How to Change "Unhealthy" Habits for Healthy Ones, Part 1

I was listening to a coaching talk by Dr. Krista Scott Dixon (her site is and how to help clients make positive lifestyle changes and keep making changes. The whole talk was about an hour long and was both informative and full of pertinent reminders for me to remember because I work with people who don't live and breathe fitness. I often forget that knowledge that I take for granted- because this is, you know, my job- isn't always ingrained as much in the general population. 

It got me thinking that around this time of year, people tend to lose the steam of the initial burst of energy to uphold New Year's Resolutions, so I figured that today would be an opportune time to sprinkle some psychologically-themed tips to help reinvigorate the resolution-keeping. I think I'd like to make this a few-post series as it's easier to write a couple short posts rather than one long one (and probably bore you enough that you decided to click somewhere else).

I chose to put "unhealthy" in quotations because not all habits are necessarily unhealthy, but perhaps they are unhealthy for your specific goal. For example, having a bowl of ice cream a few days a week isn't necessarily unhealthy (especially if you're crushing vegetables, lean meats, healthy fats etc. during the rest of the week). However, if you want to lose a few pounds of body fat then, at this point in time, that bowl of ice cream isn't healthy. Understand, then, that "unhealthy" is relative to your specific situation, not a blanket statement for everyone.

The first step to changing habits, and maintain the new habits, is setting the goal. 

You have to know where you're going before you can plan your route. 

And we're talking about S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely). I'm not going to belabor the point because you can easily google this for more details but for example:

"I want to lose weight." or "I want to run faster"

S.M.A.R.T.-en those up:

"I want to lose 10 pounds by my birthday in 3 months."

"I want to bring my 100m sprint down by 3 seconds by the beginning of track season [in 6 months]."

Now, find your motivation...

Ok, so you have your goal and your time frame. Now, in order for our goal to be compelling, we need find the core motivation for it. If I say I want to eat more vegetables every day, but don't really have a true reason that's important to me, ordering pizza will be much more alluring. 

Here's what I want you today. Ask yourself why you've set this particular goal and see how far down you can drill. It may be, that after digging deeply into your psyche, you find that your goal is a) not specifically what you want to do, b) not actually realistic given your time, resources, and your desire to accomplish the goal, or c) just right (high five!). 

If you find that option "a" or "b" is true of your goal, it's time to tweak it to transform it into the "c" option.

It's important to find the core motivation behind the goal because sometimes we have competing motivations, so we need to find ways to eliminate competition in order to be successful. The level motivation for our goal must exceed the level of motivation for activities/choices that will not contribute to accomplishing the goal. 

I'll give you a personal example (it's a simple, and perhaps silly one, but it popped in my brain).

I had a goal a few years ago to conquer the Iron Maiden Challenge within a year of beginning my training for it. The IMC is a pull-up, pistol squat (1-legged squat), and 1-arm overhead press with a 24K (53lb) kettlebell. It's a pretty awesome feat of strength and I really, really wanted to do it. I love to lift heavy things, I love physically challenging things, and it seemed like something I could actually accomplish with training. 

However, I didn't check my core motivations. As I said, I love to lift heavy things, I actually really, really love to deadlift and squat more so than pressing and pistol-ing. By, like, a factor of a million. 

Despite why my athletes think, I don't just goof off all day when I'm not coaching and my training time is fairly limited. Therefore, I need to be very discerning and precise as to what exercises compose my workouts; I want to maximize what time I do have to get the most bang for my buck. 

I found, after 6 weeks or so, that I didn't really have time to do what I love, mainly hoist barbells with copious (in my mind anyway) amounts of weight on them. And that didn't make me happy or motivated to train (gasp!). My desire to accomplish the IMC diminished with each day that I had to sacrifice my deadlift time for my pistol time. (I have NOTHING against pistol squatting, I just like deadlifts more). Ultimately, I realized that, yes, I can train for the IMC and get it, but I'm honestly more motivated to deadlift/squat and improve in those (for my own satisfaction, really). So, the IMC goal got shelved for now and I focused on my barbell lifts. 

As you can see, I was a *kinda* happy with it. This was ultimately more satisfying for me than, quite honestly, successfully mastering the IMC.

So, what do we need to know? 

1. Set a S.M.A.R.T. goal.

2. Ask yourself "why" (multiple times) this goal is important to you. 

3. Tweak and adjust the goal based on the answers to number 2. 

Check back next time for Part 2: How To Find The Daily Habits to Success