How To Develop and Implement Habits That Can Help You Lose Weight

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at this rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it – but all that had gone before.” – Jacob Riis (social reformer)

Happy New Year!

Each year approximately 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. One of the most popular resolutions is to lose weight. Unfortunately, by the time February arrives most have quit their resolution, and will probably make the same resolution next January. In fact, only about 20 percent of those who set New Year’s resolutions have stuck with them by the end of the year.

Why are so few in successfully following through with their resolutions? Most likely they didn’t develop the proper behaviors and habits necessary to be successful. Yes, goals or resolutions are important and provide direction, however it’s the systems and habits that we develop that are most important to our success.

I recently finished reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits, which I highly recommend. He shares some valuable insight on how to develop good habits and eliminate bad ones. In this article, I will touch upon a few that might help you get started in developing the habits you need to lose weight, or in achieving any other New Year’s resolution that you made.

Identity Focus

On important key to your success in losing weight, or any other goal or resolution that you have set for yourself, is creating an identity for yourself consistent with this goal or resolution. Then focus on becoming the person consistent with that identity, instead of fixating on a goal or resolution. Thus, instead of focusing on losing X pounds of weight, you might shift your mindset and identity to becoming a “healthy person.” Once you have identified that you are a healthy person, it can become easier to develop the habits consistent with becoming a healthy person, and in the process you will automatically lose weight and feel better.

With your new identity you can now ask yourself, “What would a healthy person do in this situation?” or “What do I need to do in this situation, as a healthy person?” You will then simply act like the type of person you already believe yourself to be. The process of building habits is really the process of becoming yourself.

This can help you avoid the “yo-yo” diet effect that many who try to lose weight experience. In this case, people focus on the goal of losing weight and not developing the identity and habits necessary for sustainable weight loss.

Awareness of Current Habits

The process of behavior change always begins with awareness. Therefore, it would be beneficial to list all of you daily habits. This would include things like brushing your teeth, showering, etc. Then ask yourself, “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Is this habit consistent with the identity I have of myself as a healthy person?” Then be on the lookout for unsupportive habits and verbalize this habit when it occurs, as well as what the outcome will be if you allow the habit to continue. For example, “It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and I’m reaching for that candy bar, like I always do at this time. I know if I eat it, I will feel satisfied for a few moments, but later will feel tired and feel bad that I ate the candy bar and start eating chips.”  You might begin replacing this with, “At two o’clock I will eat an apple.”

Design You Environment To Support You Being a Healthy Person

Your environment can provide cues that trigger your habits. So, it is important to design your environment to support that habits you want in your life and eliminate those you don’t want. Such examples would include: eliminating foods that don’t support you being a healthy person, such as candy, chips, cookies, etc. from your house or at least removing them from view. Instead, have healthier food choices in view, like a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table. Another example would be to have your workout clothes, shoes, and water bottle ready and in view the night before, so when you wake up, you just put them on and start exercising; no thought or significant effort necessary.

Start Small and Include an Appropriate Reward System Until the Habits Are Automatic

The great thing about building effective habits and behaviors is that you can start with small steps. For example, eating dinner on a smaller plate, so the portion sizes you eat are smaller. You might also start drinking more water and develop the habit of having your water bottle with you at all times, and drink a little more each day. Or, start walking 5 minutes a day, and maybe add 30-60 seconds every couple of days. Make walking enjoyable by doing this with a friend, with family, or your favorite music. The great thing about small habits is they have a compounding effect when performed daily; a one percent change daily leads to being 37 times better at the end of the year! This is the same extraordinary compounding effect that occurs when you invest in mutual funds. As a result, you can build momentum begin developing other good habits that can support you being a healthy person. The key is to start with small habits that are easy to do and which you could do on a consistent basis.

In addition, it can be helpful to set up a reward system, so if you walk at least 5 minutes a day 5-7 days per week you reward yourself appropriately, such as getting a massage or going to the movies. It’s important that these rewards are in the short-term because we are hardwired for immediate gratification. Weight loss is challenging because it can take months, or even years, to see significant weight loss, and this can be demotivating because you are not being rewarded for your efforts until months or years. Thus, it’s important to acknowledge and reward the small wins along the way.

You will most likely find that the small habits you begin become automatic over time, and you can then incorporate other habits that can help you become a healthy person, and then shift your reward system to these new habits.

Give Yourself the Gift of Movement

First, view all movement as beneficial; it doesn’t have to be structured exercise at the gym or performed for at least 20 or 30 minutes at a time. Second, change your mindset on movement from “have to” to “get to”. Start associating movement as a gift you give yourself. In addition to the gift of health you are giving yourself, you also give yourself the opportunity to spend time with a friend or your family on a walk, or walk by yourself in a favorite place or listen to your favorite music while walking. Giving this gift to yourself will allow you to better show up for loved ones in your life because you will be happier and more energized.

 

There are many other habits and tips that can be beneficial for weight loss. Many more than I can fit in one blog article, but I do want to leave you with a few more habits and tips that might help. Weight loss is complex and therefore it can be easier to identify as being a healthy person and develop habits consistent with this identity. I will share more tips in future articles.

Other Habits That May Help

  • Eat on smaller plates to reduce portion sizes and calorie consumption
  • Put vegetables on your plate first and they should fill up at least half of your plate
  • Chop up fruits and vegetables on the weekends and pack into containers, so you have easy access to them during the week
  • Purchase food in individual packages rather than bulk size
  • When eating out have the waiter box up half of your meal before you receive it, so you only eat half the portion size
  • Get at 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night

Other Tips

  • It’s better to do less than nothing at all, for example with movement
  • Keep a scoreboard of the good habits you have performed
  • Never miss a good habit more than once, simply do something (such as walking one minute instead of 5 minutes)
  • Acknowledge and appreciate the nonscale victories of living healthier such as skin looking better, waking up earlier, having greater sex drive
  • Have someone who will hold you accountable

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

Note: I am not promoting any specific diet for weight loss. In fact, I feel this one-size fits all approach does not work. You should consult with your physician before starting any weight loss program.

References:

James Clear. Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Avery: New York, 2018.

Michelle Segar. No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness. AMACOM, 2015.

Goals Set the Direction, But Habits Are Best For Becoming The Runner You Want to Become

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at this rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it – but all that had gone before.” – Jacob Riis (social reformer)

Happy New Year Runners!

Each year approximately 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, by the time February arrives most have quit, and will probably make the same resolution next January. Why weren’t they successful? Most likely they didn’t develop the proper behaviors and habits necessary to be successful. Yes, goals are important and provide direction, however it’s the systems and habits that we develop, that are most important to our success.

I recently finished reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits, which I highly recommend. He shares some valuable insight on how to develop good habits, and eliminate bad ones. In this article, I will touch upon a few insights that might help you get started in developing the habits you need to become a better runner and achieve your running goals.

Goals are helpful in that they provide us direction. Such as if we were flying from Los Angeles to Maui, it is helpful to know which direction we need to go. However, if we set a course starting from Los Angeles to land in Maui we would not arrive, if we did not make adjustments along the way. Similar with our running goals. We may have a goal of completing our first marathon, or breaking four hours, or qualifying for Boston, however if we don’t develop the proper plan, get in the runs and support work (dynamic warmup, cool down, strengthening exercises, and cross-training) and develop other important habits, we’ll not optimize our training. Instead, we may develop an injury and we won’t develop the endurance and/or speed necessary to achieve our goal.

Take Small Steps with a System-Focused Approach, Instead of Goal-Focused

One important principle from Atomic Habits is developing systems that set you up to become the person necessary to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself. Thus, to become a better runner such things as: proper training and nutrition plans, running form, support work, sleep, and hydration are important. If these are implemented on a consistent basis, incremental progress will be made leading to improved running performance, which then lead to better race results.

One of my favorite coaches of all time is the late Coach John Wooden, who had his players focus on making some small improvement each day that would help improve their game. These small improvements compound over time, like when you invest in mutual funds. Wooden put the emphasis on improvement and not on winning basketball games and national championships. As a result, some of Wooden’s players became some of the best basketball players in history (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton), and his teams won ten national championships, including seven in a row.

It is interesting to note that Wooden did not win his first national championship until he had been coaching at UCLA for 16 years! So, it took him a while to develop and successfully implement a system that would maximize his players’ performance, as well as his own coaching abilities. Similarly, if you are growing bamboo. It takes a significant amount of time for a bamboo plant to lay down an extensive root system. Then, all of sudden, a whole bunch of bamboo appears!

A systems-first mentality also allows you to fall in love with the process rather than the product/goal and you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. This is important because we are hardwired for immediate gratification. The goal-first mentality forces us to delay gratification until the next milestone is reached. The goal-first mentality also creates an “either-or” conflict in which you are either successful or a failure. Also, a goal-oriented mindset can create a “yo-yo” effect, which once the goal is achieved, you revert back to old habits. This is common with those trying to achieve weight loss.

So, it can be more beneficial to focus on what you want to become, instead of what you want to achieve, and develop the habits or systems to do so. If instead of waiting until we achieve our goal, we can achieve satisfaction in performing the steps along the way, we will be much happier and are more likely to make good habits automatic. Early on we may want to set up a rewards system for when we are completing the habits that we need to become the runner we need to become. Therefore, if we complete our run and the important support work, then we reward ourselves appropriately. For example, I reward myself with ten minutes of additional guitar-playing time. Over time you may not need the reward system because you automatically include support work on your run days.

So, again even though your goals will direct you, what’s most importance is the system you implement to become the runner necessary to achieve those goals. If you develop the habits and put in the work, the results will follow, just as they did for Coach Wooden.

 Identity Focus

Another important aspect of Atomic Habits is to become identity-focused, instead of goal-focused. Your habits are consistent with the identity you have for yourself. So, in order to change your habits, you have to change your identity. For example, if someone is trying to lose weight, they could change their identity to that of a healthy person, instead of focusing on losing a certain number of pounds. They can then focus on making decisions consistent with what a healthy person does, and could ask themselves, “What would a healthy person do in this situation?”

Similarly, if you have a time goal and/or want to be a Boston qualifier, your identity could be I’m a “sub-3:45 marathoner” or a “Boston qualifier” and put your focus on the habits necessary or consistent with being a “sub-3:45 marathoner” or “Boston qualifier”. You can then ask yourself, “Who is the type of person that would get these results?” Therefore, you would begin developing the sleep habits (such as 7-9 hours of sleep per night, because while you are sleeping the important adaptations to your training are occurring), nutrition habits (proper nutrients to fuel you and support adaptations), and support work habits necessary. You may also determine that it is necessary to work with a coach, so that you optimize your running form for performance and have an optimal training plan.  You may also need to develop the mind-set of focusing on improving as a runner from year-to-year, and appreciate that it may take a couple of years to break 3:45 in a marathon, or qualify for Boston.

Habit Stacking and Designing Your Environment

Techniques such as habit stacking and designing your environment (make it obvious) may help you facilitate the habits consistent with your identity of being a “sub-3:45 marathoner”, for example. After my runs I grab a glass of water to begin hydrating and focus on “relaxing my legs” by doing gentle leg swings, gradually increasing the range of motion. I perform these close to our designated workout room, which has my yoga mat, resistance band, dumbbells, foam roller, and lacrosse ball all laid out in full view (designing my environment). This cues me to perform the rest of my support work, including my strengthening exercises and cool down (habit stacking). Also, I usually play music I enjoy while performing these, which makes it easier to perform. I’ve performed this routine so many times that it has become automatic, and I recommend setting up a similar situation for yourself.

I will touch upon other important principles from Atomic Habits and other behavior change strategies in future blogs, to help you become the runner you want to become and help you achieve your goals along the way.

Summary of Key Points

  • Success is the product of daily habits
  • Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results
  • Identity the person you want to become and develop the habits consistent with that identity
  • Consistency of habits is important. Start small and implement a proper reward system for immediate gratification once you’ve completed these habits. These habits should soon become automatic.
  • Focus on improvement over time, such as year-to-year, as a runner, not just a one-time goal

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help.

I don’t want to leave you with the idea that goals aren’t important. They have their place, as far as providing direction. Also, there are other steps you should take before beginning your training. Click here for a post from last year on goal setting and here to learn of other steps you should take before you begin training.

Also, it’s not too late to get started on training, if you are planning to run a spring half- or full-marathon. I began my formal training for the Colfax marathon last week.

Finally, I plan to lead a half- and full-marathon training group this year for fall half- and full-marathons. The group will meet once per week in Louisville (CO) for a run, and participants will be provided with a 16-week training plan. If you are interested, or would like to learn more, please contact me at brian@denverrunningcoach.com

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

James Clear. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.  Avery: New York, 2018.