Sticking to Your Exercise Habits: Lessons in Evolution
“Man is largely a creature of habit, and many of his activities are more or less automatic reflexes from the stimuli of his environment.” — G. Stanley Hall
Warning: This is not a lesson in sports psychology, this is how to use your biological predispositions to your advantage and create a life you love.
Just let it go…
Habits are the beast of human experience. Scientists estimate that 95% of our actions are conscious or unconscious habitual patterns playing out in our everyday lives. As far as this philosophy goes, we are conditioned into specific patterns of learning, and certain traits begin to stick with us. Often these traits begin as thought patterns we believe to be true — such as “I can do this,” or “I’m not worth it,” or “I don’t know how to do this,” or “Help others” — which result in certain actions that stem from these initial thoughts — and certain body postures and habits. We are “psychosomatic” (thought-body) feedback loops and we are able to influence the way we feel by bringing mindful awareness to our sensations. By paying attention to the habits that we subject ourselves to, we are able to create discipline that extends beyond routines and leads to personal freedom.
First step, focus on your posture. Sit up straight and relaxed, so that the more you relax, the taller you get. Allow for the natural curve in your spine and breathe calmly. Proper posture allows energy to pass between your spine and your brain, giving you great mind strength.
Habitual Muscle Patterns
Muscle patterns work the same way, we get out of bed, open doors, sit down, walk, lift things all with a certain muscular coordination that we have done thousands of times over — and as long as we do not feel pain, we continue with this habit. The phrase from evolutionary biology “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” applies to our muscle movements, our thought patterns and how we respond to situations. Broken down to the core, these reactions are purely the result of electrical firing in our nervous system, so if we change our thoughts, we change our nerves, and if we change our nerves, we change our bodies.
Practice the Meditation at the end of this essay for improving your exercise habits and performance.
An Example of The Thought Reflex
To illustrate the point that our thoughts dictate our actions, imagine you have just decided to plant a garden. This thought commitment creates a domino effect in the mind and the ensuing actions come as an intuitive reflex. First, you make a checklist of all the necessary items for a garden: raw materials (dirt, hoses, fencing), tools (shovel, rake, hoe) and plants (beets, turnips, lettuce, tomatoes) you are going to grow. Second, you draw up a blueprint of where and how you are going to build your garden. Third, you buy all the necessary items. Fourth, you ask friends to help you build the garden. Fifth, you build your garden according to the blueprint. If things do not go as planned along any step of the way, your reflex is to revert to thinking on your feet for creating the path of least resistance that reaches your goal of building a garden. The journey for building a garden from thought form into physical form comes from a methodical “get it done in x amount of steps” thought reflex — a habitual pattern that we have learned to apply and repeat over time.
Habit as Natural Law
As we are nature and subject to the laws of nature, the more we learn about how it works, the better we can understand ourselves and our habits. Habits, as natural reflexes, mean that they also abide by basic laws such as efficiency (least waste, maximum output), rhythm (timing), and coordination (interconnectedness). By applying the principles of nature to our approach to habits, we become exponentially more likely to make them stick or unstick, depending on the habit.
1: To get up at sunrise, go to bed early and leave your curtains open.
2: To remove sugar from your diet, remove it from your house.
3: To change your mindset, don’t expect anyone else to do it for you, do it yourself.
4: To be happy, make a list everyday of what you are thankful for.
The Learning Curve in Habit Forming
Humans are rare beings for a few reasons — we walk upright (bipedalism), we have opposable thumbs, and we have big brains (neocortex). We’re also mostly hairless mammals which is pretty funny (and a huge disadvantage in many situations) and a big reason for our need to have other evolutionary survival mechanisms. Let’s focus on our big brains. Most species don’t have big brains because they suck up a disproportionate amount of calories and if you’re a lemur swinging from trees just trying to survive on fruits and bugs, you don’t need to be able to do rocket science because there’s a limited supply of fruits and bugs for the energy you are willing to expend. Humans, after scavenging and hunter-gathering for millennia, took up the art of agriculture which allowed us to sit around, build cities, and do rocket science (this is abbreviated human history — if you are looking for a lucid account read Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari). More calories (agriculture) means bigger brains, bigger brains means more to learn, more to learn means more habits. Scientifically, the human brain expands five times from lemon sized to melon sized from infancy to adulthood. What we are born with (the lemon sized brain) is instinct, what we learn (the rest of our melon brain) is learning patterns, or habit.
Recalibrating to a Higher Frequency
It is often said that we have more to unlearn than learn. Through years of school and jobs, we have plenty of habitual patterns to deconstruct and reconstruct. By de-conditioning ourselves though the process of meditation and letting go, we become more attuned to the higher nature that we can access for decision making — and allow the state of universal oneness to be our guiding light for building or dissolving our habits. Allowing ourselves to choose the principles that matter to us, then structuring our reality around those ideals gives us the best conditions for setting habits and goals that nourish our entire being.
Remember to be diligent, record your progress every day and keep smiling. Whatever you are working on, relax into it and allow the change to come from an authentic state that you intuitively know is best for you by going with your gut feeling. Here is a bedtime meditation to practice this.
How to Visualize Success (By Imagining How It Feels): A Daily Bedtime Meditation
First, sitting quietly take 5 minutes to picture yourself doing an exercise exactly as you can imagine it with perfect form and a smile (running, yoga, walking, kicking a ball). Make this image as vivid as you can. (i.e. what clothes are you wearing?, what is the weather like?, who are you with?)
Go to bed with the image of your ideal performance fresh in your mind — and remind yourself of it before you exercise each day.
About Peter Fettis (email@example.com)
As a Registered Yoga Teacher and and Certified Personal Trainer, Peter practices optimizing human potential as a way of life. His latest book How to Eat Well and Love Yourself dives into the practical principles of mindfulness and plant-based nutrition to give you a taste of the abundant harvest from the mind's inner garden of awareness. Peter’s vision with H2O Human is to make waves in the current culture by rallying the wider public to recognize their inner healing power using a proactive, gentle approach.