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Leverage the Habit Loop for Optimal Performance

I often get asked to discuss the formation or the extinction of good and bad habits. What is sometimes hard to conceptualize is the mental aspect of the habit loop. This seminar pairs nicely with goal setting and motivation training, and could easily be a 2 hour or more block of instruction. But for now, let’s keep it simple:


1) What are you craving for? By that, I mean what do you want to develop or enhance? What habits do you love and which ones inhibit your full potential? List them out. Distinguish productive versus counterproductive – are you aware of which ones serve you and which ones hold you back? By writing things down and visualizing the good/bad/ugly realities of your behaviors, it forces you to look within and identify space for growth and development.


2) Tara Brach (one of the best mindfulness meditation gurus in the industry) often will talk about attention AND intention. They come together, and one without the other typically will not succeed because focus requires intention and intention requires attending. Start to pay attention to your intention. Ask yourself what is my attention today? This hour? This minute? When you focus on what your actual intention is, it helps create behavior change. Intentions if not attended to can run wild. The “monkey brain” loses focus and emotions, thoughts, and distractions will hijack the brain into reptilian survival. Once hijacked, the amygdala sends such strong and powerful signals to the prefrontal cortex that it becomes nearly impossible to control at that point. We have to work extra hard to level the playing field and regulate on intentions by deliberate programming. Cueing your intention several times throughout the day is a deliberate focusing drill that will pay off in dividends. Set a reminder on your phone to check in with your intention.


3) Sometimes 30 days is just the beginning. You’ll often see literature that claims you could change in 30 days and create a new habit or revise an old one. For some, this may be the case, but for others it may take much longer. I like to refer to the first 30 days as the awareness phase. Depending on the goal of behavior change it could take much longer than 60 days to be engrained into your lifestyle.


4) Fitness/Training Habits – What are they? What are the ones that are autonomous to you? Ones that aren’t mandated by others (coaches, superiors, parents) for you to accomplish, but rather ones that are intrinsic to you. How do you prepare for a training session or a practice? What are your rituals, routines, and habits that you practice to get yourself into “training mode”? On off days or on travel days what do your habits look like? Think – sleep, nutrition, effort level, and attitude. What is your routine during the weekday? Weekends? How different is it? – think sleep, training, meal prep, etc. These are all habits that create behaviors and ultimately accumulate into who you are and what type of performer you become. These repeated patterns become your default setting. The good thing is that we can modify this default setting if or when we recognize inefficiencies.


5) Health and wellness habits – nutrition, physical health, stress management, sleep. I mentioned these briefly above in point #4, but do a self-assessment on these areas. Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5 in these 4 areas of health and wellness. Which areas deserves some TLC? The app myfitnesspal offers a great way to develop some self-awareness on what types of fuel you are putting into your body. I recently went through a 30 day challenge of logging my food with @macros.and.muscles.nutrition. My assigned coach, Stacy was very resourceful in teaching me the importance of how and when to fuel my body. After the 30 days, I learned so much about a calorie and what types of calories certain foods are made of. I took 30 days to PAY ATTENTION with INTENTION. It was hard, challenging, frustrating at times – but it enhanced my awareness greatly. I found a routine that worked for me, where I logged my food at the end of each night and prepped food for the next day – entering my lunches ahead of time into the tracker. When the 30 days was up I felt like I had just scraped the surface with this habit. The reason I bring this up is because this stuff is hard, but if you want it bad enough, you find ways to make changes. You find what works for you and what is realistic based on other competing priorities in life. You find this happy medium and you commit.


6) When it comes to performance areas, what are your competing priorities? Take a look at your productivity and balance between competing priorities. What are your competing priorities that require your time and mental energy? List these out with a percentage of time that you dedicate currently to these areas (i.e. work 50%, training 30%, family 10%). Perfect balance is impossible but are there any common themes that require you to realign your focus? How does your productivity in these key areas impact your habits? What time of day do you find your focus to be ideal? What time does your mind start to become fatigued, and focus is suboptimal?


7) Last but not least - cognitive habits require effort and the right attitude – knowing your “WHY” will help with better understanding your effort levels (peaks and troughs) throughout habit formation. Choice and passion = sustained habits.


Take a peak at the slide and recognize that it's the ROUTINE that needs to be revised and modified.....Not the cue or the reward....The ROUTINE is the behavior. Start there.


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