First: Read the background on the psychology of how habits are formed and what it takes to create (or break) “the habit loop” of trigger, action, reward, repeat. We also laid out the steps to building healthy habits:
- Take stock of your habits and what you want to change—examine the rewards and internal emotions associated with your habits
- Take action and create a plan for working on one small change at a time
- Cement new habits by building on your existing habitual actions and creating rewards that feed those existing habit loops
- Reward yourself along the way for achieving micro-goals and targets
- Adjust your plan of action if you misjudged the reward for a particular habit or need to change your goals—repeat until it sticks!
We’ll now lay out these steps in a particular area that athletes commonly want to build better habits in: mental skills, nutrition, recovery and sleep, and time management. Here’s how to take these steps over several weeks—doing one step per week every day. Work on just one area of focus at a time.
Here, coach Matt Dixon laid out the process he walks through with his athletes and some tips for improving the habits necessary for performance success, particularly when it comes to recovery. We’ve broken it down into the steps needed to improve your habits.
Take Stock: First, you need a purpose. Athletes should start with evaluating their purpose and then determine what their roadmap is to get there. ie. If you want to train for a race in order to lose weight in order to get healthier, so you can be around for your grandkids, then your purpose is really being around for your grandkids. You then construct the goals and habits under your roadmap for how to get there.
What are the three to five most important things? And a lot of times recovery and sleep are where athletes are messing up the most.
Take Action: After you define your purpose and your path, you have to get busy doing it. Do a personal audit in one area (like recovery) and choose one thing that you’re going to focus on that’s easy to do that you’re not doing right now. Poor sleep and recovery can have a hugely detrimental effect on your training—but start by attacking just one part of it, something tiny that can have a big impact.
For example, if you have an athlete who’s not making performance gains—they’re going hard but they’re not sleeping well—then let’s break it down and start with good sleep quality and sleep hygiene. That means simple things like no screens for at least 30 minutes before bed, no food in that last hour, and you read a paper book (but not about work) before going to sleep. That’s one small place to start.
Cement Habits: After that one small action—food in the recovery window, better sleep hygiene—then you take the next steps. That might be next that you focus on getting the room darker and having a better sleep environment. You build the castle with matchsticks that ultimately becomes a fortress.
Reward Yourself: The key along the way is to get validation and know these little steps are helping you towards your big goals and towards your purpose. If you improved your post-workout fueling by just making sure to eat in that recovery window, then ask yourself: How are you feeling? How is your energy? And when you realize you feel a little better and can hit your workouts a little stronger because your muscles are repairing better and you’re balancing your energy stores, then you know you’re on the right track.
Adjust, Repeat: While evaluating is always step one, redefining and adjusting along the way is always the last step in the loop—which takes you back to step one and again. Once you’ve done it for the whole season and only messed up a few times, then it’s inate.