Our first step in our fitness journey is discovering our Why. Once we have a better idea of WHAT we want and WHY we want it, the process of creating habits gets significantly easier. You want habits which will support these ideals, and promote our desired outcomes.
Creating healthy habits doesn’t have to be a chore, or even a tedious and difficult process. Take a page from animal professionals, like zookeepers, who train animals every day to do amazing behaviors.
As we discussed earlier, you can’t train to lose weight (you can only train the healthy habits which will result in weight loss). But you may find there are quite a few habits you need to work on to achieve your desired outcome of losing weight. Breaking them down into steps will make the process of establishing multiple habits easier, and a lot more fun. Simplifying the steps and the process makes communicating what we want easier.
Whether you are wanting to ultimately run a marathon, change to a healthier, greener, more sustainable diet, drink more water, or develop amazing abs, the habits you create will follow one simple formula, the ABC’s of operant conditioning.
The ABC’s stands for the three aspects of learning- Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence. Yup, there are a lot of nerd words here, so let’s break this down.
Antecedent can sometimes be called the activation step. Think about being at a traffic light, and the light turns green. The green light is our signal telling us we can go. It doesn’t cause the car to go forward, but it informs us it is time. This is the same with our fitness. The signal we implement doesn’t MAKE us perform our new healthy habit. But it informs us it is time to perform it.
There are many different signals we can use to remind us of our healthy habit. You can set an alarm on your phone or watch. When my alarm goes off, I will get up from my desk and do 10 push-ups. Place a post-it note in the spot you need to remind you. A post-it note by the coffee maker to remind you to take your vitamins. Or use an already established habit to signal a new one. When I finish brushing my teeth, I will floss my teeth.
B is for behavior. The behavior in question is our new healthy habit. What habit are you trying to learn or implement? What criteria or expectations do you have for this new habit? If you are looking to create a healthy habit for fitness, set a standard to judge if you completed the behavior.
Going to the gym? Set a minimum amount of time you will be in the gym. It can be 5 minutes, but set a criteria for you to meet each time you go. Want to drink more water? Setting an alarm will help, but how much water are you going to drink when your alarm goes off? Establishing your expectations will help you complete the behavior.
Starting out, set your standards low, so you can experience success. After you establish a series of successful achievements, slowly raise the standards bit by bit (more on the process of creating a step by step training plan)
In 2016 started a habit of writing every day. At the beginning, I made it super easy and simple, so I couldn’t fail. Every day, I wanted to write 250 words. I could definitely go over the minimum if I felt so inspired, but I wanted 250 to be my goal so I could determine I wrote that day. Slowly, over time, I gradually increased my minimum daily word count. As of this posting, I am at 500 words a day minimum. 500 may not seem super high, but I want it to stay achievable and within grasp, even on super busy days.
When it comes to healthy habits, the sky is the limit. Want to read more? Or meditate? Would you like to attend a morning workout class, or go swimming after work? Whatever you want to improve, start small, attach a signal or cue to remind you, and go for it. You’ll be hooked on your new habit in no time, but that depends on the final action in the ABC’s, Consequence.
For every action, there is a response which will either increase the likelihood of a behavior occurring again (reinforcement) or decrease the likelihood of the behavior occurring again (punishment). Since we are discussing the creation of a new habit, we want to increase the likelihood of the behavior, so our response to performing our new habit will be a reinforcement.
I geeked out again.
If you want a behavior (or in this case, a habit) to be repeated, use an incentive to motivate you to continue your progress. Behaviorists call it reinforcement. It is SLIGHTLY different than a reward, even though I often use the words interchangeably (I’m a writer, I hate repeating my words over and over).
In a few more posts, I will go more in-depth why we want to focus on reinforcement, and positive reinforcement, but for right now, just know we are going to INCREASE the probability of repeating that behavior, so reinforcement is the consequence of choice.
Your response to your new behavior doesn’t have to be a ginormous gesture. You don’t have to buy a new car each time you log your meals. I mean, unless you have that kind of cash, which, more power to you, then. Research shows responses as simple as positive affirmations are effective in improving behavior performance. Whenever you complete your healthy habit, give yourself a pat on the back, a fist bump, or look in the mirror and say “I’m awesome”.
Using the ABC’s to train ourselves to develop a new healthy habit makes the behavior as automatic as our reflexes. We won’t even have to think about what we’re going to do. Even some complex and challenging behaviors can be broken down into smaller steps using the ABCs. It makes healthy habit building as easy as 1-2-3.