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The Power Of A Single Decision Influencing Your Exercise Habits

As a fitness coach I’ve long been intrigued on what makes sticking with an exercise routine seem so natural and effortless for some individuals, while others struggle with consistency.

Is it due to discipline, emotional significance of the desired end goals, personality traits? Perhaps these all play a part, but I’m learning there’s much more to our habits than this.

Some time back I decided to become a student of behavioral psychology. I guess you’d call it an awakening I had as a fitness coach.

I think I got to a point in my career as a fitness professional where I realized that simply learning a bunch of new exercises wasn’t necessarily going to make me more successful with helping a larger percentage of people achieve their goals.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m still dedicating a fair amount of time to continuing education, going to seminars, and always looking to learn more. Don’t think I’d ever want to as I really do have a passion for what I do. Personal growth in any field isn’t all that difficult when you’re sincerely interested in the subject matter.

Basically, I’ve just made a decision to shift a larger portion of my continuing education to learning more about human psychology and behavior. After 20 plus years in the game, I’m pretty confident I can get someone in shape who’s willing put forth the hard work and commitment.

There’s a percentage of personal training clients who’ll walk in the doors of my gym and I can just tell they’re going to hit it out of the park. Call it a veteran hunch or whatever. They’re highly motivated by something and you just give them a good blueprint to follow and watch them go.

For a personal trainer these are obviously easy clients to work with. It’s always enjoyable to have a handful of these clients and there’s certainly gratification that comes from seeing them be successful.

But after a while you stop patting yourself on the back so much because you realize they did all the work, you just charted them down the right path.

I mean let’s face it, there’s no real challenge here. The real action is found with helping the other 90% of the population who struggle with some aspects of their nutrition and exercise habits.

More after the jump…

In my opinion, being able to help this population is what separates an average personal trainer from a great coach.

And if experience has taught me anything it’s that the ability to help a larger percentage of people achieve success with their fitness wont’ have as much to do with the exercise prescription itself, as it will behavioral modification and habit formation.

After all what you do inside the gym is but a very small percentage compared to what’s done outside the gym.

That’s where all the pitfalls and slip-up’s waiting to happen are lurking. Help someone navigate over and around these pitfalls and the chances for success are significantly increased.

Consistency you see is one of the real underlying secrets.

I can always remember a quote from one of my mentors Dan John who said the secret to helping your clients achieve their goals was ingraining in them the idea of “little and often done over the long-haul.”

Not about being perfect, but rather just keep showing up!

Think about it for a second…

How many times have you gotten all fired up about starting a workout routine only to have <fill in the blank> happen that derails you off the tracks completely?

Don’t feel alone, happens to all of us at some point in time, it’s called life.

The difference is some will circle the wagons and get right back to their exercise routine as soon as possible, while others will slip back into dreaded old habits.

Why? What makes some continue to slide while others climb back up?

I think there’s much more here than just some simple explanation about willpower, discipline, etc. I’ve been learning more about this recently by reading a really interesting book entitled “The Upside of Irrationality” by Dan Ariely.

In the book the author talks about a phenomenon he calls “self herding.”

Herding as you can probably relate to is what happens when we follow what others are doing.

Self herding on the other hand occurs when we allow our own previous actions and decisions to influence our current behavior.

Interestingly enough, many of our small, seemingly insignificant, daily decisions are governed by our emotional state in the moment. Now we don’t always have complete control of our emotional state, but we DO have control of our decisions.

Understand that self herding is so influential that each decision has the potential to establish a habit, which depending on what that decision is, could either help or hinder our goals.

The author gives an example in the book.

Suppose your favorite team wins a game just before you head out to your mother-in-law’s for dinner. In your happy emotional state, you decide to stop and buy her flowers on your way. Two weeks later, on your next visit, you find yourself buying flowers for her again.

How come?

The underlying reason for your initial purchase (you were happy from your team winning the game) is now long gone. But without necessarily meaning to, your subconscious mind kicks in using your PREVIOUS actions as a template for what you should do next and the kind of person you are.

So you can see how a passing emotion could end up influencing a long string of decisions and helps to establish a habit, not to mention shape a character.

Now let’s look at the flip side of this.

What if, in that initial moment of excitement after your team won the big game you elected to stop at the local bar for several rounds of drinks celebrating with the boys before heading to your mother-in-law’s for dinner instead of buying flowers or whatever?

Or what if your team had lost and in your initial emotional state of anger and disappointment you snapped at the kids, kicked the dog, or opened a bag of Oreos?

These seemingly little decisions can turn you into someone who brings flowers to others out of the blue or someone who drinks too much, lashes out at others, eats for comfort, etc.

Let’s put this back into perspective from an exercise habit viewpoint.

Say for example, you’ve had a really bad day at work and you’re mega-stressed. You’ve got a bag packed with your gym clothes in the car, but what do you do?

Do you blow off the workout and head to the local pub for some brews, do you go home and curl up on the coach with a big bag of chips, or do you make a decision to head to the gym anyways?

Seemingly small and not so significant decision on the surface. But don’t miss the power in that ONE little decision. The next time you have a bad day at work (of course there will be another one) what will you do?

If you had previously elected to go take your stress out in the gym, instead of with booze, comfort food, etc, chances are you’ll go do it again.

Wasn’t just about discipline, your subconscious mind is working to give you guidance and it’s calling up your past decisions.

Be conscious of your emotional state at the time you make decisions (even the little ones) and think long and hard about the impact it will have on your habits.

The best thing you can do is show up for your workout when you’ve got those voices in your head telling you to do something else. Want to plan a day off from your workouts to go play with the kids or do whatever, then by all means go and do it. That’s a different story.

You’ve still got your habit intact and you’ll get right back to your workouts the next day. Remember life happens to all of us. It’s the decisions we make when things aren’t perfect or go our way, that can really influence our habits.

If you feel like quitting, wait and quit tomorrow. For today, just show up. The sun will rise again tomorrow and I’m betting you won’t be quitting then.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. Personal training in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation using 30 minute burst training workouts and Primal Blueprint nutrition strategies. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself today.

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