Do you remember the exact process you went through when you brushed your teeth this morning? Do you remember groggily squeezing the toothpaste out of the tube, the feeling of the bristles on your gums, and the taste of the toothpaste in your mouth?
It’s highly doubtful. Back in 2008, our brains were processing about 34 gigabytes worth of information every single day. Chances are that number has grown quite a bit. After all, in the Internet age, 2008 feels like it happened a century ago. Instagram wasn’t even a thing, Facebook was mostly still used by college kids, and there certainly wasn’t a global pandemic that was impacting all of our lives.
This is why habits are valuable. If we consciously thought our way through every decision we make on a daily basis, we’d be overwhelmed by the options before we made it an hour into a day. We make a large number of our daily decisions into automated things that happen every single day to prevent that feeling of being overwhelmed. These daily and repeatable actions are habits, and we don’t think about habits. We just do them.
Nutrition, and life, is all about habits. We are a bundle of our habits, and these habits control 40-50% of our day. Small habits like how we brush our teeth, backing out of the driveway, or even the snacks we grab when we’re walking through the kitchen while taking a break from work.
We are a collection of our habits. Especially our nutrition habits.
This is exactly why so many people struggle with their nutrition plans. For most of us when we start trying to work at Stronger U, we’re doing so after spending years upon years of practicing certain habits. Those habits, more often than not, have become deeply ingrained habits that lead us down the path of gaining unwanted weight, feeling run down, and dealing with nagging aches and pains. Trying to fix that, especially overnight, is a Sisyphean task for most people. It’s battling a lifetime of habit inertia. But it can be done, and we’ve got a system to make it happen.
Habits and nutrition success.
There was a member I worked with a couple of years back that was having a difficult time with breakfast in the morning. She knew enough about tracking her macros and hitting her numbers that she understood the importance of a good meal that was in line with her goals, especially early in the day. But understanding the importance of a good meal is one thing. It’s an entirely different thing when you also have to find a way to work that into your own personal life.
After some trial and error, we settled on a new system. Instead of having her focus on making an entire breakfast every morning, we first set a small little goal to have her drink water first thing in the morning. Basic, I know. But basic habits are what we needed at that point. She was so busy in the mornings that the very idea of making a healthy breakfast felt like too much. Her time was already stretched thin between getting the kids ready for the day and getting herself ready for work. So instead, we set a manageable goal for the first thing in the morning.
Along with that, we started finding different leftovers that she’d enjoy having in the morning. Because while I fully recognize that I’m a weirdo who can eat breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast, I know not everyone is like that. A major factor in success is finding ways to adapt meals and habits to your life in a way that makes them doable and repeatable.
Once we set those habits into place the next step was to follow through, and to do that consistently, so that the long arc of time would work in our favor. Within the first 15 minutes of each day she had knocked out her first healthy habit, starting the day with positive momentum, and making it easier to continue that momentum throughout the rest of the day.
Herein lies the power of setting up consistent habits.
One of the fundamental reasons that Stronger U works for so many people is the education process that comes with tracking our food intake and other markers of health and progress. When you’re tracking food and water, paying attention to how much sleep you’re getting, and seeing just how much or how little you move in a day, there are certain things that become clear to us.
We might start to recognize that when we thought we were sleeping plenty, we were actually barely getting 6 hours of sleep in a night. And while we felt like we walked around all day long, the 2,000 steps a day we get tells a different story. Oh, and you know how we thought we were eating relatively well? Learning that we were actually eating 110 grams of fat, 290 grams of carbs, and 100 grams of protein in a day tells a far different story.
But then again, that’s why tracking these things are important. They help us develop awareness around what we were doing, and through that awareness, we can start doing the things that allow us to get closer to our goals and feel better. That doesn’t just happen through tracking though. Tracking is the thing that helps us gain a better understanding. What makes tracking work over the long haul is the habits we put in place.
This is why we love the Stronger U Habit Tracker.
I will argue with anyone about why I think Seinfeld, not Friends, was the best comedy show from the 1990’s. I’m a gigantic Jerry Seinfeld fan and I watch just about every single thing he puts out, even today. But I also love Jerry Seinfeld because he’s the very model of consistency. We’ve written about this before, but one of the greatest lessons any of us can learn from Seinfeld is his “Chain method” to writing jokes.
The idea is simple: put an “X” on the calendar for every single day that he wrote a joke. It didn’t matter how good or bad the joke was. It only mattered that he showed up and put in the effort. After a few days of writing jokes and marking an “X” on his calendar, a chain inevitably begins to form on that calendar. And when we see that chain growing right in front of you, it’s much easier to want to keep that chain rolling along. There’s momentum that’s being built with that chain, and the longer that chain goes on, the more natural it becomes for us to just do those things on a daily basis.
As you can see above, the same principle applies to the Stronger U Habit Tracker. Throughout the course of weeks and months, consistently checking a box begins to give us a real and physical view of the momentum we’re creating for ourselves. Not every single day on that Habit Tracker is going to be perfect, and that’s not the idea. The idea is that you still put in the effort when it counted. And because you put that effort in, you’re still moving forward.
The habits you decide to set for yourself are entirely up to you, as they should be. We all live different lives, and because of that, have different habits. The Habit Tracker above is nothing but an example. It’s there to give you an idea of what someone’s habits might look like and how they might utilize this tool. But it doesn’t have to be exactly what you do. For that, you can save the picture below, print it off, and start dropping your own habits in. This way you can begin creating your own chain. One meant specifically for you, your life, and your goals.
(If you’d like to download the Stronger U Habit Tracker, you can do so here: Habit Tracker Editable (1).
A quick word on perfection and habits.
There’s this pervasive idea in the world of habits that whenever we start adopting a new habit, it’s something that we should do every single day, no matter the circumstances. It’s a normal thought and assumption to have. After all, when we think of a habit, we think of something that we do repeatedly.
But that very assumption can also make some habits harder to stick to and it can cause all of us to beat ourselves up when we don’t follow a particular habit on a particular day. In reality, the wisdom in adopting a habit also means that we have to understand there will inevitably be days that we don’t check the box.
If the past couple of months have shown us all anything, they’ve shown us that the world is rapidly changing, and we’re forced to change along with it. During the middle of that change, there are things that get lost in the fray. That’s a truism of life, even in the best of times.
For habits to become a part of who we are they also have to be malleable. There might be some days that we can’t go on a long walk or eat our prepped breakfast. Just because life made it more of a challenge to stick to that particular habit doesn’t mean you’ve failed in that arena. It means that you’ve had to adjust on the fly, and that’s okay. Because like behaviors are a habit, intention and awareness are habits as well.
Maybe you can’t follow along with a plan you’ve set for yourself. But what you can do is still make an intentional choice that you can feel good about. The specific behavior might look a bit different, but the end result and intention behind that result is the same: you’re doing what you can to care for yourself.
Remember: habits aren’t things that get instilled every night. Anytime you’re working on adopting new habits you’re also working on overwriting old habits. Inertia is a very real thing that we all have to deal, especially when talking about the habits that we practice on a daily basis. Trying to adopt those habits without the help of some kind of visual aid is just playing the habit-game on an expert level when we haven’t even learned which buttons do what.
Don’t make adopting productive habits harder than it needs to be. Because make no mistake, it’s already difficult. So give yourself a bit of grace in understanding that you don’t need to be perfect. And while you’re doing that, also make it a bit easier to stick to by giving yourself a visual aid to stay accountable to, like the SU Habit Tracker.