Force of Habit

Reaching fitness goals is a daunting and exhausting task. It’s something that everyone wants to do, but once you slip it’s hard to get back up. Even more intimidating is the idea of spending weeks targeting those trouble spots, but one meal could send you back to square one. So to make up for lost time, some people resort to fad diets like tea toxes, or programs like the P90x.

This is the cost of living in a media-saturated society; we’re shown beautiful people everyday, everywhere we look, and do crazy things to make ourselves even comparably satisfactory.

But recent studies show that the key to a better body, or a better lifestyle in general, is the formation of simpler and better habits.

The first step towards developing good lifestyle alternatives is consciously identifying the bad ones.

Common mistakes that people make when they want to improve their health include failing to eat before working out, forgetting to stretch, and sticking to only one type of fitness. Running does not constitute strength training and lifting weights doesn’t guarantee stamina. In the same sense, those looking to jump straight into a session of hot yoga before hydrating regularly may encounter a bad experience and never return to class.

The truth is, neglecting a balanced diet and workout routine will only keep you further from the chance of sustaining a physical equilibrium in the future.

Identifying the roots of good and bad habits is also key to becoming more physically fit–although this involves much more mental power.

In his book, “The Power of Habit,” business reporter Charles Duhigg writes about a theory he calls the “habit loop.” The loop is a three-part process that involves a trigger, a reactionary routine, and then a reward that registers if the process should be repeated in the future.

This theory helps explain why workout regimes are conditional–not every person who realizes the lack of fitness in his or her life will actually feel a sense of reward upon starting up again. A vicious loop of abrupt starting and stopping can occur.

It’s important to remember that goals are very different from dreams. Setting them can be a good motivator for jumpstarting fitness regimens, but they risk falling short of keeping those behaviors constant.

When people reach their goals, they believe the process is over. However, it always begs the question: what next?

Hard work doesn’t stop at the finish line; the hardest part about working towards a better lifestyle is maintaining it–not simply reaching a point of contentment or stasis.

Behavioral psychologist James Clear writes that, “goals reduce your current happiness.” Because they’re often short-term, results are anticipated with more anxiety, whereas dreams are far more inspiring for those who seek lasting change. People who set goals tend to give up more quickly when they don’t see immediate progress, despite beginning with good intentions.

It’s vital to stay positive about even the smallest steps, because a minor setback could actually prove a stepping stone to better results. Good personal fitness requires motivation oriented towards the long-term.

“Commit to a process, not a goal,” Clear adds.

The final solution to building better fitness habits is remembering to reward yourself.

Rewards can be something as small as a “cheat day” after six days of eating clean. Or, you could connect fitness goals with personal ones, such as that beach vacation you’ve been wanting to take–when you see those swimsuit photos, you’ll be thankful for the times you did sit-ups instead of sitting on the couch.

Rewarding yourself is perhaps the best habit to cultivate while pursuing a healthier lifestyle. It reinforces initial ideals and provides motivation to shoot past the finish line.

All you have to do is start now.

Feature image courtesy of flickr user Greg Westfall.