The Power of Habits


As you try to reach to become more fit or a better person, one of the things you will need to confront is changing some of your habits.  Habits are actions that are so ingrained into us that we almost do them unconsciously.  Usually there is a cue or trigger, which leads to a craving, then a response or action to get to the satisfying feeling or reward.  For example, personally if I am drinking coffee, I will crave something sweet and will usually eat a cookie (the rewards).  Everybody has habits and everybody has good and bad ones.  In a nutshell, we need to break bad behaviors and adopt good ones, making them new good habits, which will show you how small, incremental, everyday routines compound and add up to massive, positive change over time.

The trigger point or cue will always exist (for example: ads on TV, a certain time of day, coming back home or going out to a restaurant and so on) but the action and/or routine might change, and therefore the rewards might be different.

First and foremost, you must study the habits you want to change, what is triggering them.  When that trigger happens, what is the craving?  What can I do differently to achieve the rewards?  What are other options?  You might have to experiment with various activities.  What do these activities bring in pleasure versus the pain of the activity?  There is a fine balance between the rewards and the pain of the process.  Our human body is programmed to try to avoid pain as much as possible, so the rewards must be worthwhile, or the new habit will not set in.

At first, the routine or action must not be too painful, and the rewards must be enjoyable.  For example, if you want to adopt the habit of going to the pool, you must first feel strongly about it and identify yourself as a swimmer.  Change your identity.  I am a swimmer because I like water, it feels good and relaxing, I like the exercise, I loved swimming as a kid, the swimming pool is next to my house,   whatever.  Find 5 good reasons why you want to be a swimmer.  Second, find a cue or create a trigger, such as 8 AM every or every other morning, as soon as I come home from work, while my kids are at soccer practice, when my local Masters team practices…Third, establish the routine based on your current swim level.  If you are new to swimming it can maybe be fifteen minutes in the pool, with a lot of rest, no more (cannot be a grueling session).  Fourth, the rewards must be huge such as a good feeling in your body, a nice long shower or hot tub session while talking with your friend… .

To become a real habit, you need to start tracking it, and see it progress to a sort of positive addiction.  The outcome must be so rewarding to you that you crave the routine, you cannot stop it, it has become a “powerful or atomic habit” *.

Most of the time as we set up our resolution and our goals, we are working on the rewards, the outcome: what we would like to achieve.  But we do not work enough on how to achieve it, how to break the bad habits we have and to reinforce the good ones.  First, identify yourself as a new fit and healthy person and work on creating the healthy and good habits of that person.  If you do, the results will come by themselves, and it will be a permanent, addictive positive change, no more a yo-yo process of setting goals, reaching them or not, quitting and starting the process again.

To start tracking your progress, USMS currently has two events which may help you:

  • The 2019 Fall Fitness challenge one-mile swim: if you are new to swimming, it might be good to see what you can do in the pool. The challenge can be done as a relay with friends, with any equipment, stopping when you need to.  No real rules, it is just a challenge and it benefits the USMS Swimming Saves Lives Foundation.  It happens between November 15th and November 30th.
  • The 3000 and/or 6000 yards e-postal national championship. If you are a little more experienced or competitive, this is for you.  The deadline for the ePostal is November 15, 2019.

You can register for both at the USMS website www.usms.org

If you are committed to becoming a swimmer and to tracking your new positive habits, register with USMS and take full benefit of their fitness log which will track your mileage, and of their online workouts which will give you an idea of how to progress.

*Some content of this article is based on two very popular books: “The Power of Habits” from Charles Duhigg, and “The Atomic Habits” from James Clear.

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