Over the past few weeks I have been reading the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. His examples provide a clear description of habit, why we do what we do, and ways to analyze habits if we want to change. The book articulates much of what I have done over the past few years without necessarily thinking about it as precisely as he states. The habit loop described in the first section is important to examine. It contains three elements: cue, routine, and reward. Duhigg says we need to figure out what the cues are that lead us to the routine or behavior and then figure out what reward we are receiving from that behavior. Then we can choose different routines that support healthier choices. There are many more elements to habit that he describes and the book is definitely worth reading.
Change is never easy and there are really no easy answers if someone wants to make major changes in habit in their life. It takes a ton of hard work and commitment. It also requires support of other people. I have been fortunate to work with Krista Schultz for a couple of years and more closely the past few months. Krista has been helping me break down some of the routines I have with eating so I can lose the rest of my weight. I have been seeing how I have fallen into some “healthy” eating choices that might not be so healthy and I have been taking another look. For example, if you start reading yogurt containers you will quickly see the differences in the amount of sugar and calories in different brands, flavors, and sizes of containers. Looking at this more closely has helped me make better choices. Also looking at the serving sizes again is important. I used an example in my class last night of a package of almonds. It was a small bag (1.5 oz) that looked like one serving. Instead it is one and a half servings. So instead of 170 calories the package is 250 calories. Neither of these may sound like much and by themselves they aren’t but adding up several examples in a day, a few days or a week make a difference. Awareness is a key, in my opinion, to changing a habit.
I want to point to a few other articles that I have also read in the past week that address change. Triathlon coach and friend David Glover wrote a blog post called The 21 Day Challenge. Conventional wisdom says if you can do something for 3 weeks then you will adopt it as a change in your life. David provides a few tips for doing this. One that I like is posting the goal somewhere you will see it everyday. The other post is called 10 Training Habits That Might be Holding Your Back. This struck me because it included some examples of things I have been thinking about. One example is what I mentioned in the last post – not getting caught up in other people’s goals and race schedules. Another one the author mentioned was not racing too much or too early. I am trying not to schedule too much for this year because I am working towards longer races. Often I, like other people, think I can go ahead and run a 5k because it’s just 3.1 miles. But if that disrupts my training plan and progress, is it really worth it? Probably not. The last one that really hit me in this list was reaching race weight. He says instead of focusing on a lighter weight bike or new shoes or some other item you think will make you faster, lose 5-10 pounds. That is what will help increase your speed. I’m trying very hard to lose the last of my weight and I need to focus on that like I did at the beginning. It is slower now because I have already lost so much, but I know I can get the weight off and that it will make me feel better and help my times.
New habits are not always easy but the little things we change become the big things and lead to change that lasts.