Building & Breaking Habits
My experience is that we often commit to change using a goal-orientation. By that I mean, we focus on our big, lofty goal to motivate us, and spend each day measuring our progress toward achieving this goal.
“I want to get in shape and lose 30 pounds!” Big, lofty goal.
But, guess what? Success and failure start with the same goal. For every person who achieves said goal, there are others out there who didn’t achieve it. So what differentiates them? I’d propose that it’s the actions of those who achieve it. And to put a finer point on it – it’s not the one time action – it’s the repeated actions. It’s the habits.
Will Durant perhaps puts it best: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Habits are defined as “settled or regular tendencies or practices, especially ones that are hard to give up.” This implies we can have positive habits – tendencies or practices that work for us – and negative habits – tendencies or practices that work against us. And the impact of either type compounds over time. It can seem like a habit makes little difference day over day, but in fact its effect multiplies as you repeat it.
“Yes, yes,” you might be thinking to yourself. “I know this! I need to break my bad habits and build good ones. But it’s so much easier said than done.”
Yes – I agree. But there are some strategies we can use to both build good habits and break bad ones. These strategies come from my favorite book on habits – Atomic Habits by James Clear. If you want a full deep dive, I can’t recommend his book highly enough. But if you’re looking for the cheat sheet – I’ll summarize his four laws of habits here and give some concrete examples grounded in fitness and nutrition.