You’re listening to the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 62. If you’re starting a new exercise, nutrition, or general health habit in 2020 (or if you wanna make sure you keep going with your current ones), this episode is for you. I’m gonna bust some bullshit about motivation and sticking to long-term habits.
Hey, welcome to the show! I’m Karina, your no-BS vegan fitness and nutrition coach. The day this episode airs is the last day of 2019, and the last day of the decade! A lot of us are thinking about what we want to work on or accomplish in 2020, and many of us are gonna be starting new health habits. Just a few days ago I was interviewed by Dr. Scott Lear for his podcast (he was on episode 17 of this show), on starting and maintaining an exercise habit - mistakes people make, and how to ensure you’ll succeed. I thought that would be a great topic for my last episode of 2019, especially if you’re looking to start some new habits in 2020.
By the way, if you need help (accountability, plan, kick in the butt) to start or maintain your fitness and nutrition habits, I do have a select few spots available for new clients right now. January is typically a fairly busy month, so if you’re interested in becoming a client, get your application in at karinainkster.com/apply.
I’ve got a quick listener shout-out to Lisa Ashby, who left an awesome review of this show on iTunes recently.
“This podcast is my go-to every weekend when I meal prep and rest/recharge for the week. I love the people that Karina brings on and I love the insight Karina brings to the table. Bravo and keep these episodes comin!”
Lisa, you are the best. Thank you! I also listen to most of the podcasts I keep up with while meal prepping. If you wanna support this show, the best way to do that is to leave a review on iTunes! (Plus you get a chance for your own listener shout-out, of course.) You can leave a quick review at nobullshitvegan.com/itunes. I’d really appreciate it, as it helps new listeners find this podcast.
So, let’s get to our habit-building content for today. I’d like to start by making it clear to you that if you rely solely on motivation to keep up with your habits, you are setting yourself up for failure. People who achieve their long-term goals have trained themselves to operate without motivation.
Here’s an email I got from Christian Finn, who’s an exercise scientist and a well-known writer for publications like Men’s Health.
There are times when I can't be bothered to go to the gym.
But, whether I feel motivated or not, I still get the job done.
That's because I have something that's far more important than motivation:
When you have discipline, the fact that you don’t feel like doing something doesn’t stop you from actually doing it.
From training and boxing coach Ross Enamait:
"As great as it feels to be motivated, it is important to understand that motivation alone will only take you so far. Whether extrinsic or intrinsic, motivation can come and go in a flash.
"Discipline however is rooted in consistency. It quietly, yet continuously, chugs along in the background. It becomes part of who you are and what you do.
"Don’t give motivation more credit than it deserves. You don’t need to be motivated to succeed. What you need is the self-discipline to put in the work whether you want to or not.”
A lot of people see discipline as a fixed and unchangeable personality trait.
You either have it or you don’t.
In fact, discipline is like a muscle.
If you don’t currently have it, you can build it.
It can be trained. Improved. Made stronger.
Over time, even small acts of self-control will make your discipline "muscle" stronger and better prepared for the next challenge.
Wise words from Christian Finn.
One more thing on motivation before we get into habit-building. It’s a social media post that I have saved to my desktop, by someone who calls themselves ‘the angry violinist’. And it’s an answer to the question, “How do you keep yourself motivated to practice?” Here’s their answer (colourful language warning!)
Fuck motivation. It’s a fickle and unreliable little dickfuck and it isn’t worth your time. Better to cultivate discipline than to rely on motivation. Force yourself to do things. Force yourself to get up out of bed and practice. Force yourself to work. Motivation is fleeting and it’s easy to rely on because it requires no concentrated effort to get. Motivation comes to you, you don’t even have to chase after it. Discipline is reliable, motivation is fleeing. The questions isn’t how to keep yourself motivated, it’s how to train yourself to work without it.
So, now that we have that out of the way, let’s start at the beginning. What if you’re just starting out with a new health habit?
Two things here:
1. You need to create a habit that’s so easy that you can’t not do it. Don’t go from zero to immediately working out 3 hours a day, 6 days a week. Start with something that seems so easy that it feels like it’s not quite significant enough to make a difference.
- 10 push-ups every morning
- 1 minute meditation every night
- 5-minute walks on your lunch breaks at work
When you’re thinking about adding a new habit, ask yourself, “How confident am I that I can perform this habit consistently?” Use a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is “not at all confident”, and 10 is “extremely confident”. If you’re not feeling a 9 or 10 in confidence that you can successfully and consistently perform the habit in question, change the habit or make it smaller.
Example: I have a client who’s overhauling his whole lifestyle right now. We started with one short walk per day. Once that became habit, we added a 1-minute daily yoga routine. Now we’re adding some nutrition habits. All this will have a compound effect, because he’ll keep each habit going.
It’s not so much about the 5-minute walk. It’s about the momentum it’ll generate, and compound effects of adding habits.
2. Your environment is much more important than most people think to whether or not you stick with a habit.
As James Clear says in his book Atomic Habits, “If you want behaviors that are stable and predictable, you need an environment that is stable and predictable.”
“Disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.
I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment.
When you’re starting a new habit, you need to make sure that your environment supports it, because you do not want to rely on willpower and self-control.
Here are some examples from my own environment:
- 7 of my 9 weekly workouts involve accountability to someone else. My workout schedule is set in stone, because I’ve coordinated it with 3 other people.
- No treats in the house!
- No phones in the bedroom. My alarm clock is across the room so I have to get out of bed to turn it off.
- Weekly accordion lessons to force myself to practice regularly.
If you’re starting a new nutrition or exercise habit, take some time to think about its related environment, and how you can optimize it.
Once someone has started an exercise program (or a new nutrition program) and has been trucking along for a while, there are two main barriers that I see appear.
1. Not seeing results fast enough, and using this as a reason to give up.
There's a lot of media B.S. out there about how quickly we should see results.
Most real, lasting results (that don’t involve unmaintainable, drastic, and/or unhealthy dieting or training plans) generally take a long time to achieve.
The faster you get results, the easier it is to lose them. It usually means you’ve done something drastic and unmaintainable that has an end date. Your results, too, then automatically have an end date.
To overcome this:
I focus on inputs with my clients, which are things that you can control. Outputs take care of themselves.
Instead of “My goal is to lose 10 pounds in 2 months”, the goal becomes, “For the next two months, I’m going to work out 4 days per week, and food prep every Sunday.”
Instead of “My goal is to perform 10 push-ups in a row in 3 months”, the goal becomes, “For the next 3 months, I’m going to practice push-ups 3 days per week.”
It ain’t sexy and it doesn’t sell, but it’s the only thing that works.
We’ve all heard things like “it takes 21 days to form a new habit”. That’s not accurate. Habits form based on frequency, not time.
James Clear again:
“The amount of time you have been performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.”
So, this means you have to repeat the same actions over and over again, over time.
To make sure this happens:
Focus on making your lifestyle enjoyable, sustainable, and life-enhancing – all in the name of consistency.
As I always tell my clients, your training and your nutrition need to be a part of your life, not something you do in order to have the life you want later.
So, how do you make sure that your good habits will keep going over the long term? Well, much of it is mindset.
Three things here:
1. The people who achieve their goals are not the people who stayed on the health and fitness bandwagon 100% of the time. The people who achieve their goals are the ones who kept getting back on.
It’s not an all-or-nothing situation. If you fall off your plan, don’t use that as an excuse to scrap the plan altogether. Just get back on plan as soon as possible.
2. Along similar lines, it is not effective or useful to strive for 100% adherence to your ideal health habits. Again, this is where the all-or-nothing mindset actually prevents people from getting the results they want. We’ve been fed all sorts of B.S. from media sources that we need to be absolutely crushing it in the gym every single day, tracking our nutrients to the microgram, never eating a single morsel of so-called ‘processed’ food, etc. If you did all this, you’d last a week - max. What’s much more sustainable, and is thus going to get you way better results, is aiming to be 80% on point with your health habits, 100% of the time.
Example: I have a client who came from an all-or-nothing background. She’d be on the most ridiculously intense workout program and the most strict diet…for two weeks. Then she’d give up and not do anything for two months. Rinse and repeat. Now in the past 6 weeks of us working together, she’s worked out more than the past 6 months combined, because she’s striving to be 80% on point, 100% of the time. Sure, she’s missed a few workouts. She’s had a few treats. As we all do - and should. But that’s part of her plan, not a sign that she’s fallen off her plan.
3. If you wanna get really good at something, like exercising regularly, or even performance-based goals like lifting a certain weight at the gym, you need to be OK with some level of boredom. Enjoyment is extremely important, but if you’re serious about getting good at something, you’re necessarily going to need to repeat it over and over and over again.
Here’s James Clear again:
“Really successful people feel the same lack of motivation as everyone else. The difference is that they still find a way to show up despite the feelings of boredom.
If you only do the work when it’s convenient or exciting, then you’ll never be consistent enough to achieve remarkable results.”
So, let’s leave it at that. All the best for an amazing year ahead. I hope you nail all your goals - whatever they might be. And don’t forget if you want support with your fitness and nutrition goals, you can apply for one of the coaching spots I currently have available, at karinainkster.com/apply. Thank you for tuning in to the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, supporting the show and spreading the word, leaving reviews, and just generally being awesome. I really appreciate it, and I look forward to bringing you more awesome episodes of this show in 2020!