build the habit of walking and only then can you increase the difficulty.
We think in terms of years and decades! So think small.
My real example: I wanted to get into the habit of learning the violin at the age of 31, but couldn't bring myself to do it because I told myself I was too busy, which is a lie ("I only have 25 minutes; I need 30 minutes to practice … Could just as well not practice at all ”), and I've never played like that!
After lowering the threshold to "I only have to play 5 minutes a day" it gave me permission to record it here and there – and in the end I practiced WAY more often and got better much faster.
I'm still sucking mind you, but I'm light years ahead of where I was before!
And please: DO NOT BUILD ALL HABITS AT THE SAME TIME.
If you are new to habit building, or have never held on to something long enough to do it automatically, it is because you've done too much. Habits are compound interest.
When you build a new habit, it overflows to other parts of your life and makes it easier to build future habits too – pep!
As Mark Manson points out in his Guide to Habits:
“Willpower is like a muscle. It can be practiced and practiced and built up. It can also be forgotten, weakened, and stunted.
Just like when you go to the gym and build strength and endurance, you can build your discipline and willpower over a long period of time by setting out and performing a series of tasks on a consistent basis. "
You've probably tried building all of the habits at once and it doesn't work. So try to build ONE habit for 30 days. And then you choose a habit that stacks above that habit and helps you build more and more progress and more and more momentum.
Get Started Today: Pick Your Habit and Go
I'll leave you one final quote from Duhigg's The Power of Habit:
“When you believe that you can change – if you make it a habit – the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the realization that your habits are what you chose them to be. Once that choice is made – and becomes automatic – it is not only real, it seems inevitable, the thing … that irresistibly carries us towards our destiny, whatever the latter may be. "
You first need more brainpower until your standard behavior becomes the automatic habit that you chase after.
With each day you build your new habit, you will overcome any self-limiting beliefs, build momentum, and become a habit-building badass! And then these habits become automatic. Then we look forward to:
So today I want you to check it out only one Habit you want to change:
- Identify the clue that spurs him on – Is it the time of day? Boredom? Hunger? After work? Stress?
- Identify the possible rewards – Happiness? Energy? Satisfaction?
- Identify a new routine that you want to set up this gives the same “reward” from negative behavior … but in a more productive and healthier way.
And I know that this journey is difficult – that's why I've been working with a trainer myself for 4 years. It was HUGE to have someone to help me find the right habits and focus, someone to hold me accountable, and someone to learn from!
If you want expert guidance on building healthy habits in 2021, we'll make it happen! You can sign up for a free call to our coaching team in the box below to learn more about the program and see if it fits right:
Our coaching program changes lives! Find out more here.
I want you to leave a comment below: Pick ONE habit to start building this month and identify the three parts of the habit you want to start building.
Good luck – now build some momentum.
And ONE habit.
PS: Our new app Nerd Fitness Journey is about creating new habits! It is designed so that when you wake up in the morning you will know exactly which “routine” to start with. We also “reward” you with cool loot and XP so that you can literally level up.
You can try it for free here:
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