The commonality all athletes and health-conscious consumers have alike: how does one actually sustain and achieve long-term goals? Regardless of the sport or activity one participates in, the fundamental purpose is to reach a goal, however small or large in a set timeframe, followed by evaluating the outcome.

To complicate the matter further, everyone from primary care doctors to personal trainers, and worse yet, social media influencers hold theories on how to accomplish this: do this, eat that, follow this training program, buy this gadget.

In truth, however, there is only one correct answer to the above statement and it’s very simple; choosing to act on something and doing it repeatedly.

Regretfully, it’s that simple.

For example, choosing to work out, regardless of what that workout is, will create the greatest ripple effect over time towards most people’s goals. Expressed another way, even the worst running program still has the athlete running, does it not? That’s not to say all forms of exercise are a safe, appropriately scaled, worthy of a time investment, or that there isn’t a better running program out there. Nonetheless, most tasks that require action on a steady basis produce results.

Plainly put, it is the gradual process of modifying bad habits by displacing them with good habits; and doing it regularly.

That’s the secret.

Plainly put, it is the gradual process of modifying bad habits by displacing them with good habits; and doing it regularly. Choosing to eat foods that enhance performance repeatedly, going to bed early regularly, choosing to take the stairs daily. In fact, elementally speaking, all forms of success come from the outcome of action; which is why coaches always preach the first step is showing up.

Motivation VS Habits:

Motivation:

The above process often gets confused with motivation, as it appears on the surface as just that, motivation to move. However, leading research on psychology has shown continuously that motivation is temporary, as are many other human emotions.

Need further proof? Every health club in the US is filled to capacity in January, but empty by March; with about 8% of people actually achieving their New Year’s goals. Better yet, why is it that many contestants following their appearance the weight loss show Biggest Loser, regain their weight and then some once they’re home?

As such, one cannot simply rely on temporary emotion to create sustained change over time.

Motivation is not the key that leads to long-term success.

Habits:

Regardless of which weight loss program dieters follow (a high carb/low fat, or low carb/high fat), they lose the same amounts of weight over time. Why? Because both diet programs place the weight-watcher in a slight calorie deficit, encourages mindful eating, and builds a predictable routine.

This leads to the questions:

  • How does one find the motivation to act; repeatedly?
  • How does one actually stay motivated to follow through with a program, over an extending period of time?

Creating unique routines and habits on the individual level. It’s that simplistic. When motivation fails, habitual cycles step in as support net. As mentioned above, regular, consistent actions are what actually lead to success in almost all aspects of achievement. Routine provides the “energy” when the impulse is gone. It produces an almost instinctual level of action, with little to no willpower or consideration spent.

Keep in mind, in order for this process to thrive, it cannot be drastic nor a sprint, it’s a slow and steady modification that takes time, often starting with one modest, actionable item.

For example: want to run your first 5k? Create a routine around it, by placing your running shoes on immediately after your first steps out of bed in the morning. Why? After several weeks of regular running (once motivation is long gone), your body and mind will slowly begin to anticipate the endorphins released from the post-run high. Leading to a drive to run upon waking, regardless of your motivation. The habit starts to take over.

Start small and specific, recognizing that you cannot remove bad habits, only modify the bad habits by rewarding the good ones.

For more information on habits and motivation, be on the lookout for subsequent articles on the topics!

Colin Reno

Colin Reno

Board-Certified Exercise Physiologist; Sports Science & Technology Consultant. Follow on Instagram: @colin_reno

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