“Tell me what you do every day and I’ll tell you where you will be in a year” – Brian Keane Rewire Your Mindset book 2019
Habits play such a significant role in our lives from which shoe we tie first every morning to our food choices throughout the day.
Thankfully, like most things, fitness can also become a habit.
I’ve been a long-term subscriber that you need to have systems in your life as opposed to making countless decisions every single day.
Decision fatigue is a very real thing; and willpower has been shown to be finite too, so here are six things you can to set yourself up for success with your fitness goals.. and equally important, four things you should not do!
The 6 Do’s For Building the Fitness Habit
1: Do pre pack a gym pack:
I spoke in my first book The Fitness Mindset about my bad habit of coming home from work, grabbing a chocolate bar and watching games shows until 6pm; and how I rewired that by hijacking the cue, routine, reward system of habit formation
Whether you plan to workout first thing in the morning or directly after work, make the process easier by preplanning in advance.
The same idea works for leaving workout clothes beside your bed before you go to sleep.
2: Do pre pack food (or pre-cook):
The food you eat is literally what nourishes your body.
Let’s just call a spade a spade, there are very few fitness goals you can hit that don’t take your nutrition into account.
Your car wouldn’t run without fuel and your body generally won’t run (or at least run well) without food.
There a few ways to work this.
- Make extra dinner and use it for lunch the following day.
- Pre-cook several days’ worth of food in advance, freeze it and take it out as needed.
- Use a meal prep company (I recommend Clean Cut Meals as they’re the company I use).
- Educate yourself on nutrition so you can bring ‘easy to grab’ food options that take little preparation time. Think overnight oats for example.
Ultimately, its down to what works best for you; but nutrition is a controllable area of your life and is key for your fitness success; so prioritise it.
3: Do have an accountability partner
A coach, a friend or a family member. All or any can potentially work great depending on life circumstances.
Most of us need some form of external accountability so factor this in to your choice.
4: Do workout and then worry about food afterwards:
There is a term in economics called the sunk cost fallacy, which basically means that you throw good money after bad trying to claw back an original investment.
However, you can make this same psychological bias work for you in regards to fitness.
If you work out hard or exercise regularly, there’s a good chance that you won’t want to ‘undo’ your hard work by eating too much sugar or processed food afterwards.
Of course, this can go the other way too- if you default to the “I’ve worked out, I’ll treat myself” philosophy; and you tend to reward yourself with food, this probably isn’t the best approach to take.
5: Do something that inspires, motivate or excites you:
Motivation is the ultimate double edged sword.
It works great in the beginning because it can get you from 0-1 but at some point, it disappears.
Relying on it long term is a terrible strategy.
That being said, if you are struggling to get up and go, then you can force the motivation or inspiration to come.
- Upload a motivational podcast
- Listen to your favourite upbeat song
- Throw on your new workout gear.
- Sign up to a program, course or coach that fills you with excitement.
Whatever you need to do that gets you moving is the goal here.
6: Do non-food related rewards
I don’t want to be harsh here; but I use food and treats to train my dog Rocko and unfortunately, a lot of people use food as a way to ‘treat’ themselves too.
I’m also not saying you shouldn’t have your favourite foods, my coaching philosophy is quite the opposite in fact.
I don’t make any food off limits on my programs (with the exceptions of allergies or intolerances) – but you should eat these foods for the right reasons, not because you inadvertently layered the emotional response of hitting a goal or a target with a food reward.
There are lots of ways to use non-food related rewards but to get the ball rolling, here are some options:
- Buy new clothes that fit your current shape.
- Book a holiday or weekend away after you hit your target.
- Sign up to a race or event that gets you excited when you think about training for it.
The list could potentially go on and on, the more creative you are based on your non-food interests, the better.
Now onto the four things that DO NOT work when trying to build the fitness habit.
The 4 Do Not’s For Building the Fitness Habit
1: Don’t rely on will power:
Will power is finite, meaning it will eventually run out.
Let’s say you filled up a two litre water bottle first thing this morning. Similar to willpower, it tends to be higher or fuller earlier in the day.
Now picture two scenarios. One where you are walking around for hours in the sun and the other you are sitting at home, chilling on the couch. Which one is going to take more of your water?
Probably walking around for hours in the sun.
Willpower works in a very similar way, the more you use, the less you have.
If your day is full of stress, biting your tongue at work colleagues and trying to avoid the biscuits in the canteen several times throughout the day, then this is draining your willpower bit by bit.
Before you know it, its 8pm and all you want to do is eat some comfort food and have a beer or glass of wine in front of the TV.
However, similar to refilling your water bottle, you can also ‘top up’ your willpower.
Working out or physical movement, nourishing food, meditation or any stress management technique can all refill your figurate willpower bottle.
Think of building systems in your life over willpower.
The right combination of avoiding or minimising situations that require you to use your willpower mixed with doing things that fill up your bottle again is the real secret to success.
2: Don’t rely on motivation:
I don’t want to flog a dead horse here; but motivation is merely the way you feel.
If you change your state, you will change the way that you feel.
3: Don’t make too many changes too quickly:
This is the ultimate failure pitfall and its normally grounded in some solid reasoning.
If you make more drastic changes, you will get more drastic results, and this is true.
What’s the end goal?
If you are driving from Galway to Dublin, you can go 200km per hour; but your chance of crashing or literally and figuratively going off track is higher.
You can make the same trip in slightly less time by driving at 100km per hour and your chance of reaching your end destination in one piece is considerably higher.
When it comes to making too many changes too soon, think about your car.
Just because it can go 200km per hour doesn’t mean you should be driving it at that speed.
4: Don’t press the f*ck it button if the day, week or month doesn’t go as planned:
Are you ready for an unpopular truth?
It never goes exactly as planned…
Your child will get sick, you’ll get a new work deadline that stretches your mental bandwidth, you’ll sleep in and miss your workout. It never goes exactly as plan.
But the temptation is to press the “f*ck it button” and let an unsupportive and misaligned food choice at breakfast turn into another unsupportive food choice at lunch which continues to dinner until you ultimately think “f*ck it – the days a write off now, I’ll start back on plan on Monday”
Don’t be that person.
One missed workout doesn’t have to turn into two.
One bad day of eating doesn’t need to roll into another.
Setbacks are inevitable. Things don’t always go as planned. It’s how we respond to them that matters.
You might find all this difficult in the beginning, but all change is like that.
The more you practice and the more repetitions you put in, the easier it gets.
If you do this long enough, it will become automatic and you can safely call this your ‘new normal’.
At that point, the fitness habit will have become part your new identity and the success becomes an inevitable by-product of consistent choices you’ve made.
As I quoted earlier “tell me what you do every day and I’ll tell you where you’ll be in a year” or as the great stoic philosopher Seneca put it “form good habits and become a slave to them”
Thanks for reading and please feel free to screenshot your favorite parts and pop them on your social media.
My handle is Brian Keane Fitness on all platforms.
Willpower and habits: https://dornsifecms.usc.edu/assets/sites/545/docs/Wendy_Wood_Research_Articles/Neal_Wood_and_Drolet_2013_JPSP.pdf