Choices Lead to Habits

February 26th, 2013 | Posted by Alison Spath in Fitness

Do you know the best thing about running on cold and dreary days?

Cold and Dreary

It makes running on the sunny days that much brighter.

(I know that sounds corny but it’s true!)

My weekend long run for Week 4 of half marathon training was seven miles. It was 30-something degrees and I wore all my usual winter running gear with the addition of a windbreaker over my fleece. By the time I was three miles in, I was starting to feel HOT and overdressed. Sometime around mile four I finally took off my neck warmer and mittens and shoved them in the pockets of my jacket before tying it around my waist for the remaining three miles home.

The rearrangement of layers and clothes reminded me of a time when there was no way I could run with that sort of “burden”. Pockets awkwardly shoved full of things, flopping around and flailing about – forget it! I had to spend a considerable amount of mental focus on simply putting one foot in front of the other, there was no way I could deal with any other physical distractions on top of that. I would marvel at the people who could run a race wearing a tutu or dressed as Gumby.  How on earth is that foam creature moving so swiftly and effortlessly down the road?

But now I have no problem running with something a bit cumbersome tied around me or if the weather is less-than-perfect or even as a rhetorical Gumby.  With my windbreaker tried around my waist on Sunday, I retraced my steps to figure out how I got here.  I’ve got two habits to thank:

Habit #1 – Just Keep Running

Habit #2 – Eating Real, Whole Foods

The more you run, the easier it gets.  Eating well makes a real difference too.

But what if running really sucks?   And what if eating healthy foods is boring?

You Need a Reward.

When you feel rewarded from doing an unpleasant activity, it’s easier to keep going. Without a reward, you’ll eventually stop.

I don’t know what kind of reward you might need – but for me, my first running “reward” was weight loss. Yes, vanity was my reward. How’s that for inspiring? My ego kept me moving! But once I reached my weight loss goals and my reward was earned, it was harder to keep running.  I don’t want to do this anymore!  Running sucks!  I worried though that if I didn’t keep running I would gain all the weight back.  Weight maintenance was one source of motivation, but it wasn’t enough.  I need something more.  I needed something else to help me stick with this tortuous activity.

I eventually discovered the connection between eating better and easier running – it happened by accident with green smoothies.  Once I realized that more greens meant running could actually be enjoyable, I started making sure I always ate a salad the day before a scheduled run.  It was easy to make the choice to eat something healthy because I knew I would be rewarded with a better run tomorrow.

Soon I was adding more fruits and vegetables to my meals and snacks every day, leaving less room for junk and processed foods.   I came to see that when I stopped “wasting energy” digesting empty calories and replaced those calories with higher net gain foods, not only did I have more energy for exercise, but I had more energy for all the regular day to day stuff too.

Once eating better and running regularly became easy and normal, I didn’t need a reward anymore.  Progress wasn’t always linear, but running got a lot better once Habits #1 and #2 fed into each other in a delightful little positive feedback loop.  Now I’m shopping for a tutu for my half marathon in at the end of April.

(Not really.)

The point of this story is show how choices can lead to habits.  Sometimes it takes long time, but the choices you make every day have the potential to become lasting habits.  And when it’s hard to make the “good” choice, look for your reward to help you get there.  (Even if that reward a little superficial, who cares?  Whatever it takes!)

It can seem a lot less overwhelming to think about making one good choice as opposed to the all effort it can take to create a new habit.  It’s easier to be more forgiving with yourself too when you don’t make a good choice, as opposed thinking that you’ve “failed” or have “fallen off the wagon” when it comes to making habit change.

A good choice you make today has the real potential to lead a good habit down the road.  May your road be full of running Gumbies in tutu’s.

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9 Responses

  • Devann says:

    This came at a perfect time. My runs have sucked… I will start the green smoothies tomorrow. Can u chars your favorite combo?

    • A “classic” green smoothie would be banana, milk (dairy or non-dairy) some frozen berries (mixed, blueberries or strawberries) and a big handful of fresh spinach. The more ripe your banana is the sweeter it will be, or you could use a sweetened milk like almond milk or coconut milk. Another favorite would be what I’ve already described with a scoop of cocoa powder (with or without berries) for a chocolate version. Basically any smoothie you already like with a handful of spinach! If you don’t go super heavy on the spinach you won’t even taste it. When I started adding spinach regularly (i.e., most days of the week) I absolutely noticed a difference in my runs within a couple weeks.

      If you feel like digging through the archives, here are the posts the reference “green smoothies”.

  • Lisa says:

    This is definitely scientific. I mean, it goes right along with all the behavior change stuff I picked out of a client’s head (who worked in behavioral psychology at RIT)… the way we prioritize and make things important enough to do. How we go from Stop to Go on something in the first place, what makes it become a habit, and how it leads to other effects… It’s fascinating and amazing in my mind—and I’ve been thinking about how to write more about it. Now, I think I have an idea for that…
    The closest thing I hear most experts talk about is the crowding out principle, but this is different! Better! At least it feels good when this happens. And it’s also part of the amazing evidence of how we evolve over time–we don’t see the changes much day to day… but over time, the magnitude becomes evident (and props to anyone who remembers to give themselves credit for it!).
    Thanks for the thoughtfulness and entertainment, as usual :-)

  • Devann says:

    I have rounded up 6 other ladies to do a. 30 day green smoothie challenge with me. 1 meal a day replaced with green smoothies! We start on the first if u want to join us!

  • Pingback: The Secret to Sticking to Your Better Lifestyle Plan

  • Devann says:

    Guess what, day 1 of green smoothies I ran 4.2 miles. The furthest I have ever run and more than double what I’ve been able to squeeze out. I could have kept going another mile or two if I had the time! Thank you!!!