How To Break A Habit

It's 1:30pm, you just got out class and are heading to the gym. You have been doing great with your nutrition and your training sessions/performance has increased. To top it all off, you are starting to see your abs... Hello summer!

As you leave class you walk by the vending machine in the nearby building to get an unhealthy snack. As you approach the vending machine, you look around to make sure your strength and conditioning coach doesn't see you; and your eyes are fixed to the heavenly Snickers and a bag of Doritos. Oh how I have missed you. Next thing you know you eat both... in record time, and now feel guilty.

This is not the first time you have done this…. In Charles Duhigg's ground breaking book, "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business" he does a great job uncovering how habits work. The author lays out a framework "that researchers have found for diagnosing and shaping habits within our own lives." He goes on to say that change takes time and some discipline, but with persistence you can reshape how your respond to habits.

The framework in broken down into 4 steps: Identify the routine, Experiment with rewards, Isolate the cue, and Have a plan.

Step 1 Identify the routine: there is a sequence of events that you go through with every habit. It is made up of 3 parts the cue, a routine, and a reward. You need to figure out the process that you go through that leads you to the undesirable result. In the instance above the routine would be walking to the nearby building to frequent the vending machine. Could the cue for the routine be hunger? Too much time before training session?

Step 2 Experiment with rewards: Try to find out what is causing the particular habit by experimenting with different rewards. The author encourages the reader to conduct a multiple experiments. The next time you leave class and feel the urge to go to the vending machine, adjust your routine to achieve a more desirable reward. In the example above instead of walking by the vending machine, you decide to walk out a different entrance (adjust routine) and head to cafeteria for an apple (healthier reward).

Step 3 Isolate the cue: Where am I, what time of day, how do I feel, and what happens before I devour the Snickers and Doritos. After a few weeks you realize the cue that triggers the bad snack habit. It could the the time of day, boredom etc. The reward you were seeking was, as the author puts it, "a temporary distraction."

Step 4 Have a plan: The plan goes back to figuring out your "habit loop" and you start to change your behavior. The change of behavior leads to a better decision that will affect your performance and training in the long run. Change is not easy, but I feel that Charles Duhigg does a great job uncovering The Power of Habit.

About the Author

Marc Agnello is Owner and Head Strength and Conditioning Coach of Higher Ground Sports Performance, LLC, a business dedicated to helping people achieve their health and fitness goals. He has been training people from all walks of life, ranging from those just wanting to lose weight, those training for adventure races (Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash etc) as well as HS and College athletes looking to get to the next level. He has been involved in fitness and athletics his entire life. He graduated from Cortland State where he played college baseball while earned his BSE and MSE in Physical Education. Marc practices what he preaches. He is a fitness enthusiast. He has completed a triathlon and currently trains Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Nova BJJ in Rochester, NY. He is certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (CSCS), USA Weightlifting (Level 1 Sports Performance Coach) and is a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. Marc resides in Alfred, NY, with his wife (avid runner) and 3 beautiful athletic daughters.