In today’s episode, we wrap up part five of our mental training and mindset series for runners series with a discussion on habits and habit formation. There are good habits and bad habits and we are all a product of the choices we make. John Dryden, an English poet born in 1631 said, “First we make our habits and then our habits make us“. This quote stands true to this day.
In this episode, we dive deep into the topic of habit formation because it helps make us become better runners and better people overall. It helps us incorporate positive life change and having an understanding of habit formation, helps improve our lives by helping us get rid of the bad habits and create new ones.
I’ll also share 6 tips to create healthy habits that stick.
This is Part 5 of 5 in the Mental Training and Mindset for Runners series. For the previous four parts to this series, be sure to check out:
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Creating Good Habits or Eliminating Bad Habits Is Harder Than We Think
We often hear people say that to build a habit, you need a certain amount of days, (21, 30,45, etc) to create a new habit. In the book, Be Excellent at Anything, later re-titled: The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, Tony Schwartz talks about New Year’s resolutions that many of us make.
For example, did you know that:
You may have heard similar types of statistics before. I touched on this subject briefly in one of my past episodes about willpower. Most people assume that the motivation to change wasn’t as strong as it needed to be to actually make the change. It is hard to say. Maybe the case is that we had the initial motivation to do make a lifestyle change, but we failed to have a clear vision of the possible outcomes (both positive and negative) to make the habit stick.
But listen to this statistic as this one really was a shocker. Only one in every seven people who had a heart attack actually makes any type of lasting healthy changes around their eating habits or exercise. Even with a big health scare of a heart attack, it still could not make lifestyle changes stick.
Only one in every seven people who had a heart attack makes any type of lasting healthy changes around their eating habits or exercise.
Another interesting statistic is that the average person makes the same commitment to a try and build a new habit, on average, at least 10 separate times before they are successful or give up.
Picking up new habits is one of the most difficult things for people to master. It’s like we become creatures of our own patterns and routines, but when it comes time to create something new in our routine we struggle.
The Importance Of Routine In The Habit Formation Process
When it comes to the habit formation process, so many things come into play. Emotions, fear, willpower, perceptions, your surroundings, your personality, and so on. Because of this, it can be hard for us to adopt new habits and integrate them into our current, everyday routine. It just is. On one hand, we have routines that are fairly common and we follow them so much we rarely think of them as habits.
Most of these things are habits that we fell into without really thinking about them. But, when we have something we really want to make a regular habit, we seem to struggle at it.
To be honest, you are not going to walk away today being a master at creating new habits. But you will walk away with a good understanding of how habits are formed and burned into your daily lifestyle. You’ll know what it takes to increase your chance of success at creating them.
The problem is multifaceted and not something that simply repeating a task over and over again will fix. Just doing something for 21 days, 45 days, 90 days, will necessarily mean it will develop into a habit.
The context of today’s discussion is focused on making or getting into the habit of adding things into our running program like consistency, or getting better at stretching, or eating healthier.
Many of us struggle with starting or sticking to a running program.
You know one of the top compliments I get from the people who have gone through PaceBuilders is that it helped them maintain consistency with their workout schedule. People who struggled with being consistent and intentional towards their running found that by being a part of a structured running program found that they started getting their runs in more consistently.
They started eating healthier meals and started seeing improvements not only in their running but in other areas of their lives as well. I wasn’t planning their meals (that’s not part of the program) nor was I forcing them to get their runs in. I wasn’t babysitting them. They did it because PaceBuilders not only provided them structure, but it also allowed participants to became intentional. So whether or not you choose to join PaceBuilders or not, being intentional is critical.
Habits don’t change on their own. If you aren’t intentional, you will just slip back into your old ways. It happens every single time.
Habits Make Us Who We Are (Well, Mostly)
We are the product of what we do repeatedly, consistently, and systematically. We just are. Since good habits lead to good outcomes, we are often perceived based on our daily actions as a direct result of the habits we built.
Habits don’t completely define us as a person, but people often judge us based on our actions. For example, let’s say you have the habit of drug addiction. It doesn’t necessarily by itself make you a bad person. You just need help.
Drug addiction can, however, turn you into a bad person. Drug addiction often brings out the worst in our character. But whether or not we really are bad, others may perceive you to be a bad person since you are a drug addict.
Let me give you another example that maybe we can all relate to.
Let’s say you work for an employer who requires you to be at work from 8 am to 5 pm. Now, let’s say you routinely roll into work somewhere between a few minutes early to maybe a few minutes late. You probably aren’t perceived as someone who has a problem with getting to work on time.
But most of us work with people who consistently roll in at 8:30, 9:00, 9:30 and so on, and still leave at 5:00 pm most days. What is your perception of them? Not as a person, but as far as their commitment to being a good employee? Do you ever hear the office jokes that go on behind their backs? “Hey look, it’s Kevin. He’s on West Coast time for arrival and East coast time for leaving!”
Whether your habits are real or perceived, they do impact us. If we have healthy habits, we most likely will be healthy people.
As runners, if we can’t be consistent, or get our runs in, we won’t come anywhere close to our potential.
6 Tips For Creating Healthy Habits That Stick
Up to this point, we have concentrated on the importance of habit creation. Let’s spend the next several minutes defining the how, because the how, is what most people are interested in. The how is the hard part. Hopefully, these tips will make creating habits a little easier for you.
These tips come from a couple of sources. The first is MichaelHyatt.com. Michael Hyatt is a well-known business platform expert who covers a lot of business and productivity topics for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Michael is also a runner.
1. Identify Positive And Negative Outcomes Related To The Habit You Are Trying To Establish
Most of us focus on the positive outcomes of habit formation. We rarely pay attention to the negative side. For example, we may say, “I want to eat cleaner healthier foods because I want to lose 20 lbs”, or “I will have more energy, put less stress on my knees and joints, and just feel better”. But a lot of times, that is where we stop.
If we take note of the successful outcome and then contrast that against the negative consequence of NOT forming the habit, then the impact on us is stronger. For example, “If I don’t focus on eating better, my cholesterol will get out of control, my weight will continue to go up, and I could develop adult-onset diabetes.” or “I could develop cardiovascular disease, feel more lethargic or even die earlier.”
Instead of ignoring the negative outcome, embrace it. Negative motivation can be powerful especially when contrasted with the positive reasons to form a habit.
2. Be Intentional With Tracking Progress
When it comes to building habits, if you aren’t tracking your progress, then chances are, you aren’t being intentional enough with trying to learn your new habit. When you track something, you are more likely to stick with it. The action of tracking progress helps reinforce the behavior.
When it comes to running, you don’t necessarily have to log every last detail of your workout. While nice, it is simply enough to cross a big, black ‘X” across the day on your calendar to get started. At the end of the month, you can look back at your calendar and you will know exactly how many runs you got in.
That tiny little action of logging a workout feels good. It is a small token of success. You crossed something off your list, you completed a task. However you choose to track it, you just created an entry in mind that has this ever so small reward associated with it that helps imprint that activity in your mind. The more you do it, the more it reinforces the behavior and ultimately the habit creation process.
Some of you may already have great habits when it comes to running. But what about stretching? Cross-training? Your Diet? Your sleep? There is always something that we can improve, and tracking your progress is a critical component.
3. Incorporate New Habits Into Your Normal Routine
Whether we realize it or not, our days are full of daily routines.
This doesn’t mean that we follow it exactly each day, but we tend to do the same things over and over again. To increase the chances of getting a habit to stick, look for ways to get your new habit ingrained into your daily routine. Look at your existing routine and optimize it. Michael Hyatt refers to this as your ritual. He defines ritual as anything that you do regularly that you invest your time and energy in and invest with meaning.
I like the word routine better, but either works here. The point is we need to understand our patterns and if we try to disrupt our pattern (like creating a new habit), we have to be prepared to know how that may interfere with our routine.
If you routinely sleep in and miss runs, you may want to routinely lay your clothes out the night before. Go to bed earlier, and move your alarm clock across the room away from your bed.
I use my iPhone as my alarm and I found I was literally sleeping with the damn thing. As soon as I routinely found myself hitting the snooze a few times and failing to get out of bed, I moved the phone and charger to a wall jack across the room so I was forced out of bed, and walk across the room to turn it off. And I didn’t cheat by setting it on a nightstand or even my dresser which allowed me to just take a step or two and dive back into bed. I mean I literally roll out the left side of my bed, walk around the foot of the bed and over to the other side of the room.
So I got rid of the original routine of hitting snooze and sleeping and created a new routine of placing my phone in a location further away so that I could develop the habit of being an early riser.
Routines can be small. They don’t have to be these big things. I mentioned in the past the importance of creating a morning routine, but that may be too difficult to start with. Instead, look for small things you can do.
Here is an example of one habit I added to my routine:
I have a lot of things on my plate. We all do. I used to come home from work, say Hi and then head off to do other things. I got so busy I really did not connect with my family until much later. So I introduced a small habit, I heard from Michael Hyatt. It's called “Five for Five“. The idea may not have originally came from Michael, but he is where I heard it from.
Five for Five starts with the basic idea that when you walk into your house after work, go stand within five feet from your spouse or kids. Then, spend the next five minutes, 100% focused on them. Put your phone down and spend 100% of your time focusing on them. This exercise is about finding what is going on in their life, not yours. Find out about how their day went and so on. While this may seem like a tiny, tiny thing, over time it communicates caring, empathy, and the importance of the other person in your relationship.
What small things can you do that can be incorporated into your routine?
4. Accountability Is A Key Component To Habit Formation
If you are trying to establish a more significant habit, having an accountability partner is huge. You don’t need someone to nag you but you do need someone who gets you, can relate to you and who understands both the positive and negative outcomes of the habit. This person should be a person of encouragement.
Let’s say you are struggling with establishing a consistent running habit. Your family may be great accountability partners, but what if they don’t get your fixation on running? Maybe they are supportive but they just aren’t going to be the right person who goes out of their way to challenge you.
Finding someone who will run with you would be ideal, but that isn’t always possible.
Another option to find accountability partners is going online to a Facebook Group or special interest group focused on the same type of habits you want to create. When you find someone, consider doing a daily text message exchange, or email. If you struggle to get out the door in the morning, maybe even have them call you 15 minutes after your alarm was supposed to go off to make sure you got your butt out of bed.
Seeking accountability is huge. It works.
5. Don’t Boil The Ocean
I eluded to it earlier, but only take on one, maybe two new habits at a time. And make them small.
For example, if you want to become more consistent at running, make running your primary habit goal and eating healthier, a nice to have. Then, once you have running routine, attack the nutrition side of things. Often, we get highly motivated and too frequently we take things to extremes. We may start an exercise program, try to eat healthier, get more sleep, be a better spouse, get to work earlier so we can get that promotion, and a 100 other things all at the same time.
That is boiling the ocean.
By trying to focus on all things, we end up with nothing. Make incremental changes towards who you want to be, instead of massive change at once.
Remember the acronym FOCUS – Follow one course until success. I have heard that term coming more from a business perspective but it works here. Small, incremental changes are sustainable. Going all in and making sweeping changes at once isn’t.
This is also the reason why most diets fail. The majority of people who fail with dieting, we wake up one day and decide to go all in with the latest:
“No Sugar, No Carbs, No Processed Foods, No Trans Fats, No Dairy, No Alcohol, No GMO, No MSG, Low Sodium, Only Vegetable Fats, Lean Grass-Fed Organic Free Range Beef, plus insert some form of network marketing protein and nutrition shake of your choice that your friends are hawking on your social media wall 24×7 and a 100 other things” diet.
Good luck with that.
Let me know how it is going for you in about 30 days.
It’s not that those things are bad. They’re not. In fact, most of those things are perfectly fine. But by attempting to make all those changes at once isn’t sustainable. Sorry, it just isn’t.
Even if you could do all those things, you miss out on some of the enjoyment that has positive impacts on our lives when consumed in moderation. Food is also a mechanism that brings people together for fellowship and community. Just eat healthier, but don’t be so strict that others view you as the food Nazi.
Now, if you took some of those things (whatever you feel works best for you) and slowly, incrementally added them into your life (not in some bogus 7, 10, 30 day cleanse) but rather slowly introduce them into your diet, so that they don’t become a burden to implement, but rather instead become a natural part of your lifestyle, now you are on to something.
Don’t boil the ocean. Still not convinced you can do it? Here is a TED talk called: Forget Big Change, Start With A Tiny Habit by B.J. Fogg.
6. Create Milestones and Checkpoints
Creating milestones lets us know we are on track. Just like with goals, milestones act as markers to help us measure that we are where we need to be with our habit formation. Achieving milestones also helps keep us motivated. For example, signing up for a 5k, before you even start training makes it more likely you will stick to your 5k training plan. Incorporating milestones and markers along the way helps make habits stick
A Quick Wrapup On Habits
There are dozens of tips when it comes to building habits. I have only touched on a few. The study of habits and habit formation is incredibly broad, yet well researched. Just like everything else, knowledge is power. The key is to not give up. If you fail, forgive yourself and try again. It may take several attempts. It may take one hundred attempts, but it is worth it. What you are doing and trying to accomplish is worth it.
Mental Training And Mindset For Runners: Final Thoughts
I encourage you to make sure that you complete all five podcasts in this mental training and mindset series if you haven’t because while they all were separate topics, they all are interrelated. Be persistent. be mindful, be self-aware and then use the tips and strategies outlines over this series to achieve whatever it is you want to accomplish.
I hope you have enjoyed this series, and don’t hesitate to reach out to me if I can be of any help.
Have a great week!
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