Building Great Habits


Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project” just released a new book called “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.” Helping people build great habits with movement and nutrition is a very important aspect of my job as a fitness coach. Anytime I come across new information on the topic of habits, I take notice. As I skimmed through Rubin’s new book in Barnes and Noble, I immediately knew it would become a worthy addition to my library. Let me give you a brief introduction to some of the powerful ideas in the book, and for a deeper look into the topic of habits, I recommend purchasing the book.

Rubin did some serious research into the topic of habits and it shines through in the book. Along with all the research, she gives some examples of people’s own personal stories and how they relate to habits. She found that there isn’t a “one solution fits all” approach. In what has become a popular answer as of late, “it depends” on the person. the best approach will be different for each individual. That’s not always the answer people want to hear. They want the easy magic solution that works for everyone, but that doesn’t appear to exist. The author identifies four foundational habits in her book, and if you get these four in order, the rest of the habits will be easier. Here are the four categories:

  1.  sleep
  2. move
  3. eat and drink right
  4. unclutter

If you have great habits in place in those four areas, they tend to reinforce each other according to Rubin.

I have talked about sleep before in a blog post, and the research appears to show that getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night is beneficial and healthy. If we get less, we can start running a deficit, which can’t be made up in one or two nights of extra sleep on the weekend. There is research out of Stanford showing that collegiate basketball players respond well to getting an adequate amount of sleep, and it’s probably safe to assume the same for all athletes. Often times people will say they don’t need a lot of sleep and they feel fine, but reduced mental and physical performance becomes the new norm for them, and they can’t differentiate it from a time when they may have gotten more sleep. It’s not just about the amount of sleep either, it’s also the quality. Bright lights, electronics, and warm temperatures in the bedroom can all wreak havoc on the quality of sleep. Try to keep the lights down low in the evening, shut down the electronics well before bed time, and keep the bedroom cool. Shoot for a bed time at or before 10 pm.

We need to move our body every day. I have referred to recent research in a couple of blog posts about the ill effects of sitting too much, and living a sedentary lifestyle, even with an adequate amount of exercise. The solution? Continue to exercise and sit less. Maybe that means more breaks to stand up and walk, or a standing desk. I had a blog post about a few specific movements you can do every day to help keep mobile. Here are a some other things I recommend, which includes natural movement training (MovNat), strength training, martial arts, endurance sports, and active hobbies (walking, hiking, dancing, etc.) It doesn’t really matter how you move, just move, and make sure to do something that challenges you beyond your ordinary activities. I sometimes see people at the gym, sitting on the recumbent bike, barely pedaling as they stare at the television. If it’s not increasing your breath rate, fatiguing your muscles, and/or causing you to sweat, it’s not going to improve your fitness.

Eating and drinking right can often be the most challenging for people. My next blog post will delve deeper into my number one nutrition tip. Until then, I recommend avoiding processed foods, sugary treats, trans fat (hydrogenated oils), and fast food. It’s often the dose that is detrimental. If you partake in these foods on a regular basis, the research points in the direction of compromised health. Probably one of the most powerful tools at your disposal is to use a food journal. Write it down or get an app, whichever is easiest. Start tracking the amount of calories you consume and the type of foods you eat. Also note how you feel after each meal. Then start tweaking things to see what works best. Track your weight, body fat percentage, and body measurements. Many people see this as a nuisance, but how can you make changes and find solutions if you don’t track your behavior? Download a food journal sheet below, and start tracking now. No excuses!

Food Log

Dealing with a cluttered work space and home can cause unneeded stress. We sometimes form emotional connections with material objects and some people seem to do so more than others. Just look at the show Hoarders.  We can see the damage that having excess clutter can do to a person’s life. It can destroy a person’s social life, deem their living space unusable, and send someone deep in debt. Now obviously, the show focuses on people who take clutter to the extreme, but we can all learn from these cases, and vow never to go that far. Two to four times a year, go through your belongings and weed out all the things that aren’t necessary. What about that book you never touched again? Or that sweater you never wear, but may wear again someday? I find it extremely liberating to lighten up and be free from clutter. And yes, I sometimes fall into that trap of, “I might need this sometime,” but if it’s collecting dust, it’s gone.

Those are a few of my tips for building those positive foundational habits. I am by no means perfect at them, and it’s still a work in progress for me. I do, however, see the power in building a strong foundation. Gretchen Rubin goes on to mention two strategies for creating solid foundational habits.

  1. scheduling
  2. accountability

If it’s in your calendar, it’s more likely you will do it. “It” could be exercise, important tasks, a cutoff time for work, a bedtime, etc. Accountability is where someone like me comes into play, at least in the realm of movement. If you have an appointment with a fitness coach, there is more chance that you will exercise. Maybe you are accountable to a friend, it doesn’t matter who it is, accountability can work.

Time to wrap things up. Gretchen Rubin has put together an excellent book. I only touched upon the tip of the ice berg. She identifies four different personality types and how each strategy will work best for each type of person. You can watch the video at the top of the post to learn more about the different personality types. By the way, I’m a questioner. She also has many more strategies for building good habits. I highly recommend this book. Like I mentioned earlier, the best strategies are going to be different for each person. That’s a common theme these days. It’s going to take some detective work on your part, but it will be so worth it in the long run. To build good habits, it will help to know yourself. Are you a morning person? What motivates you? Does internal and/or external motivation work best? Rubin asks these questions in the book. It will help you decide the best approach to solidify good habits. If you want more details, buy the book! Now let’s go build some positive habits and eliminate the negative ones. What are you waiting for? The perfect time to get started is now!

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