WHAT IS A HEALTHY HABIT ?
Healthy habits are the routines that add up to living a healthier life and being healthy as you age. A great example is the habit of brushing your teeth. It’s good for your dental health, heart health and helps you avoid the pain of dental problems. Most of us have been engaging in this healthy habit twice daily since before we can remember and it is a habit ingrained in each day.
WHY ARE HEALTHY HABITS IMPORTANT?
It’s difficult to change the course of your life from unhealthy to healthy. That alone sounds like an uphill battle. The good news, however, is that small tasks, especially those that become habits as ingrained as brushing your teeth, can make a significant impact on changing the trajectory of your health for the better. Brushing your teeth twice daily takes only about five minutes but adds up to a lifetime of good dental hygiene. On the other hand, avoiding the five minute task of brushing your teeth daily will certainly add up to a lifetime of dental problems and pain. Small habits over time can make a giant difference. That’s why we help clients find ways to make small changes that add up over time to big results.
THE MYTHS AND CHALLENGES OF BUILDING HEALTHY HABITS
Developing new habits (and getting rid of unhelpful ones) is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Additionally, while continuing a habit over time, especially daily, can help build momentum, there is no magic time frame that makes a new habit stick permanently. Engaging in a new habit would be simple if it truly did take only 7 or 21 or 60 days to solidify. In that instance, all it would take for success would be a little grit to see it through and then it would stick forever. As you may know from experience, this isn’t often a successful way to build long-term habits. However, that doesn’t mean that it is impossible to build new habits, it just takes a little more creativity and effort to find what really works for each individual.
Since there is no single formula for habit development success, finding what makes a client ‘tick’ is imperative. We at Urban Fitness work within our clients’ individual strengths to create positive change. Although each client’s development of healthier habits looks different, we’ve found the following strategies to be universally helpful.
HABIT BUILDING STRATEGIES IN ACTION
There are as many strategies for habit building as there are people. Here are some examples of specific strategies we have used to help clients make changes in small ways that add up to big results.
- Review End Goals or Anti-goals – Spending time hearing what a client really wants out of life or wants to avoid in life guides our suggestions for behavior change. Example: A client has developed a goal of being in the best shape of her life in 4 years, by age 60, but had struggled with follow-through in the past. She used to set shorter goals that made her feel discouraged about her progress and abandon them if she wasn’t on track. This long-term goal is more in line with a healthy lifestyle ‘theme’ and end goal that has lasting power, rather than a shorter end goal with checkpoints she needed to hit by certain dates.
- Understand the Current System – How is a client currently operating that contributes to unhealthy habits? Knowing the current system helps us understand daily hurdles and offer alternatives. Example: A client always leaves for work early but when there’s extra time she stops at the gas station for a snack and often buys more than intended due to sales.
- Tiny Tasks that Fit into the Current System – Without changing more than 1 or 2 things at a time, how can we build a better habit into the current system? Example: For the client who stops at the gas station when there’s extra time, we don’t want to change the positive habit of leaving early for work. We also didn’t see it as realistic to have extra time and eliminate the stop all together. We agreed that reducing the negative effect of the stop would be a good place to start. For this client, stopping would be okay, getting a snack would be okay, but that purchasing only one thing would be a step in the right direction toward healthier eating patterns, regardless of the perceived value of the sale.
- Prompts Built Into Other Tasks – Similar to building tasks into a current system, this method uses an existing habit to prompt action on a new habit. A wonderful benefit of this option is that, sometimes, no extra time is needed to accomplish this extra task, when paired with a current everyday task that can be done simultaneously. Example: A client was given the idea to evaluate and work on her alignment whenever she brushes her teeth. She lengthens and straightens based on the fundamentals she’s learned through Pilates training and applies these principles twice a day now that she has mentally paired the two habits.
- Commit to the Process – Some behavior change takes time for a client to see noticeable results. As trainers, sometimes we simply ask clients to make a commitment to a task for a designated amount of time when we know the results are likely to speak for themselves. Example: A client was unsure of how fundamental Pilates exercises would be helpful to him. This same client had proven to be very committed to reproducing the workouts we built for him on his own. We began listing a few Pilates based exercises on each written workout so that several times weekly he would do these as part of his regular workout. Because he performed all of the exercises on his sheet, even when he was unsure of some, he reported a few months later that his back pain was all but eliminated through the strength he gained in his core from these Pilates-based exercises, proving to him the benefits of Pilates as a part of his workout.
- Awareness around language used – The language we use about ourselves, our bodies, our choices and our behaviors can either assist or undermine our ability to make positive change. We strive to bring awareness to the word choices of others and to use positive, fact-based language when teaching and coaching. Example: A client talks about nutrition in terms of eating ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. We gently remind that all foods can have a place in a healthy diet even if some are more helpful toward goals like losing weight or becoming healthier. Helping this hclient talk about the facts of a food can begin to take away the emotion and self-judgement around eating habits and refocus on constructive observations.
- Prep.Prep.Prep. – Preparation can take many forms and is often determined by other demands in a clients’ life. Any level of preparation, even if simply thinking through a scenario or upcoming commitments is helpful. Sometimes preparation requires more action like packing a lunch and gym bag each weekday night. Example: One week, a client may get prepared for healthier eating by spending 1 hour washing and chopping all of the vegetables he’ll eat over the course of the next week. With the prep mostly done, the client can incorporate vegetable into meals with ease. On another week, when this level of prep is not possible due to other commitments, he will substitute packages of pre-chopped vegetables into his grocery list to ensure the same positive end result with less prep time.
- Pre-Plan Outliers – Discussions with clients about their upcoming schedule, events and commitments can often uncover potential pitfalls for their healthy habits. By discussing them ahead of time, we can help make realistic goals around events and come up with opportunities to plan ahead for success. Example: A client finds it difficult to eat in line with her weight loss goals when spending summer weekends at the cabin with family. Helping establish some guidelines prior to going out of town has helped create moderation and mindfulness. When someone else opens a bag of chips, she has a special snack she brought just for her, that is in line with her goals. Regardless of when the alcoholic beverages begin, she waits until after dinner and pours herself smaller, 2 ounce pours of wine to limit her overall quantity.
- Review and Adjust – Not every suggestion we make or workout we write will be an instant winner. When clients offer honest feedback about what is and isn’t working we can
andcontinue with the strategies that are most helpful and work to find new solutions to the ideas that didn’t work well. Example: Workouts we were building for a client included 5-6 exercises that she would repeat a second time in the same workout. Her feedback was that getting to the bottom of the list and having to start over was discouraging. She often didn’t do the second set and felt guilty for not completing all of her homework. To get around the feelings of having to do the workout all over again, we changed the structure. With a list of 10 exercises that she does just one time each, she can work through the whole list top to bottom and be done, feeling successful about completing the workout fully.
- Focus on the Positive – We never expect perfection from our clients but we do expect effort. We always strive to build our clients up and reinforce the positive actions they take! Example: With more time at home, a client is enjoying eating from the garden and making meals as needed rather than prepping much ahead of time. Occasionally, running out of easily prepared foods leads the family to the drive-thru. Focusing on the positives which include enjoying new recipes, seasonal produce and the mostly slower pace of the season, we celebrate and encourage these things rather than focusing on the negative, a few drive-thru trips.
WHAT WE DO AT URBAN FITNESS
We help all of our clients develop healthier habits around exercise and nutrition as a part of their programming. We believe in positive reinforcement, implementation of small and compounding systems, and adjusting along the way for continued progress. We provide workout homework for all of our clients and offer nutrition coaching meetings, done via video or phone call, for those clients who want help with their nutrition as well as their workouts. We enjoy helping clients ‘show up’ in all sorts of healthy ways throughout their week instead of just helping during their scheduled exercise hours.
Want help developing healthier habits that work for your lifestyle? Schedule a free consultation or call 651-895-0774.
Addie Kelzer is a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. She believes that by making fitness and good food practical, her clients will hold the power to positively change their health and the health of those closest to them.