Build Better Habits
Relying on willpower to get yourself out the door is a hopeless task. Instead, build habits and set up your surroundings to make it happen.
The best routine is one that, well, you’re able to do routinely. If you do something enough, it will become second nature. Whether that’s putting on your running shoes when you first wake up, or brushing your teeth before bed, routines signal our brain that it’s time to do something. Avoid overcomplicating things like breakfast or your warmup, so that you have more time and energy to devote to your run. Here are some tips for building better habits to make training just a little bit easier.
Change Your Environment
People who are successful aren’t successful because they have more willpower. They’re successful because they don’t depend on willpower to get things done. They design their day, from start to finish, to offer less resistance between themselves and what they want to accomplish.
Instead of relying on willpower, design your environment to remove the temptations that get in the way of what you’re trying to do. For example, if you’re trying to get out the door for an early run, set out your clothes the night before so that all you need to do is wake up and go. Program your coffee maker to start brewing and turn your lights on so that you’re less tempted to hit snooze.
Put your shoes in the passenger seat of your car to serve as a visual reminder to get your run in after work, or put your workout clothes on top of your lunchbox at work so that your brain is clear on the order of operations. Create the path of least resistance to lead you towards your desired behavior.
Create Cues and Rewards
A lot of our behavior can be attributed to a predictable cycle: trigger, behavior, reward. The trigger could be your running shoes or a post-it note with your workout, the behavior is getting out the door for your run, and the reward could be feeling great when you’ve finished.
For instance, TJ does two minutes of pre-run hip mobility that serves the dual purpose of strengthening his hips and signaling to his brain and body that it’s time to run. Instead of hoping that a certain outcome occurs, prime yourself to make it happen with a routine that works for you.
Zoë’s reward for running is listening to fun podcasts and music during the run that she wouldn’t otherwise. One of the reasons we want runners to log their runs as immediately after the fact as possible is because the brain perceives the positive feedback as a reward too. Rewards can be small, but powerful in motivating us. Set up a system that cues you to get out the door, then rewards you for doing so. DO NOT use food as a reward – you deserve food always, regardless of how far or fast you ran.
For this to work, the triggers need to be salient, the behavior needs to be easy, and the reward needs to be immediate and satisfying. If you’re doing a task to please someone else or to earn a reward at the end of the day, you’re less likely to stick to that behavior than if you’re doing it because it makes you feel good and aligns with your core values.
Just Show Up.
In the words of endurance runner Rich Roll, “mood follows action”. Research shows that the more you try to suppress a certain thought, for instance, “I don’t want to run today”, the stronger that thought will become. The same holds true for feelings, the more you try to change how you feel the more stuck you might become.
But, by simply taking action, changes in thoughts and feelings are likely to follow. This is why the first mile for a runner can be the hardest, but, if you just show up and get started, the energy and motivation will follow. Don’t let how you feel dictate what you do. Instead of waiting around to feel good, use your actions to give yourself every shot at feeling better.
Use Your Community.
Studies show that everything from whether you smoke, to your health and fitness level is determined by the people you surround yourself with. One study found that up to 70 percent of your fitness level might be explained by the people you train with. More research showed that if you work with people who are internally motivated, you’re more likely to wind up the same way. It’s not just your physical environment that influences your behavior, but also your social spheres.
Motivation is contagious. That’s why we really hammer home the importance of community and encourage teammates to interact on social platforms like Strava. If you see your teammates regularly nailing their workouts, you’re more likely to do the same. Chances are, you serve as inspiration for your teammates too!
Own your training. It’s okay to say no to interactions that don’t fit your mission. Setting boundaries with people or behaviors that don’t benefit you or fit into your program is a sign of growth. People will respect you for owning your training and setting boundaries around the things you care about.
Community builds accountability. If you’ve made a commitment to another person (your MicroCoach) or a group (your MicroTeam), you’re more likely to stick with it. When you need a training pick me up, your team is here for you. Anecdotally, we’ve seen athletes who are more engaged with the team, through either social channels or reading blogs and watching videos, tend to miss fewer workouts and have more consistent race performances.
Be Kind To Yourself.
The harder the habit you’re trying to develop, the more likely you are to fail. Setting new training habits is hard, and hiccups and setbacks are inevitable. Your reaction when this happens is the most important part of the equation.
If you totally let yourself off the hook, “Screw it, I’m not meant to be a runner,” you can expect a negative outcome. The same is also true if your inner voice is harsh and overly judgemental, “Why can’t I get this right, I am not good!” the failure relapse is likely to compound.
Individuals who react to failure with self-compassion are more likely to get back on the bandwagon than those who judge themselves harshly. If you engage in negative self-talk after messing up, you’re more likely to experience guilt or shame, and that guilt or shame is usually what ends up driving the undesired behavior.
Self-compassion doesn’t always come easily, especially not to driven, type A-athletes who tend to congregate in Microcosm. That’s why we practice self-compassion like anything else in training, like strides or hill intervals. You don’t need to forfeit discipline for self-compassion – the two go hand in hand. Next time you hit a hiccup in training, instead of being your own worst critic, say “Oh man, I messed up. But that’s okay – because setbacks are an inevitable part of growth, and I’m in this for the long haul.”
Start Small, Dream Big.
Habits build on themselves. If you want to make meaningful change, you need to take baby steps to get there. Developing better sleep hygiene or starting a meditation practice won’t happen overnight. That’s why we start with small steps, like setting a bedtime alarm or tracking meditation habits through an app or training log.
According to behavior models, whether or not an individual takes action depends both on their motivation and their ability to complete a given task. If you regularly overshoot the ability side of the equation or set unrealistic expectations, it’s a short road to injury and burn-out. If you go big or go home, chances are, you’ll end up home.
Instead of thinking “I’m going to run an ultramarathon” or “qualify for the Boston Marathon”, think “I’m going to run five times per week, every week, and take my rest days seriously”.
Consistency compounds. Start small, stay steady, and you’ll end up with something big.