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PSYCHOLOGY OF HABIT FORMATION

HOW IS THIS RELEVANT?

My niche is workouts at home. I am not a psychologist, but can relay personal experiences with the psychological aspects of fitness. See my recent post, CONSISTENCY IN TRAINING.

Habit formation is the process by which new behaviors become automatic.

My purpose in this post is to delve deeper into how habits are formed and how they may be dismantled, if they are not good ones. This will relate to workouts very specifically, but also to other endeavors.

I have always been fascinated by habit formation:

  • I activate my turn signal even when turning into my garage, with no moving vehicle within miles
  • My habit of eating is stronger than my hunger
  • Sports skills have always been initially difficult for me and must be habituated
  • But some skills are transferable from one sport to another
  • Learning to walk was acquiring a habit. I remember the process
  • Lacing up shoes is an acquired habit
  • I have had experience with both good and bad habits
  • I smoked cigarettes briefly but abandoned the habit 55 years ago
  • I have no classical addictions, but I am careful about eating salts, sugar or fats in foods
  • It seems to me that habit formation relates directly to our quality of life

TYPES OF HABITS

This will include paraphrasing from psychologydiscussion.net. Two basic types include:

  1. Physiological habits – This is when our nerve energy is shifted from sensory to motor
  2. Psychological habits – This pertains to learning behaviors which are strengthened by repetition

Types of activities also are used to show differences in habits:

  • Motor habits – This is how we run, our posture, our golf swing and the like
  • Intellectual habits – How we learn, our perceptions, how we reason
  • Habits of character – Do we help others in need? Are we honest? Do we work hard?

American psychologist William James makes these suggestions for developing habits:

  • Start out with determination and with no excuses
  • Practice regularly without postponements or interruptions
  • Choose a favorable environment, among those who will encourage you
  • Do not stop until your goal is achieved

Psychology Today describes a habit loop as showing the 3 elements that produce habits:

  1. Reminder, or trigger
  2. Routine, or behavior
  3. Reward, or benefit

Habits can be very difficult to break, since they are built to be automatic responses, done without conscious thinking. It is not easy to intervene in such a process.

I can relay my experience with stopping cigarette smoking. I was serving in the army, stationed in S. Korea. It became very apparent that smoking was unhealthy, especially since I had a history of bronchial ailments. Here was my process:

  • I announced to everyone in my detachment that I intended to stop smoking, thus committing to that end
  • Mints and chewing gum were available to me as oral replacements
  • I was willing to gain weight and would deal with that later

This worked for me and I have not smoked a cigarette since, though I later experimented briefly with pipes and cigars. The pipes and cigars did not involve inhaling smoke, but were not good for me either. I have done none of those in at least 30 years.

BACK TO FITNESS

Workouts and general attention to physical fitness represent good habits, while smoking, drinking and recreational drug use may represent bad habits. It seems to me that the creation of positive automatic responses (or habits) can create a more meaningful lifestyle for anyone.

We do many things as if we are on “automatic pilot”. Playing tennis does not lend itself to much critical thinking, though it is crucial to concentrate as we are playing. It works better if we concentrate on one aspect of the game at a time:

  • Bend your knees
  • Move your feet
  • Racquet back early
  • Watch the ball
  • Forget the score, concentrate on the next point

Tennis happens so quickly that we don’t have time for much thinking and we definitely don’t want a cluttered mind. I have heard the expression “the ball is in your court”, but never from a tennis player. Tennis players know that the game moves too quickly for that to make any sense at all.

Workouts require even less thinking than tennis. Lifting or extending a weighted piece of resistance is not an intellectual exercise, nor is grinding out a few miles by running, walking or indoor cardio. Yet, many of us know that we can easily benefit from this, but find reasons not to. Excuses, really. Why is this? It seems to me that the answer lies in the realm of our habits and our motivation. We may be lazy. Or, with respect, we may simply have other priorities.

My target audience is those who want to get back into a fitness lifestyle or those who may want to start one. It isn’t difficult. It only requires good habit formation.

RESOURCES

Here is a selection of relevant reading material:

If affiliate marketing interests you, as it did me, click on my upper menu, “BECOME AN AFFILIATE MARKETER“. Or you may also click on this link.

This post has not been about specific workout programs or equipment that might be used, but I generally cite my favorite sporting goods and fitness supply source in all of these articles. This is Dick’s Sporting Goods, the largest such merchant in the United States. DSG is a dependable source for all items relating to individual sports, team sports and accessories thereof.

Click on the link below for this week’s specials:

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CONCLUDING

Please don’t ever underestimate the importance of habits! They impact everything that we do, whether positively or negatively. I have always felt that our subconscious actions are more meaningful than what we do consciously, at least as would regard most of our activities. This is not to disregard deliberate and thoughtful planning, but even that is largely a product of our habits.

My workout habits are deeply entrenched and I couldn’t be happier about that.

Please leave me any comments or questions in the “Comments” section below. Or email me, richard@myworkoutathome.com.

Be well!

Richard

6 Comments

  1. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this insightful piece. How little I had the knowledge of how the psychology of all this works out. But to be honest, this is actually a very much broader way to understand the underground knowledge of the benefits of exercises and I value this a lot. Thanks so much for sharing here

  2. Hello Richard, nothing beats learning a new thing by the day and today I have learned how habits are formed and that makes me really happy. I really didn’t know there were various types of habits until now and from now on, I can easily tell which ones I would overlook in a child or correct in them. Great stuff

  3. I found your website on another website you are on. It is good that you are doing this work which seems so natural to you. I had been telling myself bad habit lies. I teach yoga and have been pretty active but the times have been wearing me out. With your example I am going to jump start some of the things I had told myself I was too tired to do. Even though I am over 70 I am not really all that tired. It is a trick of the mind. Thanks, Richard.

    • Catherine, it is great to get organic comments! You and I have age and fitness in common. Let me know if you would like to write a blog about yoga. I am going to send you a private message to your email address. Thank you very much….Richard

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