The habit series, pt. 2
Exercise within the “bigger picture”: Why enjoying the process is essential to achieving your goals and ensures positive and life-long participation in exercise. With “four ways” to make the ‘healthy’ option the easy and enjoyable one.
A Quick recap…
If you’ve read part one, you’ll know that “positive experiences reinforce [exercise] habits” (Fogg, 2019). And that anchors and cues can be used in a conscious effort to gradually create subconscious behaviours leading you towards your desired outcomes. Making these behaviours easy and enjoyable taps into the very basic mechanisms that help form our habits, both good and bad.
Part one, also emphasised the importance of celebrating tiny behaviours even if they seem insignificant. If celebrating tiny behaviours feels difficult, it’s important to consider and ensure that you know why the behaviours you choose are relevant to your specific goals and how they set (or fail to set) the necessary foundation for ‘grander’ future outcomes.
Setting the foundations for success
Fogg’s theories disrupt the ‘aged’ health and fitness norms that typically (but not always and increasingly less so nowadays) encourage ineffective habit-making tactics that are characterised by sacrifice, restraint or restriction.
Why Fogg’s behaviour change ‘hacks’ work is because people like the path of least resistance and if it’s enjoyable, even better. And sometimes the path we would like to be on, rather than the one we are on is guided more by mental resistance rather than physical inability which his ‘make it easy’ idea overcomes.
Some people find it difficult to exercise if they’re not truly convinced it’ll help them achieve their goal or if they’re not even sure why or how certain exercises they’ve been prescribed will help.
People also underestimate the level of patience, versus the intensity, it takes to achieve the results they’re after. Sometimes people aren’t entirely convinced until they start seeing the results of their efforts.
“It can be difficult to be patient and willing to be flexible when life throws you curve balls that can delay the process, which is also why it’s essential to make the less-than linear fitness journey enjoyable”
This is why we’re most drawn to approaches that promise to get us there faster. A lot of people return to reattempt previous types of diets or exercise routines they’ve done in the past that they received “results” with thinking this time it will last, but they aren’t critical or reflective enough of the emotional and physical (long term and short term) impact these process had them endure. Or how it effected other aspects of their life only for the “results” to be short lived or ultimately unsatisfying. And so, they get trapped ‘yo-yo dieting’ or engaging in periods of intense, potentially excessive exercise only to burn out rapidly and this is followed by long periods of sustained inactivity.
How to “celebrate” and make enjoyable, each step in the process, not just the outcome.
It can be difficult to be patient, and willing to be flexible when life throws you curve balls that can delay the process, which is also why it’s essential to make the less-than linear fitness journey enjoyable.
There are stages throughout your life that will mean things like aesthetics, or strength, or weightloss will take less priority in relation to your career, or study, or family aspirations. Your fitness goals can still be achieved albeit a bit slower than you’d originally hoped for but it beats abandoning them all together. Exercise can enhance all these aspects (work, family etc.) as well, adding value to your life without having to be the centre of it.
Rather than focusing on the negative motivators, feed the positive ones. Initially, until you’ve experienced it, it could be difficult to determine how exercise will most positively impact you and why.
For one person it’s no longer feeling their back ache when they’re doing the gardening, or a knee ache when they run. For others it’s the confidence doing an exercise or a movement they once felt was impossible.
It might be due to the energising boost it gives you in the morning that sets you up positively for the rest of the day. It could be so you can wear clothes you want to wear, as opposed to ones you feel you have to wear.
It might be for that newly discovered muscle, or because you’re now sleeping better which in turn boosts your productivity at work. The potential benefits are endless.
However, the underlying emotion/“why” behind all these things is ultimately to feel good about yourself, to feel confident or to feel physically capable and independent.
One of the most satisfying parts of my job as a trainer is watching the people who come to the gym motivated by ‘fear’. A fear of taking up space, a fear of feeling weak, a fear of sickness, a fear of looking, or not looking a certain way and then watching as their motivations change. They’re instead driven by this feeling of empowerment as their attention is turned to what they are capable of achieving, rather than what they feel they ‘lack’.
This sense of achievement comes from consistently practicing daily or weekly behaviours that are not only “scaffolded” appropriately towards their goals, but make them feel good in the moment and after. The confidence that comes from using these systems to gradually overcome physical and mental barriers, I’ve also watched transfer itself into all areas of their life.
Four ways you can put this into action in your life
1). Establish where your activity levels are at now, and/or develop an awareness of your current eating habits with a food and exercise diary. Then establish where you’d like to be or how you would like your eating habits/ exercise activities too look. Then list the behaviours you need to (and would be willing to) adopt to get you there and then break them down further starting small.
2). Find exercises connected to your goals that you actually enjoy so you feel good during the activity. Research, look into what options appeal to you (or ask for help from an exercise or nutrition coach), then experiment, and reflect. What do you enjoy/not enjoy, what do you feel works or doesn’t work and why. Be flexible with your methods.
3). Using ‘C’ (celebrate) from Fogg’s ABC’s effectively trick your brain into associating certain exercise or eating habits with the feelings of pride and joy we associate/feel with rewards. This will make the activity no matter how small or insignificant more appealing and satisfying the next time you go to attempt it.
The actual act of exercise also releases “feel good” hormones as well, reinforcing this sensation. Putting you in a better mindset after that (if you haven’t done a particularly strenuous session) has been linked to increased productivity.
4). Make it a social engagement with a partner or friend/s, get together to participate in something positive and healthy, you can catch up and feel good. This can make activities you find less enjoyable on your own or in general, more lively.
For improved, long-term health and wellbeing you want to engage in life-long physical activity. To achieve this you want to first (and continuously) nourish a positive attitude towards exercise by honing in on all the ways it can add value to your life rather than allow it to turn into (or promote it as) something you should engage in out of fear. Learn how to emphasise exercise and eating habits that make you feel good during the process, rather than just hoping to feel good once you get to the end goal.
Strive for progress, not perfection.
For more personalised advice, information and support: email firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d love to help you.
Fogg, BJ., (2019). Tiny Habits: The small changes, that change everything. Virgin Books, UK.