The Power of Small Habits

You know how you can be driving along the road without a care in the world and then suddenly an old, familiar song comes on that immediately brings you back to a specific time and place? Or maybe when you smell praline pie, you vividly recall a childhood memory of you baking a pie with your Grandma at Thanksgiving?

I have a memory like this associated with dieting.

Several years ago, a friend emailed me a group photo taken on our kayaking trip in the Virginia mountains a few days prior. When I saw it, I was absolutely horrified and embarrassed by my appearance. Ugh, there I was…looking fatter than ever. Nevemind the smile on my face, all I could see was thunder thighs and jiggly arms sticking out of a bright orange life jacket. Who knew those vests could support the weight of a brick house, anyway? Don’t those things have a weight limit? And what the hell am I smiling about? Don’t I know how I look?

Seeing that picture also brought me back to the insanely restrictive diet and absurd amounts of cardio I was doing in preparation for that trip. I was absolutely miserable.

Imagine me coming off of one of my many “screw this!” phases where a few months prior I had determined that this fat loss thing was never happening for me, so I was somehow going to speed that up by quitting altogether. If the results weren’t happening NOW, then why even bother?

Because I was frustrated at the lack of progress, I had taken several months off. BUT, this trip — knowing this was a weekend I would be in a swimming suit — it was going to be the catalyst for change.

Of course I went through the usual mental gymnastics yo-yo dieters often do.

This time I was going to take it seriously. If I would just try a little bit harder, everything would fall into place and I’d be bikini ready. If I just lost these 15 pounds, I’d have more money in the bank, every guy would want to be with me, and my friends would love me more. Everything would be right in the world.

Ah, delusions. Aren’t they fun?

For me, it was all about the extremes. The black or white. I was either all in or all out. And because I never accepted that what I truly needed was a sustainable diet and workout program, I eventually hit a wall. Every single time. Working out four times a week felt like something the weak-minded did. Eating a piece of chocolate here and there was for people who weren’t “serious” or “trying hard enough.” I saw the memes. I saw the hashtags #nodaysoff. That’s not me! I’m hardcore…until I wasn’t.

And you know what’s really sad about the above situation?

I let a single picture ruin an amazing weekend of hiking, camping, kayaking, and fun stories around the campfire with friends. Instead of remembering the laughs, the beautiful scenery, and the sense of accomplishment after kayaking 50 miles, all I saw was failure. A loser. Someone who couldn’t get their shit together with something as simple as eating less food.

Photography by Ryan McGuire

I traveled 1500 miles for an opportunity to create some incredible memories, but I attached my entire experience to an anchor that kept me drowning in self-loathing and disgust.

Of course I don’t have the photo anymore, but you already knew that, didn’t you?

That’s not the kind of thing we want floating around, is it? If it doesn’t exist, it didn’t happen. The evidence of me at that weight got deleted faster than a pack of Viagra at a swinger’s convention. Believe that.

So what’s changed since then?

Well, a lot. It’s been a 15 year journey. But there have been many profound moments along the way.

In my case, it started with giving up the fairy tale of perfection. I also began to understand that I had been trying to repair the wrong thing. Instead of acquiring the necessary tools to address the source of the leak, I was putting a bucket under the plumbing as a temporary fix. The other stuff was too hard. Too much work. I wanted the results now.

I had always associated fat loss with counting calories, minutes on the stairmaster, and eating healthy foods. And while that certainly played a role in my success, it’s not where the most dramatic changes occurred. No, that happened when I was no longer obsessed with tweaking my macros or adding HIIT to my workout routine. The most meaningful changes happened when I turned my attention to my inward.

Instead accepting the story playing on a loop inside my head as truth, I began to rewrite it. The new story line was about a woman who created small daily habits. She focused on improving her social and physical environment by making simple changes. Little things like keeping fruit on the counter instead of hidden in the bottom drawer of the fridge and performing exercises she actually enjoyed, not tolerated.

Instead of prioritizing the result, I prioritized finding fun in the daily process.

Real change didn’t happen until I embraced the notion that this was going to be an inside job. It was going to take time, patience, and persistence, but if I could master my thoughts, my body would have no choice but to follow.

And that’s exactly why I want you to watch one of the most thought provoking videos I’ve ever seen. It’s on the importance of habits in the pursuit of creating massive change in your life.

In the video, James Clear, talks about getting 1% better every day by utilizing the power of small habits. What would you give to improve the effectiveness of your diet by 37%? Is 20 minutes of your time worth the investment, if it meant you could dramatically change how you approach diet and exercise in a way that lasts forever, not just for the next trip to the beach? If not, how serious are you really?

Because I take this same approach with my own clients, James is really speaking my language here. So much so, in fact, that I had to share this inspirational video with you. But not in the “rah! rah!” kind of way that I abhor. No, I felt inspired because I’m only interested in helping people achieve real results supported by real science.

You see, every single morning I wake up, hit the gym, eat a little something, and then sit down to crank out a ton of free content for anyone who wants it. And let’s be honest, some if it is better than others, but what matters is that I remain consistent. I don’t try to hit a home run with every email, infographic, or Facebook status update. No, I’m merely practicing my swing.

Ultimately, I do the work that you don’t want to — like geeking out over the latest nutrition research and forking up thousands of dollars attending fitness conferences in Podunk, America. And there’s only ONE reason for that: I truly want to help people, just like you, overcome your fat loss demons, so you can get busy living the life you’ve always dreamed of, in the body you’ve always wanted.

So, when I stumble upon amazing science-based content like the one discovered in James Clear’s video, it would be irresponsible of me not to show you exactly how I have helped hundreds of clients lose thousands of pounds over the past 15 years. And we’re talking about real results here. The kind that lasts forever. Not just for your wedding day or a high school reunion.

BUT, I’m curious how many of you will actually watch it?

If my email inbox is any indication, those who I’ve previously sent it to were really moved by it — to the point of tears. It’s that powerful.

You know, I’m going to stop right here for a second and give those who need it a little tough love.

There are two types of people reading this blog right now:

  1. Those who just kinda sorta want change (don’t watch the video)
  2. And those who are serious about change (viewed the video and will take action)

Which camp do you fall in?

Here’s the thing: you can read nutrition blogs and fitness articles until your eyes bleed; you can follow your favorite Instamodels to the end of the Earth on social media; and you can even hire the world’s greatest Fitness Coach…but in the end, unless you actually get your hippity ass off the couch and put one foot in front of the other — you’re still caught up in a dream; a fantasy.

You don’t learn how to dance by watching; you have to get on the floor and practice the steps.

So, if you’re the kind of person who saves the video and intends to watch it later…kudos to you for having the desire to improve, but if you’re still not making progress, it’s because you’re still not taking action.

But if you’re one of the people who eagerly takes advice from an expert in the field, watches the video, and then takes it a step further by putting one of the things you learn into practice — no matter how big or small — bravo. You’re someone who’s ready for lasting change, not just basking in the dream of it.

Speaking of change, in Clear’s presentation, he talks about the 4 stages of habit formation required to completely transform your life (and body!):

1. Noticing — You cannot take an action or perform a habit without acknowledging its existence first. If you want to eat more fruit, place a bowl of apples in the center of the room. If you want to drink more water, carry a water bottle with you at all times.

2. Wanting — In order to take the action, you have to desire or crave it. Do you even want to change? If so, why? And how would this improve your life? More dates? More respect from your peers at work?

3. Doing — You have to execute the habit you want to create by performing it. Repeatedly. In order to achieve the dream, you have to do the reps. One by one. Day by day.

4. Liking — Before you’ll want to repeat the habit, there has to be enjoyment in the process. If it sucks, you won’t stick with it. There has to be a reason to return. This is why discovering your favorite brand of exercise and nutrition is so important. People don’t do things they hate for long.

Of the four stages, where are you in your own journey?

There is no right or wrong answer here. Everyone is entitled to travel their own path. Some of us choose to take the scenic route with highest of peaks and lowest of valleys (God knows I’ve drowned a few dozen times), while others can successfully navigate a more direct path. In the end, those of us who veer off course tend to take a little longer to get to our destination, but we also have a lot more experience under our belt. And, believe it or not, this is good news!

There is service in the struggle.

Our most teachable moments in life are borne from our deepest despairs. There is no joy without suffering. But first, you have to be willing to open yourself up to the possibility of failure. And that shit is scary. So scary, in fact, that it keeps you stuck.

Think about it. Fear is preventing you from achieving your dream. Your own mental landscape is your biggest obstacle in this crazy thing we call life. And the only way to get through it is by opening yourself up to these life-altering lessons. But that means taking action, no matter how small, every single day. Without taking the necessary steps to move forward, there is no finish line. There is only a dream.

Perhaps Alex Elle said it best:

“It’s never too late to start over. If you weren’t happy with yesterday, try something different today. Don’t stay stuck. Do better.”

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