If you’re like most people, you’ve probably fallen into the pattern of setting new goals in January that die by March. This never-ending cycle is pumped up every year, but in the end, nothing really changes. Most people are unable to follow through and never build habits that last for more than a few months.
Perhaps it’s time to re-examine the process of goal setting and habit formation. Maybe it’s not just self-control and repetition as we’ve been told.
Exercise seems to be one of the toughest habits to create. Weekend warriors find consistency hard because they are strapped for time and short on sleep. Suppose you’re talking with a budding fitness professional about building consistency. They’ll likely quote their textbook on “S.M.A.R.T. goals coupled with action steps and a healthy blend of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.”
That might be a good answer for an intro class on health and fitness, but how does that really help you build the body you want? Well, it doesn’t.
Use these 3 tips to build habits to last a lifetime
- Forget About “The Best Exercise,” Just Pick Something You Like
On the internet, you’ll find countless experts eager to provide their opinion on the “one thing you need for less fat/more muscle/whatever your goal is.”
While their answer may be sound, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle unless you find something that you truly enjoy, regardless of the activity.
Weight lifting is probably the most comprehensive and studied system for body composition improvement. But that doesn’t matter to someone who hates the thought of repeated strain under heavy loads. When it comes to long-term health, choose something you like versus something that provides the “best” health benefit.
The following are easy ways to stay in shape outside the gym:
- Recreational sports
- Rock climbing
- Jumping rope
- Tai Chi
- Bodyweight training
TAKEAWAY: The most important thing is to pick something you enjoy and be consistent. Your current body composition and fitness level will likely determine your potential for survival of current or future pandemics, so build those healthy habits now!
- The Brain Runs the Show
Your brain probably controls more than you realize. For example, it controls your response to food, activity, social interaction, or anticipated stressors. In other words, if you’re absolutely dreading a training session, hating what you eat throughout the week, or can’t stand the thought of lunch with your boss, this affects how you function. Your thoughts about an upcoming decision determine how your body reacts to a stimulus, whether positive or negative.
For example, consider the last time you watched a scary movie. Even if you tried not to react, it still raised your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate.
Why? I mean … the movie isn’t even real!
Well, your brain may consciously understand that the threat is only on TV, but there are certain parts of your brain (your amygdala) that won’t shut off when it comes to threat detection. The same can be said for any aspect of your life. Your mindset toward the event determines the benefit you receive from it.
TAKEAWAY: When it comes to training and nutrition, realize that your brain largely dictates the benefit based on your perception of the event. If you absolutely hate something, don’t keep doing it, eating it, going to it, or working for it. Change something and start to form a positive feedback loop within your brain. Enjoyment. Repetition. Reward. Repeat. This is how habits are formed.
- The Journey Is More Important Than the Goal
Talk to anyone who has completed a sizable goal that required months (sometimes years) of planning, preparation, and training. What’s the first thing they usually say?
“I’m already preparing for _________, even though I just finished ___________.”
Humans unite under a shared bond of a common struggle. This is what the military capitalizes on in boot camp. It is also what made CrossFit what it is today. Humans embrace comradery through struggle.
It seems we’ve been sold on the idea that the finish line is more important than the race itself.
“If I can just drop those last 10 pounds, I’ll finally be happy.”
“I just need to add another 25 pounds to my squat, and then I’ll finally be happy.”
“Another 5 pounds of muscle and I’ll look good on the beach. Then, I’ll finally be happy.”
No, you won’t because humans don’t work that way.
There will always be another goal, another race, another competition, or another time trial. We’ve been suckered by the cultural conception of “bigger is always better.”
You’ll never be happy if you buy into this because the previous goal will always fade away, overshadowed by what’s next.
Learning to enjoy the journey is a process, and it takes time to develop this skill of building habits. Most people only focus on training as a means to an end. “I train because it helps me change my body, which will ultimately bring me happiness.”
The true beauty of the struggle is when you learn to embrace the day-to-day challenges and the learning that occurs through them.
Don’t get me wrong … the process of changing your body composition and acquiring a better physique won’t make you happy, but it will change your belief in yourself. That can be the motivation for future changes as you grow and adapt.
Health is a developed skillset of building life-long habits. It isn’t something you’re born into or a “genetic blessing” you acquired from your parents. It takes work and personal responsibility to understand the need for effort and the investment of time, money, and energy.
TAKEAWAY: If you take away nothing else from this article, remember this: Pursuing happiness through body composition change is a long road filled with disappointment. Learn to love the process because it will teach you the true meaning of happiness, which doesn’t reside in what you see in the mirror.