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Athlete Habits

Small Habits, Big Change

Your brain is wired to create and use habits. Most of what you do during a day actually qualifies as a mental “habit”. From brushing your teeth to feeding your dogs to driving to work and on through your day, close to fifty percent of your thoughts and actions are routine. They’re habitual.
This is good as it saves you countless minutes of mental processing. Our minds are designed to build unconscious routines, which psychologists call habits, so we can focus on the new and unusual – a definite advantage to our ancient ancestors.

Some habits are useful – tying your shoes, putting on a seat-belt, hand washing, turning off the stove, etc – while others are detrimental or destructive. We’re going to focus on the good habits and use some leading-edge psychology to build even more!

In his New York Times award-winning book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explores the concept of a keystone habit. He recognized that people can make significant changes in their life with minimal effort by consciously developing keystone habits. These are new behaviors or changes in routine that set off a chain reaction of new and improved behaviors without extra willpower or attention. 

Multiple studies have found that exercise is one of the strongest keystone habits. Any exercise – from a walk around the block or ten thousand steps a day or a bike ride around your neighborhood – counts when you’re creating a new habit. Over the long term, the duration or level of effort is not as important as the daily routine of some form of exercise. This is the concept embedded in the current usage of “fitness challenges” by personal trainers. Working the challenge at any level improves your fitness but the true benefits are much, much bigger. Exercise as a keystone habit leads to the progressive development of other good behaviors and thoughts. It works something like this…

After a short workout, you drink more water. You then feel better and make a healthier choice for lunch or skip dessert at dinner. After a few days, a little bit of lost weight energizes you to up your exercise amount so you take a walk after lunch. More exercise then leads to better sleep and a better attitude which makes you more productive at work. More productive means less stress which reduces illnesses and gives you even more energy.

And so it goes – on and on – a cascade of small changes in behavior and attitude lead to positive changes throughout your life. Everyone will have their own stream of changes in behavior but the process of moving toward positive choices and attitudes is the same. And, it all stems from using one small keystone habit.

Other common keystone habits are:

Goal Setting
Time Management
Food Journaling
Eating Family Dinner
Money Management (budgetting)
Consistent Sleep

Do you have a keystone habit that you’re working on?
Or, have a keystone habit that’s changed your life?
Let us know about it in the comments!

Athlete Habits

A Habit I F*ing Failed At

Diane has a goal for 2020 – stop dropping f-bombs. I was mildly intrigued, and then I heard a podcast on living more positively. The podcast interviewee pointed out that curse words by nature are negative; profanities rarely add anything positive to a moment. Since I am big on cultivating positivity, this idea really hit home and I decided to set my own goal to stop using all curse words

I immediately became hyper aware of my cursing. Every piece of colorful language that left my lips was followed by a gut-clench of true frustration. I was constantly muttering “gosh darn it, not again.” I told my friends of my valiant pursuit to clean up my act and began dropping “fudge nuggets” and “dagnabbits” into our conversations. As you can imagine, they were quite amused. I even kept a daily, mental total of cuss words used – probably around five most days (okay, some days more like eleven). 

I gave myself a pass anytime I replayed a conversation I had with my advisor about my thesis. Like, have you ever tried to explain the complexities of agility to non-dog people while editing a 100+ page paper; swearing seems downright necessary to fully express the aggravation. Regardless, I was improving at my goal of cutting back on cussing. 

Well, I thought I was improving. There came a day where my allotted passes blurred together and then I couldn’t really claim that I was on this mission. It dawned on me, I straight up f*ing failed. 

Yet, Diane was succeeding. F-bombs were becoming rare. Why? We basically had the same goal. We should have been equally successful at eliminating this bad habit. By comparing our experiences, I’ve gained a few insights into what made the difference.

1. My goal (stop using all curse words) and Diane’s goal (stop using one curse word) might not sound different, but my goal was too drastic to try all at once.

2. Diane actually penalized herself a dollar for each f-bomb dropped. By counting dollars in the envelope, gave her a clear number how many times she failed. Plus, she plans to buy herself a gift with the “f-bomb fund” when she finally breaks the bad habit for good. Keeping track in my head just wasn’t effective and added to my frustration. 

3. My environment wasn’t ideal. During this process, the people around me brought attention to my substitutions and they continued to curse a “normal” amount. Now, let’s be clear – their actions weren’t an intentional effort to thwart my progress, but going against the status quo is difficult. Being surrounded by your bad habit makes change harder. 

4. I didn’t stay set a firm boundary for consistency. By allowing myself passes when I didn’t “feel like it” or was extremely frustrated, I undermined my own efforts. Diane keeps her envelope with her every day, everywhere she goes – even on vacation – and counted every word, even when cursing silently in her head.

New habits won’t stick if we don’t construct them to be maintainable. I totally f*ing failed at this habit because I didn’t take the time to create a successful system. However, I now know how to adjust my process to reapproach my habit change.