When I was young, I hated brushing my teeth. Every night was a struggle to get myself to do it. I had to force myself to consciously make the decision to brush my teeth every night. It didn’t always work out and I would inevitably end up skipping a few days before getting back on track.
At some point, brushing my teeth just became a part of my routine. I didn’t have to consciously decide on it, I just did it. So what changed?
Many people have the same relationship with training. Every day is a new struggle to get yourself to the gym. When you don’t feel like working out, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to force yourself to do it. In the moment, that decision is extremely difficult and mentally taxing. It's easy to rationalize skipping just a single day or ignore what needs to be done for the sake of convenience.
But there’s good news, just like brushing my teeth finally became easy, the same can be true of your workouts. The key lies in your habits.
Habits are an unbelievably powerful tool for shaping behavior. But they’re often overlooked as a way to improve your training.
Here’s why you should focus on developing training habits:
1. When self-control fails, habits persist
When you're stressed, tired and exhausted, self-control disappears. It's just a fact of human nature. That's why students often binge eat unhealthy food during final exams. But research shows that during times of low self-control, we fall back onto our deeply ingrained habits.
Let’s say you’ve developed a habit where you lift weights for an hour on a Mon/Wed/Fri schedule. When exams roll around and you’re stressed out and busy, you’re actually more likely to continue to workout on that same schedule. You don’t have the energy to do something new, so you maintain the normal pattern that you’ve established.
That’s pretty cool if you ask me. It’s like being able to program yourself to unconsciously make decisions that move you closer to your goals.
2. Conserve mental energy
Habits, by nature, are below the level of consciousness. When you’re in the habit of brushing your teeth, you don’t consciously decide to do it, it's simply a part of your routine. It doesn’t drain any of your finite amount of willpower.
With your full willpower at your disposal, you can funnel it to more important things. Like giving full effort during your workouts and designing training programs to maximize your improvements.
3. You’re more likely to reach your dreams
Often times, athletes change their workouts for a few days or a week before they revert back to their old patterns. Habits, on the other hand, create long-term behavior change. Habits make it easy to maintain those desired changes for long periods of time. And when you can keep training at a high-level for years and years, those seemingly faraway dreams become much more attainable.
4. Develops self-discipline
As powerful as they are, habits do not form easily. It takes many repetitions to imprint behaviors in your brain. Focusing your efforts on developing habits is an exercise in self-discipline. There will be times when you start rationalizing bad behavior and want to quit. But you have to fight through that feeling. Doing so will not only formalize your habits but develop mental strength as well.
5. The possibilities for change are limitless
If you want to become a better ball handler, there's a habit for that. Spend the first 20 minutes of your workout doing pure ballhandling drills.
If you want to dunk, there’s a habit for that. 3 x week, after your skills training, spend 30 minutes doing explosive and plyometric exercises.
Whatever change you want to make, there’s a habit that you can create to reach that goal.
In Part 2 on habits, I’ll give you the 3 basic steps for habit formation and discuss some creative ways to use them in your training.