Now, with this challenge, I'm going to ask you to make some changes. For some people this is easy, but, if you're anything like me, you may be so fond of your current routines and behaviours that it's a real wrench to do so, and some things might have been as they are for years -- and however many times you've thought about changing, you've never quite managed to break some of these deeply entrenched habitroutines (that wasn't a typo, sometimes I use both these words in a new mega-word).
A basic but necessary rule of thumb is this: your previous errors are usually ones of understanding and strategy, not lack of character, not personal failings and not because you don't have any willpower.
There is a lot of info about habits and stuff out there, and I've probably read most of it, so I thought I'd share just a few highlights that might help you succeed and get the most out of this 28-day challenge. A lot of this info isn't ground-breaking and some of it is just common sense, but we need it fresh and front-and-centre of your mind as you plan your challenge.
As always, if you're not confident, if you need more ideas, need help to plan, or to know if you're making the right changes, please ask for help.
What is a habit? A habit is a type of memory, an automatic behaviour that can been triggered by certain cues. Something happens -- brain learns to execute a behaviour.
What is a routine? A routine is basically a longer, more effort-full string of behaviours less controlled by pure impulse. We may get into the habit of starting our routine, but then we may need more conscious thought or mental effort to finish the routine or to do it well.
To be honest with you I couldn't care less about the pedantic differences between the two or fathom why I wrote that in this guide, to me, basically they are the same damn thing:
Automatic behaviours that we we do day in day out without the use of willpower or more than passing attention to initiate.
I will more likely refer to them as habits from now on, but I may refer to them as routines if I'm talking about strings of habits or longer habits, or I might use the mega-word habitroutine. Cheers.
WHY DO HABITS AND ROUTINES MATTER?
Because they happen often: Of course, the thing about our daily habits and routines is that they happen every day (I'm good at insight). One chocolate bar might not be so bad, but if it becomes a habit or part of our routine -- then it's a problem.
If things are habit, if they happen every day, we aren't just talking about 10 push ups a day or a single Mars Bar, we are talking about 3,650 push ups or 11,132 grams of sugar per year -- and that does matter.
Because they are 'free'. People who go to the gym habitually every day (or workout somewhere most days) -- they don't have the mental struggle to make themselves train than less consistent folk have (or they do sometimes, but on a dramatically reduced scale). They often don't have to think about it; they just go. They just do. It's what they do. The same goes for folks who eat well. The change may be effort-full, but once it's established, once it's ingrained as a habitroutine...it's mentally 'free'.
So if things seem really hard at first, just remember: this is not the case for folks with great bodies, it's just getting used to it that's hard.
This is why, every ounce of effort spent on habit or routine strategy is worthwhile, because once you're set up, maintenance is far, far easier.
You can have a great body and still have a life, we just need the effort and focus early-doors to fix and ingrain better habits and routines.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO CHANGE YOUR HABITS AND ROUTINES?
I think, really, it depends infinitely on the exact changes you make. With a 28-day challenge -- such as this baby -- we can't guarantee permanent 'ingrainment' of the habits you've selected, but if you can stick to something for 28 days, you've got a bloody great chance.
Really, to try to define how long it takes to change a habit in a general sense is a triumphant waste of time. I like to go by a few general rules and guidelines here to help planning and to temper my expectations when attempting changes:
The longer you've followed the pattern, the harder it is to break -- a few years back, I broke what had become my habit of having a full english breakfast or two large bacon rolls for breakfast everyday, overnight. After seven years of 'trying'. The habit was so ingrained, so comforting, so juicy, that it seemed to give me multiple rewards and it took a loooong time to break. I'm sure the memory of that routine is so deeply entrenched, that should I wish to go back to it, it would be very easy.
Sometimes you have to chop away and dissect the various comforts and rewards of your behaviours for years, changing little-by-little, and sometimes you just need to stumble upon the right strategy. But one thing always seems the case, the longer you've had a certain behaviour, the longer it takes for your new desired thing to be habitual -- and until it is, vigilance is wise.
Remember this when you start this challenge, at no point was I ever absolutely sure I was ready to change this habit, it would have been a poor choice for this challenge. Before you commit on this challenge, make sure you've chosen stuff you can win at.
If the same cues are there, if the same routine is present it can be harder to change -- Change your job, change your environment, and you'll find it much easier to break tough patterns. However, if you can't do that, you need to think carefully about replacement habits. Don't simply eliminate things.
The less you like the new habit, the harder it is to change -- if you want to do the new behaviour, if you can remember that you enjoy working out (or pretend), or make food changes you actually like, then it will be a lot easier to make changes faster and with less failure.
The more effort-full, the harder it is to change - it's harder to do an hour of cardio than it is 10 push ups. It's harder to prep and eat food after a long day than it is to eat stuff that's already there. The less organised you are, the more barriers you face -- the longer it's going to be until you're successfully carrying out the new behaviours on auto-pilot.
HOW DO WE MAKE OUR NEW BEHAVIOURS STICK??
Well, there's plenty of ways. Here are a few of my favourites:
Turn it into your comfort -- If you can find comfort, find a way of enjoying your new habits, then you're likely to stick with them. Even if that's just the comfort in knowing you did good -- that's a start. But if you keep experimenting until you find the food you love, the exercise you love, the thing you enjoy, then it's far more likely to stick.
Be ready to fight like hell just once or twice -- even if we think we've done everything right, once or twice, the extinction burst will rear it's petulant head and you'll be desperate to go back to your old ways. You've got to be ready for that, and ready to fight like hell to make yourself stay on track. Do that and it will get easier and easier to smile and turn away from the old patterns.
Make it matter -- If no one knows about your goals, and the results are far off, sometimes it seems like it doesn't matter. You know it does matter, but it seems like "just today" isn't that big a deal. It is, because it's never "just today". Sometimes though, we need to find immediate and shameful consequences if we break our habit intentions. See the golden rule below for more on this.
They must become your identity -- you need to see yourself as the person who does this sort of thing (you know, the thing you want to do). Otherwise, your old self-image will keep nagging at you -- asking "how long are we keeping up this charade?". It's wise to spend time reasoning with yourself, imagining 'future you', fiddling with your thingy (your story) until you get it just right...once you do, you'll feel much less mental drag when it comes to actually doing the stuff you need to do.