Why Habits Determine Success

Last week Chris talked about about the construction of BSP NOVA, One Piece At a Time. His analogy for training progress is perfect–our bodies, and our goals, change as we manipulate one variable at a time. What’s frustrating, though, is this isn’t how we think. We envision the whole rather than the thousand meaningful parts that comprise it.

German psychologists in the Berlin school called this Gestalt–seeing an entity by it’s complete form. It’s a useful paradigm–it’s why we see faces as whole rather than as eyes, noses, mouths and chins slapped on a skin canvas. Patterns make sense and the ever-growing base of information doesn’t overwhelm us because we see the whole as greater than the sum of the parts.

The picture below serves as a prime, allbeit testosterone driven, example.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While looking at this picture, one sees a barbell with weights, a blue shirt, a face and other items that make up the background. But if you just look at the central image of Camille Leblanc-Bazinet all that’s available to the eye is hawt. Hawt like, hey let’s overhead press, eat half a cow and then take a nap together.

She probably needs a deadlift coach. I should be her deadlift coach. Eithery way…

Our Gestalt end game of goals accomplished and bodies changed is attainable because of another psychological discipline–behavioral psychology. We must acknowledge that all meaningful change comes from behavior modification. I’d hate to break your heart, but that’s all that successful training and nutrition is–modifying behavior to meet a desired end. Our new, life-altering and game changing behaviors are built on automated habits.

As Chris used the construction of BSP NOVA as his allegory, my parable is a story of platforms and powerlifting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been competing at powerlifting off and on since I was fourteen; each time I step on the platform, though, the same things happen. Emotions stir and my head goes blank. I’m like Homer Simpson after a frontal lobotomy. What’s saved me though–and offered me moderate success–are the habits I build in training.

Each time I train, as I approach the bar to squat, bench or deadlift, I reinforce cues in my head. I intracranially talk to myself about setting my air in the right place, creating torque in the right areas and all else that’s necessary to successfully take the bar from point A to point B. The cues are all based on habits; behaviors that I’ve accumulated over years of consistent training.

Habits are behaviors accumulated with consistency.

Eventually they are automated–this, my friends–denotes success. Getting to this point, however, is difficult because our Gestalt wired brains see everything as important; often leading us to do too much too soon. Let’s revisit powerlifting and coaching for an example.

Your bench press is a mess–you’re not setting your grip well, your chest collapses as the bar lowers and your elbows flail as soon as you press. Throughout the course of a set I could cue you to fix all the visible problems; yelling at you in R. Lee Ermey’s voice.

Break the bar!

Push your damn chest up!

Keep your wrists and elbows in a line!

(You just heard all that in your head with R. Lee Ermey’s voice didn’t you? That’s awesome. I win).

To the Gestalt centers of our brains, this makes sense. Behaviorally, however, it creates sensory overload–we can only focus on changing so many things at once. It’s true, also, that making one small change may be all that’s necessary–a catalyst that affects the whole.

Since we have more than one set, and more than one bench press day, I’ll address one problem at a time–creating a better environment for progress and lasting change. Over the course of a training cycle, the habits engrain and you’re a better bencher. Expound upon this parable and apply it to other aspects of training and nutrition. Here are the necessary action items.

1) Recognize that reaching goals depends on creating automated habits.

2) Habits are accumulated and automated over time. Change only one thing at a time and give it time to cement. A period of a few weeks usually does the trick.

3) Be consistent. When creating an automated habit, work it daily. This consistency is necessary. Days become weeks, and eventually months, and your habit exists on its own–absent of cognition.

Our inner Gestaltist recognizes the pattern in the three action items, but our behaviorist recognizes the need for separation. Take consistent action and change one thing at a time.

Progression Through Perseverance. (3319)

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Todd Bumgardner

M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger

Todd Bumgardner

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2 Comments on Why Habits Determine Success

  1. Jim Butler // April 28, 2013 at 9:33 pm // Reply

    Once again, great article!

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