Do you know the saying “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”? It may sound cheesy at first, but there is a lot of truth to it. Think about your last big or small achievement: Maybe you got that job promotion, finished that tough run, or got your academic degree.
Success did not just happen, you made it happen over time by sticking with the steps leading there. The same is true when we think about building healthy lifestyle habits and being an athlete. It does not just happen.
However, it is not always easy to stick to the path. There are temptations along the way that can derail us. Every time we must force ourselves to consciously choose the “right option”, our willpower gets drained a little bit more (Science] calls this “ego depletion”).
But what if I told you that there is a psychological technique to keep you focused with less effort? It is called “nudging” and will help you stay true to becoming the best version of yourself.
What is “nudging” and how can it help?
Nudging is a technique from behavioral psychology. Researchers have found that our lifestyle choices are not single choices at all – they consist of thousands of mini choices during our daily life.
Each of these mini decisions takes willpower to make. Especially when we are confronted between what is healthy and what is easy. Or when we want to make a change to a deeply ingrained habit.
This is where nudging comes in. To nudge ourselves in the right direction, we anticipate those challenges to our willpower and take small steps to make it easier on ourselves to make the right choice.
But how exactly do we do that?
Practice positive “reframing”
We have all been there: We wanted to get that workout in, maybe after a long day or early in the morning and just cannot get ourselves to do it. It feels like a chore.
This is our mind and body wanting to preserve willpower and energy. But to get into an athletic and healthy lifestyle, we need to work out.
To reframe, we should focus not on the strain of the workout, but on the good feeling after breaking a sweat.
Or on the positive changes that will happen to our body if we manage to form that workout habit.
Tell yourself “This will feel good after” or “This will make me stronger." If you feel too stressed out, tell yourself “This will help me let off some steam."
By reframing your thoughts in a positive direction, you will overcome the inertia that is stopping you from making those changes. One thought at a time.
Enlist other like-minded people to hold you accountable
Another thing you can do is to build some social accountability for your new lifestyle choices. In charity, there is the saying “Do good and talk about it."
Even in the reverse order, it will inspire others to do the same (and maybe even gain you a workout partner). But most importantly, it will make you want to stay true to your word. After all, after telling others about how you will crush that workout or get on that diet, how would it feel to fall short in their eyes?
Asking others to hold you accountable will motivate you to keep going after your goals even if it feels hard. And those people might even offer some help and encouragement along the way. We all want to see our friends and ourselves succeed.
This is especially true in groups created for that very purpose, like the Freeletics Communities on Facebook. You will also find local Freeletics training groups in every major city.
Use positive triggers and reminders
Apart from keeping ourselves from making the unhealthy choice, we should also make good choices easier for ourselves by setting our minds to them over and over.
Place your training bag and mat somewhere you can see it well. It will remind you of your fitness journey and make it easier not to miss taking your workout gear with you.
Make that barbell your desktop background and watch some inspirational videos in the morning. Maybe put some nicely framed inspirational quotes on your wall.
Set that daily step count reminder on your phone. All of this will inspire you to keep going forward in the right direction. Where the mind goes, the body will follow.
Make “good” things more accessible.
We often like to put off good habits because they are “too much trouble” and other choices are just more accessible in our current environment. So, we should nudge ourselves in the right direction by changing just that!
Put your favorite fruit in the center of your kitchen so you can grab it easily. Keep your workout mat in the living room instead of in the closet. Block those workout slots in your calendar. You might even take a healthy pre-cooked meal to work. By planning for better decisions, we make it easier for them to happen. No wasted willpower here.
The technique of self-nudging will help you avoid bad choices, so you can make those good ones. And after some time, you might find yourself not needing them so much anymore. Because step by step, you have built that healthy athletic lifestyle that once seemed so far away.
You have made those critical first steps on your journey. And suddenly, it does not seem so long and tedious anymore. Enjoy it.