Learning A New Habit In 3 Steps
5,200 Workouts And Counting
“Do you really do it year round?”
“Yeah, I really do.”
This exact conversation goes down about 90% of the time someone finds out that I have been working out 5-6 days a week every year since I was 12 years old. Yes, for those of you wondering, even though it didn’t really show, I was even working out during my larger days.
This means I have worked out about 5,200 times over the last 20 years and, yes, I plan to keep doing it for as long as I can.
The answer to the “Why?” question is quite simple really. Though, there are three main reasons, there is only one true reason.
I workout year-round because I LOVE TO EAT!
This is in no way, shape, or form a joke – I really do love food. So much so my wife thinks it’s an unhealthy relationship…but lucky for me I have an equally “unhealthy” relationship with exercise.
I learned, at the tender age of 12, that changing my diet was not enough to help me shed the weight. You see, I was already an active 12 year old. I was involved in organized baseball, basketball, and playing outside with my brothers and friends everyday. But, being that I’ve always been the fat twin, the weight wasn’t coming off via the diet changes alone.
It wasn’t until I became an even more active kid, that the weight started to come off – and by more active I mean weightlifting and more cardio. A few months later, after starting to actively weight lift and walk with my mom, I had dropped about 30 pounds. It was then that I realized that as long as I did weightlifted, did cardio, and continued with my normal play I could eat whatever I wanted and maintain weight.
And so, to this day, the essential answer to “Why” I workout year round is because I LOVE TO EAT.
The “Why?” is easy…but the “How?”…well that gets a little tricky for folks.
You see, the “how” is different for everyone, and, in most cases, has to come from within…or from being as anal retentive as I am…but I would wish that on no one.
The “how” I do it is also really not that complicated when it comes to my personal “how.”
“How” have I kept exercising year in and year out for the last 20 years?
Well, I just think about the food I’ll be able to eat after/because I exercise.
Again, this is not a joke. As a matter of fact I am dead serious. “How” do I get up and workout? I just think about eating that Ted’s Montana New Mexico Burger with their chocolate shake, fries, and then killing the Strawberry Shortcake all by myself afterwards.
I think about food and I am ready to hit the weights.
OKAY, BUT THERE’S SOMETHING MORE TO IT
I used to think that if we all just find something that motivates us to workout we’d all be golden. But, after years of sticking to it while everyone around me just seemed to eventually quit, I have realized one of two things;
1. Either there is more to forming a habit than mere motivation
2. People just don’t like to eat as much, nor eat as much food as I do.
But, even if people don’t like eating as much as me, nowadays we all know the benefits of exercise…so why aren’t more people sticking to exercise…why isn’t living a healthy and longer life motivation info?
People don’t make exercise a habit because of a number of reasons. Now, for a handful of people these reasons are legitimate reasons.
BUT FOR MOST OF US the “reasons” are really just a bunch of excuses.
Reasons vs. Excuses
Reason = I am a single mother of two-year-old twins with no money or time to workout because I spend my entire day, everyday, working to make enough money to shelter, clothe, and feed my kids.
Excuse(s) = I don’t have enough time to workout. I can’t workout my legs because have a bum knee. I can’t workout my chest or arms because my shoulder hurts. I can’t run. I can’t stand. I can’t sit. I can’t wake up that early. I can’t lift that much weight. I can’t blah, blah, blah, blah….
…I don’t want to hear it any more.
If everything you do is make up a reason which has an easy solution or alternative fix then what you are doing is making an excuse as to why you can’t do whatever it is you think you want to do.
But the truth is…we all love making excuses…it’s almost human nature.
So, okay then, if we all love making excuses so much, let’s fight fire with fire!
THE 3 STEPS TO FORMING A HABIT
“I can’t” CAN’T EXIST – Fighting Fire With Fire
Let’s start by saying “I can’t say can’t.”
Repeat after me, “I can’t say can’t.”
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Good, but not good enough. Say it and mean it. “I can’t say CAN’T!”
Go ahead…aaahhhh, better.
You see, now we’re fighting fire with fire, and by “fire” I mean the word “can’t” and by “fire” I also mean the word “can’t.”
All joking aside, once we remove the word “can’t” from our vocabulary and replace it with “TRY” a whole new world of possibilities will open up!
Micromanage Your Habit (A.K.A. Small Goals)
Forming any new habit will be time consuming. It may even seem a bit overwhelming, but if we approach the new habit via small goals, if we micromanage the formation of the habit, then we can consciously help form the habit – active habit formation if you will.
Active Habit Formation – Making Exercise A Habit
Active Habit Formation – being aware of one’s actions and altering them as needed to help make a once unnatural action and/or activity natural.
If we can learn to break down our exercise routine into each of it’s individual actions, including the ones leading up to and after the actual workout, we can break down the overwhelming task of making exercise a habit into incremental steps we can manage.
But most importantly, by micromanaging the habit formation we will be able to notice at which step along the way we give up and or start making excuses as to way we “can’t” exercise.
So, the steps to any single exercise would be more or less as follows;
- Prepare For The Workout (i.e., Gym Bag)
- Yourself (i.e., clothes, shoes, etc.)
- Equipment (i.e., gloves, music device, mat, etc.)
- Hygiene (i.e., workout towel, after workout shower goods and clothes, etc.)
- Drive To The Gym
- Post-Workout Shower
- Drive Home
Now, you can break these steps and sub-steps down even further if you’d like, but the point is to be aware of what you’re doing.
I personally start preparing the night before. Around 9 pm the night before my 4:30 am wake up call I prepare my gym clothes and my equipment for the next morning’s workout. At this point I have already started my exercise habit’s process – so, if I were to quit for whatever reason from the time I start preparing for the next day’s workout I would need to take note of when and why I decided to not workout the next day.
For example, AND THIS IS A TRUE STORY, I noticed one day that I didn’t get to workout because I stayed in bed too long. Well, at this exact moment I had a very important choice to make.
I could have just shrugged it off and been like, “Uhm…I needed a day off…even if it wasn’t my off day.”
OR, I COULD HAVE ANALYZED THE SITUATION AND REALLY GOTTEN TO THE CRUX OF THE MATTER.
Well, I did the latter, and, after thinking about why I really decided to not workout, I came to the realization that it was because I was freezing when I woke up that morning. “Oooo no, the baby was too cold,” I finally said to myself. “Well, what can you do to make sure that doesn’t happen again?” I thought for a bit and decided, I could either turn up the heat or I could wear warmer jammies…Hell, I could just sleep in my workout clothes and be ready to go the next morning if a really wanted too…and I really wanted to because that’s what I did.
Poof! Like magic, I remedied the action that could have derailed my habit from forming.
It may seem a bit ridiculous but IT WORKS!
Break your workout (or any other habit you’d like to form) into its individual components/process and see when you quit or start to make excuses. This objective/systematic approach is the only way to truly know what is going wrong when trying to create a new habit.
Trust me, if you pay attention to the habit-forming process and you focus on getting one step closer each and every time there will come a breaking point at which, if reached, you will do the proposed habit in its entirety every time.
The Breaking Point – The Zeigarnik Effect
The breaking point I am referring to is the point at which your mind will automatically focus on completing the task at hand no matter what happens. In the cool crowds its known as The Zeigarnik Effect.
The Zeigarnik Effect is an overwhelming drive, which occurs at a certain point while doing a task, that almost forces you to finish a started task.
Now, it’s important to note that The Zeigarnik Effect kicks in at different points of different tasks for different people.
For example, I could have the overwhelming drive to finish mowing my lawn as soon as I do the first pass, but my brother could care less about finishing mowing his lawn until he is about 3/4 done with the entire process.
So, in this example, I would have to finish mowing my lawn almost as soon as the blade hits the grass while my brother would have no issue quitting even if he was already half way done mowing the lawn. This may seem ridiculous to us, I mean the fool is already halfway done with the job, but it doesn’t matter to him because The Zeigarnik Effect (the point at which he feels like he MUST finish the job) doesn’t kick in until he’s about 3/4’s of the way done. So my brother would quit anytime before then…no matter how ridiculous his yard would look.
Now, getting back to getting you to make a habit of exercise.
If you’ve come to terms with Step 1 and are paying close attention to Step 2, you will eventually realize at what point YOU WILL HAVE TO FOLLOW THROUGH WITH THE WORKOUT.
The trick then is to find that breaking point – to find when The Zeigarnik Effect kicks in for you.
For me it is as soon as I start prepping the night before. Since I workout in my living room I have to move the couches, clean up the kids’ toys, sweep, etc. to prepare my workout area for the next morning. This is a pretty annoying ordeal so once I start it I pretty much force myself to workout the next morning…but The Zeigarnik Effect doesn’t always kick in the night before.
What If The Z-Effect Doesn’t Kick In
“But what if The Zeigarnik Effect never kicks in?”
Well, if you are like most other humans in this world rest assured it will. So, the problem is not if but when The Z-Effect kicks in for you.
Will it happen the moment your alarm goes off? The third time you hit the snooze? Perhaps when you start lacing up your kicks? Maybe on your way to the gym? Or when you put on your headphones and start listening to your exercise playlist?
I can’t tell you when The Z-Effect will hit you, but I can tell you it might not always be at the same breaking point.
To be perfectly honest with you, there are mornings The Zeigarnik Effect doesn’t really kick in before the workout starts.
Sometimes The Z-Effect doesn’t hit until I am brushing my teeth, or putting in my contacts, or putting on deodorant, or inserting whichever P90X DVD it is for the day. Hell, to be quite honest, sometimes I don’t reach the magical breaking point of no return until hearing Tony Horton’s voice. And yet other times it’s even worse!
Sometimes The Zeigarnik Effect doesn’t occur until I am two, or even three, exercises into the workout!
But the point here is I keep pushing through the entire exercise routine (from preparation to completion) because I know The Zeigarnik Effect will kick in and I WILL FINISH THE WORKOUT!
So, to recap, if you;
1. Live by STEP 1,
2. Pay close attention and actively push yourself during STEP 2,
3. STEP 3 WILL HAPPEN!
And by the end of it all – POOF!
Exercise will be a habit you’ll never break!
By Rolando Rodriguez