Why habits are the new game changer.

When was the last time you thought about your good habits? powerofhabit It feels like habits get a bad rap because we often think of them negatively as in biting nails or over-eating but they can be huge game changers when you make the effort to turn around those that aren’t working for you.  My inspiration today is from Charles  Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit which throws new light on why we have habits, how they come about and how to change the ones which aren’t working for us.

So why do we have habits? Scientists believe it’s because our brain is always looking for ways to save effort. Remember your first aerobics step class or L plated driving lesson? How exhausting! But after a while your brain learned what to do so much so we often experience auto-pilot  where we wonder where on earth we ‘were’ for a  few minutes. Tests at MIT in the 1990s also showed after learning a habit lab rats had only minimal activity occurring in the rest of their brains compared to the first few attempts of a new routine.

An ancestral part of our brain, the basal ganglia is believed to be responsible for our habit storage. When people’s basal ganglia is damaged they are no longer able to form simple tasks when their access to ‘habit storage’ is unavailable.

The interesting hard cold truth: When a habit emerges the brain stops fully participating in decision making. So unless you find new routines the pattern will automatically unfold. The brain also can’t tell when a habit is good or bad so a bad one can just be lurking waiting to be fired up for a unhelpful reward.

But once you understand the habit loop you can break it down into parts, experiment and find ways to change it up by overpowering the existing neurological pathways with more compelling habits.

The Habit Loop.

Habitloop

Firstly the cue occurs: A situational trigger that is based on a reward you’re seeking.

Next up the routine: A physical or emotional action you take to obtain the reward.

Finally the reward: The satisfaction you seek by following the routine

The key is to understand what the craving is,  experiment with the rewards and then the routine can be swapped out for something more beneficial.

Before we go into solution mode it is worth observing the mechanism of habits. Habits create strong neurological cravings however because they emerge quite gradually we are often blindsided by their influence.  What’s even more interesting is our brain begins anticipating the reward long before we take action. Marketers and retailers worked this out some time ago hence the likes of Dunkin’ Donuts spraying their scents of hot cinnamon baked goods across mall floors to trigger a potential craving. Or how about foaming shampoo and toothpaste? It doesn’t actually need to foam but product developers discovered consumers feel cleaner from a foam sensation which drives more use  of the product more often to satisfy the clean craving.

One of our biggest cravings is often for distraction. 6a0147e0ba5e57970b017ee83f2f17970dThink about when a text goes off. How hard is it to resist looking at it? The brain has started anticipating the distraction of opening a text before you’ve even looked at it. But if you have your phone on silent  have you noticed how much longer you stay focused on your task at hand for?

So how do we get past an unhelpful habit?  Science has proven if we keep the same cue and same reward, a new routine can be introduced. For example a smoker who has identified their craving is relaxation and the reward is feeling chilled out a new routine of long slow deep breaths during a gentle stroll which activates the parasympathetic nervous system may serve as a good alternative. Or if you want to start running you choose a cue (put your clothes out the night before) and a reward – maybe a smoothie. Cue-Routine-Reward-Running_thumbBut only when you brain starts anticipating the reward – the endorphins or sense of achievement from your quick lap round the park will it become an automatic association for your brain. So you need to keep repeating the action several times to teach your brain you crave that new reward . Another key point is you must choose your own meaningful reward – not what someone else has suggested.

But just having a new routine and reward may not be enough. You need to believe change is possible and studies have shown you are far more likely to succeed if you have an accountability partner or a group of people going through a similar experience to share and commit to change with.

Here’s how to re:set a habit in 4 easy steps.

Step 1. Identify your routine. What is the behaviour you want to change? Working from home I have to admit I do a fair amount of pantry grazing when I’m overloaded and need a breather. My routine is to get up stare longingly into the pantry and wait to find something to satisfy what I believe is a hunger craving.

3Step 2. Experiment with rewards. Get your lab coat out, your notepad and pen & start trialing new rewards. I tried getting out & schimmying round the block. Then meditating. Then having a drink of water. After trying each new reward set an alarm for 15 mins. At that point ask do I still want the original ‘reward’?

Step 3. Isolate the cue. We have so much information bombarding us all the time it’s hard to know what exactly is triggering us. Answer these questions every time your habit is triggered to identify what is causing you to choose this habit over something more beneficial.

  • Where am I?
  • What time is it?
  • How am I feeling?
  • Who else is around?
  • What action preceded the urge?

Step 4. Have a plan. Remember that a habit is a choice that we deliberately made at one point, we then stopped thinking about it but continued to do every day. So start by making conscious decisions with a plan to do the new action. When I feel an urge to hit up the pantry I have a plan now to go for a walk and get some fresh air mid morning and mid afternoon when my craving for distraction seems to be at it’s highest. You might also want to find an accountability partner or group of people to help support your plan and discover the game changing nature of habit refinement.

Want more? Check out this nifty infographic from Duhigg on habits

 

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8 clubs in 2 months…The Rundown

gyms

With spring firmly here, the gyms are busier than ever as everyone reminds themselves they won’t be able to hide behind long drapey cardis and sweaters for much longer. And with so many new cool fitness classes popping up in Sydney, I decided to embrace feeling like a newbie, leave the safety of Fitness First and embark on a little tour of health clubs lovingly named the #8x2challenge. It was fun, cheap and an awesome way to get me out of my comfort zone. Here’s my review of the 8 I chose to get me through winter – perhaps there’s a couple here to motivate you to get active for your spring edit?

KX Pilates – Bondi Junction

I’ve been a gym bunny for a looonnng time but I can’t believe I’ve never tried a pilates reformer machine before. WHAT a workout. Really enjoyed the instructors, the tunes and the intro deal was super affordable.

Xtend Barre – Naremburn

As an ex-ballerina/ dancer (Ok just up to a teenager) I was pretty excited to try this out and boy did it deliver. An awesome workout I could feel the tightness for a few days afterwards and it wasn’t too complicated either. No pas-de-chats thank goodness.

Flow Athletic  –  a premium-feel gym in Paddington, I’d be eyeing this one up for a while. Super friendly, chic and so many classes to choose from. I checked out Bike Asana which is 30 mins spin and 30 mins yoga. The yoga studio is the nicest I’ve visited in Sydney. If I lived closer I’d definitely look in to their options.

Body Mind Life – Bondi Beach

This was probably one of my favourites – mostly because it’s just such a good deal at $48 for a month of unlimited yoga (or pilates ) – I certainly got my money’s worth. During chilly July there was nothing nicer than going into a warm studio – I even went a little early to have a wee savasana solo time. Bliss.

Centennial Health Club – Moore Park

A girlfriend told me about this one – mostly because she was excited about the childcare options but I was impressed with the very different styles of classes and the two workouts I did I felt for daysssss. If you live or work near here I recommend trying it out. Also compared to my usual big gym where no one really speaks to each other, I really noticed how friendly people were.

Agoga – Bondi

I had been wanting to try Agoga for ages but was worried I was never fit enough however I did survive. The two intro classes I tried were both really good – my favourite was their signature class which really tested all parts of me including my will power. Super friendly and a nice bunch, I’ll go back for sure.

Vicious Cycle – Bondi Beach

While my road bike collects dust during winter months I do love a good spin class. This is a custom built spin studio with very flash spin bikes – the only thing missing is the meters which are becoming more common now. The $25 for 2 weeks deal was awesome value to get a sense of different instructors. A few even have a bonus core/ stretch segment which was worth staying for.

Coreletics – Darlinghurst/ Bondi

Coreletics is a holisitic core workout where Emma takes into consideration your overarching goals and what’s going on for you on the day. One session was completely pilates based with a reformer machine and boy did the thighs feel it the next day.   The second sesh I hit up 98 Riley St where we went through some basic functional movements (the new buzz in fitness) then finished off with a heart racing HIIT session. Phew! Everyone loves a personalised approach especially me.

 

All the new pass options like Body Pass and K Fit will mean a lot more variety and affordability for your workouts. I still haven’t quite managed to give up my ‘big gym’ membership but I’m sure it’s going to happen soon. Next week I’m off to try F45 in Bondi to see what all the fuss is about. But there’s at least 8 more on my list to try out – aerial yoga anyone? Let me know if you have any recommendations!

The soulful spin.

I doubt anyone could miss the lycra phenomenon taking over the streets at crazy early hours in the last 10 years specifically all those MAMILS! I have even been drawn in myself (aka ‘All the gear and no idea’).  And I’m sure we’ve all heard of, attempted or are addicted to spin classes – which when you explain it sounds completely absurd.  “Come on lets go biking to nowhere in a sweaty dark room with loud techno beats and an instructor yelling at you. Fun!”

On a recent holiday to the US however I wanted to try out Soul Cycle. You probably think I’m mad exercising on my holiday but I really recommend it. Especially somewhere like the States where they are up for trying a lot of weird and wonderful classes. More ideas here.

From a love of exercise, branding and holistic well-being  I was curious (and nosey) to find out how a brand of spin classes could have developed such a cult following.  Many instructors have become minor celebs – John Mayer even had a fling with ‘Lauren’ from LA according to reports . There’s a clothing range (yes I made a small purchase) and I just missed Jake Gyllenhaal in the NYC West Village class by one day. Gutted!

So what is it that draws people (ok mostly young females in the 20-40 age bracket) to soulfully spin to their hearts content ?

I turn up eagerly early and for a start as with most customer experiences in the US, they are soooo friendly. And this is one country (& potentially the only) where my kiwi accent seems to benefit. “OMG I love your accent”. When you sign up for their introductory offer it’s $20. Sweet. I grab my free towel & spin shoes (imagine that Fitness First & Les Mills!), pick my bike position in the room and sign my life away. I then clamber inn the dark past dozens of the latest spin bikes to find my spot. After fannying about for some time and scoffing at the 2kg handweights hidden at the rear of the bike I hop on, clip in and observe the instructor stage where candles are a blazin’. Next I unsubtley watch the clientele pouring in. All athletic keen bean bubbly young lasses – interestingly very similar in NYC and LA. The assistants leave the room, its darkened even more (can just make out my hands).’, the music get louder and like a musician entering on stage the instructor arrives, the excitement lifts and the mantras begin…

If you’ve done spin before it’s not a massively different except for these key three things.

  1. The instructors don’t scream at you to GET MOVING! Instead they offer positive motivating language, reminding you to be grateful for your body’s abilities and encourage you to step up your energy levels and make it count.
  2. There’s a couple of pretty weird up, down and sideways ‘dancing on ya bike’ type moves which even after years of ballet and modern dance training I could not sync up with. In fact I felt a bit like a turkey with indigestion and I wondered how Jake got on with this move?
  3. The hand weights. Towards the end you do a little routine with hand weights. And while I had dismissed it at first my little arms did actually hurt and hey, I’ll try anything to eliminate bat wings.

Overall it was a really fun, inspiring experience. It was uplifting and I came out feeling puffed, positive and converted to this way of exercising. I’m impressed Soul Cycle and looking forward to a version  reaching the Aussie shores soon.

spin