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Leftfield 101, Mindset - Habit Formation
By: Leftfield Training

“Nothing is stronger than habit"
- Ovid

If there are to be any shortcuts in building the life we want - an understanding of how habits work and how to best harness them to our own ends, is what we need.

And not only what we need.

What we want.

Despite what the fitness industry would have you believe, you really don’t want the result.

Don’t believe me?

For the sake of brevity, I’ll summarise the following poorly managed, and yet undeniably magical, event in your life:

You happen upon a lamp. You rub it, lo and behold in a puff of smoke, a genie appears.

"I grant you 1 wish!", says the genie.

"Only 1 wish!", you say. Feeling ripped-off, but pushing your luck.

The genie, arms folded, replies


"Very well then, you probably get this one a lot..." (he does)

"I wish to have my dream body"



Your wish is granted, the genie splits, and before you can say 'wasted opportunity' you are already on your way back to exactly the body you have now. I give you 2 weeks. 1 month, max.

Your body shape, is simply a reflection of your current lifestyle - your level of fitness, the foods you eat, the foods you don’t eat, the sleep you get, how stressed you are.

Your life as it stands right now, is the sum of your habits

If you want to change one - you must change the other.

We are in fact, damn good at creating habits. The trouble is they are often not aligned with what, and who we want to be.

But we can create habits that lead us to what want in our lives, and we can do so in such a way that it gives us the best chance of having them stick.

Charles Duhigg, in The Power of Habit, writes that all habits form by the same 3–step process.

1. Cue

2. Routine

3. Reward

Cue. And... action!

A habit is defined by consistency. So the last thing we want to rely on is motivation, which might be around, might not.

Ideally we want to be able to connect our new habit to something we already do - an action trigger.

Think about the things you already do without fail, everyday.

Wake up
Brush teeth

- you get the point.

But, there’s 5 and you haven’t even left the house yet.

You could also also add other events. Opportunities that are more random.

Boiling the jug
Commercial breaks
Receiving a text/phone call
Stopping at a red light

These are all cues that can act as reminders for new habits, some more appropriate than others - a red light is not a good time to do pushups.

Stanford Professor, BJ Fogg refers to the selection of this cue point as ‘sequencing’ and that it is this, rather than motivation, that counts.

"If you pick the right small behavior and sequence it right, then you won’t have to motivate yourself to have it grow. It will just happen naturally, like a good seed planted in a good spot"

Same old, same old

As you know already, you must start small. You want your new behaviour to present as little disruption to your current routine as possible, and so easy you can’t say no.

BJ Fogg suggests that people who want to start flossing begin by flossing just one tooth.

A Gold Star

The reason behind why any habit is formed, the reward doesn't need to be, and should not be, elaborate. Remembering to floss on a Tuesday night does not warrant a trip to Thailand.

The satisfaction of continuing to do something that is of benefit is enough. Even just a verbal pat on the back -"Good job” or “Well done”.
It might feel weird, but remember we are always telling ourselves one story or another.

Never make food your reward.

Ultimately, the benefit you gain from the habit will be its own reward. If you eat healthy and exercise, you gain energy and enjoy a sense of well-being.

So now we know how to form these new habits to give ourselves the best chance of success, but there are also some habits that can give us more bang for our buck - habit combo deals.

Charles Duhigg refers to these as keystone habits, and as the name suggests, they support a number of additional habits without any further effort on our part. They can also act as catalysts to a series of other behaviours, creating a ripple-effect.

Be aware that keystones can work in a negative fashion also. The quiet drink that leads to a few more, then a kebab at 4am, followed by a hungover day on the couch eating crap, is a well-worn path.

Exercise is a well documented example, and usually leads to better nutritional decisions and sleeping better.

Keystone habits can vary from person to person, depending on whatever floats your boat. But along with exercise, there is one other that makes an appearance time and again...



From tomorrow:


Follow the free Headspace 'Take 10' program.

Beyond this program there is a minimal cost but (once paid) this provides a financial incentive to continue your practice.

Set the Headspace reminder ideally for the same time everyday, but the most important thing is that you do it.

As always it's up to you to scale as you see fit - to whatever is not just doable, but easy.

Headspace only allows for the 10minute program initially so if this is too much, either listen to a portion of it, or just sit in silence for whatever time you can manage, working your way up to the 10 minutes.

If you have not already figured out when you are going to do this, sort it out.

Don't wake up at the same time tomorrow and hope that an extra 10 minutes is going to magically appear. You've already had your genie.

Make time.

The first 30 days is crucial

Circumstances change, and we are all subject to the vagaries of daily life.

So what are you going to do - scrap your plans until you live in a vacuum?


Consistency is paramount, so you know what to do - scale accordingly.

Can't meditate for 10 mins - do 2
Can't do a full workout - do a 10 minute circuit.

This actually serves to reinforce your habit. It confirms your intention, and proves you are able to stick to schedule even when the situation is not ideal.

If you think you can go to Bali for 3 weeks and pick up where you left off, forget it. Dead habit.

There's f*#k-ups, and then there's failure

Everybody slips up. What separates the successful is their ability to get straight back on course. At the earliest opportunity.

Inevitably we will lose track at times and the occasional stumble is no problem, but don't let this lead to catastrophe.

The common mistake here is the flawed mentality that you 'may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb’. However any minor slip-up is exactly that - minor. You get sent to the naughty circle. No drama.

Don’t let things escalate to the point that a rope gets thrown over the nearest tree.

Avoid your 'negative keystones' at all costs. The bowl of icecream that turns into a tub. That one drink that leads to a blinder.

Creating good habits is well worth the effort in the long run with the real payoff coming once they are well established.

The Promised Land

As reported in PsyBlog, new psychological studies show that once our habits are well established, they then become our new baseline.

When tired and stressed, with our defences are down and our self-control waning, the routine is a sanctuary - something we find easier to follow than not.

Having nursed it thorough infancy, your new habit will now look after you.

Next in Mindset we'll look at some more techniques to help us consolidate good habits, including a contract with your future self.

Yup, time-travel.

Call Leftfield Training now, and take the first step to getting IN SHAPE OUTDOORS.


Charles Duhigg - The Power of Habit

Further reading:

Chip and Dan Heath - Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.


Copyright © 2013 Leftfield Training, All rights reserved.

Added: 08-04-2014