Thanks for taking the time to read this blog. Over 20 years I've helped over 17.000 people transform and reach their potential, through adopting a 3-dimensional approach of mind, body and lifestyle.
In this blog I will share with you a powerful 4-step framework to help you adopt new habits with ease and make them stick.
Read the background information first before moving onto the framework to provide you with a full understanding of the process.
I hope this helps you in your life journey and I look forward to hearing how this blog has helped you. Feel free to comment below or share with your friends on social media.
Good luck and enjoy my friend!
I will break this blog down in 4 key areas to provide content and understanding of the concept and strategies I will be showing you.
Here I share my background and context for the reason why habit formation is essential to achieving your goals.
I explore the best psychological practices based upon my experience with clients and principles from some of the world's leading psychotherapists and behavioural experts.
In this section I share the importance of deep visceral connection to habit formation and how to utilise this to charge the body's nervous system for success.
The 4-step process I use personally and professionally to create healthy habits that stick.
Just a few days later something more urgent appears in your life and you make the logical decision to leave the new habits you’re trying to form to deal with other pressing matters but, with the promise you’ll come back to new lifestyle habits once things are ‘sorted’. Now, just a couple of weeks later you’ve been caught up in your busy world and you’ve not kept to your new habits and the guilt is starting to creep in, the ‘new you’ is starting to slip away from your grasp.
The justifications start to manifest in your mind, ‘life is just too busy right now, I’ll come back to this later when I have more time’, you think to yourself. You know what happens from here, it’s back to the regular painful hamster wheel of life that you’ve been desperate to change for years!
Does this sound familiar? What happened to the ‘right’ time that you thought you were in when you decided to take that action? What happened to the ‘new you’ and the strong desire to live better? Well don’t worry my friend, you are part of the 92% of people (according to scientists at Scranton University) that actual decide to make a change to achieve a goal and fail so, don’t feel bad, nearly everyone else is in the same boat.
It is my intention within this blog to help you understand and overcome the same hurdles we all face by following a 4-step simple but very effective strategy.
I am going to break down several areas that I see as being crucial factors when trying to accomplish a new goal. Habit formation is a very difficult skill and in my Online Personal Training Programmes I focus heavily on this skill with my clients so, I’m going to give you today the key information that I’ve drawn from over the years through helping thousands of clients achieve their goals.
Not only will I be sharing my personal success strategies, but I’ll be giving you the evidence and methods used by some of the world’s top clinical therapists & researchers.
Strategies alone are not effective without understanding the reasons behind them and, a little basic information of how to implement them.
Imagine being able to keep focused on your goal habits every day regardless of what is happening in your world, how good would it be to feel good about doing these habits instead of it being a terrible chore.
Sit tight my friend, I am going to show you how to do this, by reading this complete blog you’ll gain incredible confidence and dramatically increase your chances of achieving your goals.. let us get started!
During my early days as a personal trainer, I lost count of the number of times my patience had worn thin with clients, I often used to think 'here you are paying me money every month and despite the diet plans and training programmes I give you, you still keep shoving bars of chocolate and wine down your throat’.
I struggled to understand how people are willing to literally throw away money, after a couple of years I started to reflect and realised, I wasn’t the hot-shit trainer I thought I was.
I realised I needed to improve my game to understand why people struggle to implement what I thought, were simple strategies. This moved me on a journey of human behaviour and becoming an NLP practitioner and coach, along with relentless hours studying the top experts in the field of psychology and reading countless research papers over the years. What I discovered on this journey literally blew me away allowing me to become a far more effective trainer and coach.
Most of us know that psychology plays a vital role in habit formation, I won’t go over old ground for you however, there are a few components you may not be aware of which I consider vital to your successful execution of new habits.
James Clear, the world-renowned author of the New York Times bestseller, 'Atomic Habits', covers great depth in his book, examining countless psychology papers in his pursuit to create a framework for habit formation. One study which he references in the British Journal of Health & Psychology provides great evidence and shows the power of gaining clarity to successfully execute daily habits. The study examined 3 different groups who were all asked to track and build better exercise habits over 2 weeks, and the results presented incredible differences between the individuals who created clarity and the ones that didn’t.
Group 1 was simply asked to track their activity, group 2 were given a motivational stimulus and asked to research the benefits of exercise, and finally, group 3 were given motivational stimulus and also write specific times, dates and places they would exercise, in essence, create clarity of what they needed to do.
And the result, mind-blowing! Group and 1 & 2 were similar with 35 to 38 percent respectively, exercised each week. But, in the third group, a staggering 91% of the participants exercised each week.
A 91% adherence score is a pretty good outcome, especially compared to 35 & 38 percent. Although this may seem like a home run, let us not get too excited, the study was only for 2 weeks and there’s been a lot of research papers since that have shown why a detailed plan alone is not enough to make habits stick. Emotional factors also play a significant role when trying to achieve your goals, that said, the study certainly shows evidence that planning and gaining clarity is a crucial tool to implement when creating new habits.
My clients that participate in my 30-Day Body Bitz Programme are amazed at how quickly they can turn their world around. Within the challenge, I provide a workbook that helps them create a crystal clear direction to set up their daily routine. It is in this detail and clarity that makes a big difference for them to make a dramatic shift in their world, take-home message, get clarity!
Top behavioural psychologists Chip and Dan Heath and authors of the incredible book ‘Switch’ make a clear link between thoughts and emotions. They use the analogy of the rider and the elephant, the rider representing the human brain and the elephant being the illustration for human emotions.
Throughout the book (which is incredible), the authors present a number of case studies and spectacular examples of where changes have been made within increasingly difficult circumstances with the basis of creating clarity of the mind on the task but also stimulating the elephant (emotion).
One of my favourite examples of the book is their reference to a group of hospitals in the US that intended to adopt a procedure throughout the organization involving thousands of people during a time where the care system was currently overloaded and the motivation of the staff was low. Adopting a strategy that gave the organisation a simple and clear guide and attaching it to a powerful motivating factor produced an incredible outcome and saved thousands of people’s lives. Thousands of lives were saved by adopting one new behaviour, now there is the power of habit. Give clear instructions to direct your rider then motivate your elephant!
An overwhelmed mind is a difficult factor to negotiate when forming new habits, despite the clarity and motivation to change, overwhelm can greatly inhibit your efforts.
You're stressed and busy mind can come from external circumstances currently happening in your life or, it can come from the actual goal itself. In his recent book ‘Tiny Habits’ BJ Fogg, professor, and founder of Behaviour Design Lab at Stanford presents years of research on how people have become successful and why a great deal fail to achieve their goals. The key premise of the book is the identification of small but consistent behaviours are the key to achieving goals.
Consistent behaviours need more than motivation and clarity, during times when you’re tired, stressed and or overwhelmed, that big new habit of exercising for an hour seems to be almost impossible to execute, breaking down the habits into tiny pieces, especially in times of low energy, will significantly increase your chances success. The overwhelmed mind cannot deal with big tasks, but it can deal with tiny ones. Think about it, which is easier, sending emails to people work colleagues all morning or spending the morning digging into the complexities of the major project you should be working on?
To use exercise as an example, if you are a new or inconsistent exerciser and you intend to do 1 hour of fitness 4 times a week then you are probably overstretching. If you’ve had a difficult day, despite the clarity of what to do and your motivation to achieve, you’ll find this beast too difficult to fight, or maybe you manage it a couple of days but certainly not 4.
A stronger strategy for success may be to start by doing just 5 minutes of exercise each day. Your brain can handle 5 minutes, and 5 minutes each day equates to 35 minutes a week or 30.5hrs per year. There is no fast result but over 5 years just 5 minutes a day will equate to roughly 25lbs of fat loss for just 5 minutes! In reality, you’ll have days when the 5 minutes turns into 15, 30 or even 60 minutes but your golden rule is to always hit your 5 minutes and to feel good about the fact you’ve progressed every time you do it. A small, tiny but consistent habit will always yield a big result over time, reduce your overwhelm by lowering your demands and just do the small stuff and the big stuff will follow!
Now that we have covered the key parts of psychology in relation to habits and goals, let us get stuck into physiology.
Learning this made a significant impact in my personal life along with my professional career. The deep visceral connection to your habits can be the difference between a journey of struggle and stressor, an enjoyable experience of good feeling.
Imagine being in the position whereby the habits that you executed felt good and made you physically want to do them.
Put simply, your physiology is the other side of the coin in habit formation and goal achievement.
To influence our physiology, we first need to understand it. Humans are emotional creatures driven by powerful desires that are anchored to our basic primary needs.
World-renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow was best known for creating the Maslow Hierarchy of needs.
Physiological needs – Air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, and sex
Safety needs – Personal security, money, resources, health, property
Love & Belonging – Family, intimacy, friendship, sense of connection
Esteem – Respect, recognition, strength, freedom
Self-actualisation – The desire to become the best one can be
You can argue some of the above are psychological, which they are however, the point is, if any of the above are significantly affected, you will elicit a positive or negative emotional response and it will greatly affect your physical state as these components are deeply connected to the nervous systems survival mechanisms.
With the above points in mind, let us go through a thought experiment. We will use exercise as the easiest example that many people struggle to be consistent with. Imagine we have now gained clarity of your goal and habits required to complete the tasks in bite-sized pieces. We can make this more visceral by connecting those things that matter most to you and by adding both positive and negative outcomes to each one.
Goal – To exercise every day
Visceral Connection points:
Physiological – Positive - Exercising every day will make my body look better so I’ll be more attractive to my partner or any potential partners which allow for incredible physical intimacy. Negative – Not exercising will make me overweight and less physically appealing to my partner or potential partners. This could cause my partner to leave me for someone who is in far better physical shape or I might not ever enter a relationship with someone I find physically attractive.
Safety – Positive - Being fitter allows me to function better and produce more in my career and increases the chances of a better job or promotion providing me with a great financial return. This will also offer me the opportunity to live the life I want and provide financial security for me and my family. Negative - continuing to allow my fitness and body shape to degrade will affect my energy levels and performance for work and my family. Over time this limit my chances of earning a better income, stop me from living the life I want and eventually, could lead to financial difficulty.
Love & belonging – Positive – more exercise will give me more energy for my partner and allow us to share an incredible relationship. If I join a local team/club/facility I can connect with new friends and be a part of a unique belonging whilst enjoying the sport/event we belong to. Negative - Little connection with positive like-minded healthy people means I’ll have to connect with unhealthy people with habits and behaviours that lead to ill health, deterioration of my mental function and negatively impact my life.
Self-esteem – Positive – By exercising daily I will gain great physical strength and confidence throughout the process. Executing a regular exercise regime will empower and reward me with the freedom to know I can achieve what I set out to do in life. Negative - A lack of exercise will significantly deteriorate my health and reduce my longevity in life. If I’m not willing to look after my own health and respect myself, how do I expect others to respect me?
Self-actualisation – Positive - Exercising will benefit me physically, emotionally, and mentally. Improving my body will allow me to live the life I want and become the very best version of myself. Not only will this be incredible for me personally, but it will also be a great example for my kids, family, friends, and community. Negative – Not being the best I can be will lead to a life of regret for not making the most of my time in this world, I will die knowing I could have done far better!
The previous page is just examples of how you can connect your goals & habits to make them more visceral to you. The deeper you connect with what matters on an emotional or even spiritual level the stronger the fire burns inside you. The more you do each habit the better feeling and a positive charge will keep your enthusiasm going for what you are doing.
Never forget how primal we really are, despite our intelligence and sophistication we are still a part of the animal kingdom, our nervous system hasn’t changed from when early humans arrived.
The only difference today is our environment, getting focused on the internal forces that are deeply embedded in us will serve as a powerful tool in executing habits and achieving our goals!
To quote world-class clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson,
‘your incentive reward system is the thing that keeps you moving forward and works better if it senses you’re taking steps closer toward a valued goal. So, the implication of that is, you better have a valued goal’!
Side note here is a link to one of Jordan Petersons YouTube lectures on goals CLICK HERE.
It’s just 30 minutes long but certainly
worth a watch / listen.
Step 1 – Discover the meaning.
You must spend a great deal of time in this zone before you start because this is where the fire
inside you is created. You’ll need to go deep inside your thoughts, identify and list what the most important things are in your life and why the goal you want to achieve has a direct connection to what matters to you.
Keep Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in mind when you are searching your thoughts. Once you have your list of what matters most to you add a positive and negative emotional charge for each point you identify. Ask yourself, ‘achieving this goal will be incredible because it will make X impact in my life’. Then use the negative charge on how you will feel if your life stays the same or you fail to achieve what you want. What is the thing that scares you most by not accomplishing this goal? Whatever it is, use it, and allow that negative feeling to build fear so you can keep well away from that place. Make sure you place both the positive and negative charges on each point on your list, the more you build this up the more powerful visceral the drive to achieve becomes.
One of my boyhood hero’s Arnold Schwarzenegger was competing in a competition in America when his father fell ill and died over in Austria. He spoke to his mother on the phone and she asked him to return to Austria to see his father and support the family. Arnold refused, his desire to be Mr Olympia had become stronger than the bond with his family.
Obviously, I’m not advocating neglect of your family in pursuit of your goals but, this example shows you just how powerful a person’s internal driving force can become. Finding the deep meaning and attaching those emotional charges to them and you’re starting off in a very powerful position!
Step 2 – Plan your route.
Attempting to do most things in life without a plan will usually end up in complete chaos but when it comes to habits, planning is a MUST! Armed with your new knowledge you must plan both aspects of psychology and physiology to give yourself the strongest possible chance to not only achieve your goals but, crush them.
Here is how you should approach your planning. Identify and accept your existing position. We all love to think we are fitter, stronger, smarter, prettier than we are (sorry) but accepting your true existing point gives you a solid foundation to work from. Metaphorically speaking it is like plotting your position on a map, you’ll never be able to reach your destination if you plot your starting position from the wrong point on the map, you’ll simply get lost.
From your actual location you can start to plot your route, in real terms this means looking at your goal and breaking it down into tiny bite-sized pieces based on where you are now and where you want to be, (remember the 5 minute exercise routine). Layout all the small but critical steps ahead giving you complete clarity and more importantly, the confidence knowing you’re on the right track to your destination if you keep following your route.
The acceptance of who and what you are can be difficult for some people but, I’ve witnessed obese individuals transform their bodies to become physique medal winners and fully able body people lose their limbs to end up becoming Olympic Gold Medallists. Get used to your shortcomings in life, this creates the catalyst for you to make the very best out of what you’ve got and who knows where your limitation ends?
Step 3 – Transition & enjoyment.
I love the phrase think Big but Start Small. Your goal should excite you, the journey will probably be long and difficult, a steady transition into a new change is your best approach. Going back to BJ Fogg’s principle of Tiny Habits, we must break them down into even smaller micro habits. Using exercise again (have you spotted my bias yet?) if the aim is to do more exercise and the habit is to do 5 minutes a day as a minimum, don’t start at this point, start with just 1 minute a day and gradually build up to 5 minutes once exercise feels like second nature and you start to actually enjoy it.
This transition into new habits builds self-confidence as you start to realise you are winning and the feeling of accomplishment positively charges the flames and creates more momentum in the direction you are headed.
After 3 weeks if you’re not enjoying the process then you need to tweak your approach to your goal. If you hate the gym but love the outdoors, then don’t bother with the gym, and start running or cycling. Buy suitable clothing for bad weather days and/or buy a small home treadmill or bike for those times when the weather simply doesn’t permit.
Doing the things, you enjoy along with what matters will further accelerate your chances of success but, also note you may not like what you do at the start. Typically, if we aren’t too good at something, we usually don’t like it. Give it time, once you get into the flow by using the transitional strategy, you’ll soon enjoy it but if not, then make that tweak.
Step 4 – Schedule & execute.
This is it, it’s time to get the rubber on the road. You must now create clarity by putting into place a schedule of what you need to do, where and when you are going to do it. Remember the brain needs clarity and direction so be very specific and make sure it’s placed in your diary in bold. Your execution will be easy to start with by utilizing this 4-step method so allow the ease to happen and follow the plan.
If you do more activity because of the ease, that’s fine but always return to the easier habit as a rule. This will stop the stress if you don’t make huge steps that day, it doesn’t matter so long as you still progress, remember what 5 minutes can do overtime.
You will naturally reach a point where the 5-minute workout every day becomes so easy that you increase to 10 minutes and this is now your new natural baseline. This term is called the hedonic treadmill (coming up in a blog soon), where you enter a state of feeling when something that was once challenging becomes new normality. Your physiology and psychology adjust, and you don’t even have to think about that baseline activity, it’s like brushing your teeth, you just do it!
Forming new habits needs the implementation of several variables to give the strongest chance of success.
Utilising a clear plan, small manageable steps with a direct link to what matters to you as an individual is the main framework to keep using across any areas of life in which you wish to improve.
Consistency is key but the enjoyment of the process to allow for consistency is just as important and by using the 4-step framework given you will not achieve your goals; you will crush them, my friend!
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