How to build healthy habits
Before we get into the blog, let me introduce myself: my name is Shelly Wubbe, and I am a personal trainer and online fitness coach. Today, as part of my ‘Train with Shelly’ series in collaboration with Body&Fit, I will be talking about how you can build habits to make your health and fitness journey easier and more sustainable. After all, Autumn is on the way. The days are going to get shorter and the temperatures cooler, which means many of us will be heading inside and getting back to our usual fitness routines, perhaps with some new lifestyle and training goals in mind.
One thing’s for sure, it’s a new world we’re living in, and we need to be ready for anything. Getting solid habits in place is so important in helping us keep our focus on the things we want to achieve, even when everything else is changing around us. We’re going to hone in on how habits work, how you can implement them in your daily life and look at some practical tips to help you keep them in place. This way, you can be ready for anything and focus on the best version of YOU!
You can’t change what you are not aware of. Understanding how habits are formed is the key to creating new ones that will have a positive influence on your life. Over time, you’ll start to rely less and less on willpower to get things done and the brain will simply take over.
The difference even a small improvement can make in your life can be mind-blowing. Let’s say you want to lose weight. One habit you might want to start is to drink a glass of water before every meal to feel satisfied faster and reduce your portion sizes. By doing this, let’s say 4 times a day, you’re gradually adding up the calories you save. Over a week, that number is even bigger. What seems like a minor habit can really lead to a huge difference.
The Habit Loop
Understanding the importance of daily habits is essential, but how do they work and how can we use them to our advantage? According to scientists, habits are made up of three parts:
These factors form what’s called the habit loop, and each plays its own critical role in how we develop habits. The cue serves as a trigger, telling the brain what action to take. It’s followed by the routine, which is the action or behaviour we perform. Finally, you get the reward, which refers to the pleasure we feel after that action or behaviour.
In a process known as ‘chunking’, the brain pulls these habit loops together and turns them into automatic routines. This is the reason we can drive back home, brush our teeth, make coffee or a thousand other things without even having to think about them. They’ve simply been imprinted in our brains.
Habits and identity
When choosing the habits that you want to apply in your life, most people focus on what they want to achieve. However, this might not be the best strategy. If you want to create habits that last, you need to focus on who you wish to become.
Changing your habits is almost like changing your identity. If you are proud of your identity, you are more likely to build solid habits that empower it. Let’s say you are a person who enjoys eating lots of unhealthy snacks or drinking a bottle of wine every night, but you want to change your habits and get that sixpack you always dreamed of. If you identify as that person with great abs, you will start making decisions that coincide with the ‘new you’. The more you see yourself practicing a certain set of habits, the stronger you will tie them to your identity.
How to build better habits
Use your environment
Your environment has a huge impact on your behaviour. As we’ve seen, every habit is triggered by a cue, and we are more likely to be aware of the cues that really stand out to us. If a cue is well hidden, like those workout clothes in the back of your wardrobe, you’ll be less likely to find the motivation to hit the gym or go for a run. If you want to make a habit stick, arrange your environment so those cues really grab your attention, like putting your workout clothes on your dresser where you can clearly see them.
Enjoy new habits
When you’re having difficulty getting a certain habit in place, you can always combine it with something you enjoy. You might be having trouble getting used to running every morning to help meet your weight loss goals, for example. In this case, it could help to run along to your favourite album or listen to a cool podcast. When you tell yourself that by doing what you need to do, you get to do something you enjoy, you reinforce the habit and make it more likely to stick.
Make habits easy
The brain is programmed to always opt for the easiest option, and you can use this to your advantage. Think about what makes sticking to your new habits challenging and come up with a way around it. A practical example could be choosing a gym that’s nearby rather than a 15-minute bike ride, so it's less tiring to get there after a hard day’s work. When you’re at the gym, it can help to have a training plan rather than wandering around wondering what exercise to begin with. When there’s less effort involved, you can achieve much more.
The human brain is wired to want things right away. This can be a bit of a hurdle when it comes to sticking with good habits. You won’t see instant changes in the first few months of going to the gym, for example. You need to stick at it, which we all know is tough.
The good news is — you can use this knowledge to your advantage. Remember, we repeat actions that are immediately rewarded, so to get your habit to stick, you simply need to reward yourself after doing it.
A good tip is to use a habit tracker. It’s as simple as hanging a calendar on your kitchen fridge or note board. Write your goal above (‘I will do 10,000 steps a day for a month’, ‘I will go 3 times a week to the gym’, ‘I will cook a healthy meal every night this week’ etc.) and cross off the boxes as you reach it. It’s only a small thing, yet it makes the process so much more satisfying. Seriously, it feels so good!
Now it’s your turn
To successfully put new habits into place, you need to choose who you want to be and start acting like it. This, along with the other tips mentioned above, will help you on your way to building a set of healthy and sustainable habits to enrich your lifestyle.
It’s important to take the time to review your current habits and adjust when needed to keep things fresh and interesting. This can help prevent a dip in performance, especially when a new habit
becomes automatic and starts to feel a little too easy. The key to great success is to never stop making improvements, as small habits don’t just add up individually, they blend together and help you achieve your goals and be the person you want to be.
Workout with me
We’ve gained an understanding of how to build habits and use them to find your own unique version of a fit and healthy you. Now, I think it’s about time we put one of my favourite habits into practice with a workout! Seriously, working out has become such a habit for me that I don’t even have to think about whether I will train or not. I just get out there and get it done — I love it. I like to plan my workouts on Sundays, ready for the upcoming week, so I know when I should go and what to expect.
Are you ready?
At home training
We’re going to be doing each exercise for 40 seconds with 20 seconds rest in between, so get your timer at the ready. When you’ve completed all the exercises, that’s 1 round. Let’s go for 3. Rest for 3-5 minutes between each round.
Spider plank + push ups
Glute bridge + walk out
Commando’s + mountain climbers
Squat + ab rotation
At the gym full body
I love going to the gym and giving it my all. At first, I might need to convince myself to go, but I soon stopped thinking about it and just went — it became a habit. This full body training will help you to effectively train all your big muscle groups.
Lat pull down
DB chest press
Butterfly lateral raises
Shelly's favourite smoothie bowl
Anyone who knows me know I love smoothie bowls, and this one is my absolute favourite! I can eat this literally every day. The Body&Fit Whey Perfection gives me all my protein and the fruits are full of vitamins and fibre. Having a healthy and filling breakfast is part of my morning routine to get ready for the day and feel energized to workout. This one can be easily prepared by pre-packing the ingredients in a container and putting it in the freezer.
What you need for 1 serving:
- 20g Body&Fit Whey Perfection Salted Caramel
- 1 frozen banana
- 200g frozen berry mix
- 80ml almond milk
- 20g Body&Fit Natural Peanut Butter (optional)
For the topping:
- 10g Body&Fit Hemp Seeds
Put all the ingredients into a blender and whizz it up until smooth. It can take a while if the fruits are frozen. The hemp seed topping really adds a nice touch.
Nutritional values per serving:
Shelly is a personal trainer and online coach with a background in human movement sciences. Through learning the craft of fitness coaching from a variety of perspectives, including coaching herself to a competition ready physique; coaching others with a range of goals and skill levels; and completing multiple courses on exercise and nutrition.
“Body&Fit has supported me from the very beginning of my health and fitness journey. There is still a lot to learn in the world of sports nutrition, and it gives me great pleasure to pass on my knowledge to you, the Body&Fit community of go-getters and fit-seekers. I’ll be back with more ‘Train with Shelly’ articles soon, so keep a look out for those and make sure to follow me and check out website for even more advice, workouts and inspiration”.