Habit Forming

Habit forming

Creating the change you are looking to achieve, be it to run faster, lift heavier or look better, a lifestyle change and the creation of habits will most likely need to be implemented. Will power alone will not keep the ice cream away or drag you off the sofa, a structured framework, if utilised correctly will help make the necessary changes to creating your new lifestyle as easy as possible. Before you know it, they’ll be no holding you back from training like a pro.

Step 1 – Understand the brain

The brain is composed of three separate brains:
  • The computer
  • The human
  • The chimp
The computer ticks along in the background of your daily life, it consists of 5 individual sections:
  • Autopilot – Implementing learn behaviours eg. walking, opening doors, and eating
  • Mindset – How we see ourselves & others
  • Stone of life – Our morals, life values, beliefs, truths
  • Goblin – Behaviours and beliefs learnt before the age of 8. These are hard to change
  • Gemlins – Beliefs stored from 8 yrs old. These can be changed easily

(Sorry for the names, Dr Steve Peters came up with them. Sports phycologist to Team GB, Team Sky, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Liverpool Football Club)

The human brain

  • Is your rational brain eg. Weighing up right from wrong. I shouldn’t hurt this person, it’s bad
  • It goes to sleep from around 9pm at night, after then your chimp takes over, this is why you have those crazy ideas late into the evening

The chimp brain

  • This is the mayhem maker, the devil on your shoulder and the negative talker
  • This is the voice that says you can’t do it, that eating that bag of crisps doesn’t matter, that running the extra mile isn’t worth it
  • Your human brain can override the chimp (except late at night), it just needs to
    recognise when the chimp is throwing its toys around and that these thoughts are fake
That was a whistle stop tour of how the brain functions, main points to take away are that your human brain can rewire your computer brains Gremlins and Mindset, and it can override the negative trouble making chimp who wants you to fail and take life easy. (To learn more, read Dr Steve Peters, The Chimp Paradox).
The way we accomplish this is by creating habits, this is done by making tiny changes to make big changes. Think Sir Dave Brailsford marginal gains framework, so think SMART goals.
S = Specific
Set specific goals, both short term and long term. Make the short term goals a stepping
stone to the ultimate goal
M = Measurable
Make the goals measurable, if you can’t measure it, how do you know if you’re improving
A = Achievable
Make the goals achievable, not easy goals
R = Reward
Reward yourself when you reach these milestones. But don’t reward yourself with a
negative enforcer eg. don’t reward yourself with an ice cream if you’re trying to lose
weight, it negatively impacts on your overall goal
T = Timely
Set time limits to achieve these. Make them sensible eg. a month to run a 10km, not in 1
week because that would be too hard and not in a year because that would be too easy
Once you have sets your SMART goals, your human brain and computer brain can starting creating logical reasons to complete the goals. They will slowly start to quieten the chimp. Now its time to create habits to achieve these goals:
  • Start thinking differently & change your identity (Mindset & beliefs), eg. you are now an athlete, you are completing that ironman, you are an ironman athlete. Or another example, if you want to quit smoking say “I don’t smoke” rather than “I’m quitting”. Subtle difference but a big one, be what you want to be. If you believe in your identity, you’ll become it
  • Repeat this activity you identify with. If you’re running a marathon, then start running very frequently, even if its just for 5mins, every little helps
  • Eventually this identity will become a subconscious identity
  • Make the habit obvious eg. You want to eat healthier foods, place fruit in a bowl on the
    kitchen table, don’t hide it away, this entice you to eat the fruit
  • Make the habit attractive eg. Use fruit you love in the bowl, or plan your runs through
    beautiful landscapes or with a funny audiobook
  • Make it easy eg. Prebook a taxi to the gym, if you have already paid for it, you’ll go
  • Make it satisfying eg. Getting into the cab will make you feel better for not staying in bed. Simple habits make it easy to feel good about completing them, us humans love to complete a task
  • Habit stack – create habits that connect, make a plan of habits you are going to implement and how they connect to reaching your SMART goals. Remember, if you do something satisfying, you want to do more of it, think of when you shop, you rarely stop at one purchase
  • Delete needy habits – this will feed into the chimp wanting to reject change
  • Habits can constantly change as you evolve, once you’re past the first hurdle, maybe you’ll need another habit to take you further into the journey
Reflect on how your habit plan has gone, did it accomplish what you wanted it to. If not, change it, adapt
  • Remember, you don’t rise to your goals, you sink to your systems
  • The key is commitment to the process, 1% improvement each day will eventually pay off
  • Lastly, elite athletes aren’t built differently to the rest of us, they just have an ability to ignore the boredom of repetitive training, aiming for their SMART goals, because they know the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is worth it
So you should now have a habit plan that helps you achieve your smart goals, that will alter your identity, control your chimp and create the whole new lifestyle you want. Remember its always a fluid and evolving procedure, it never stands still, like your training.