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  • Writer's pictureSam Trotta

Why Atomic Exercise Habits Are Key to Achieving Your Fitness Goals

I recently read Atomic Habits by James Clear. I enjoyed the book a great deal.


Clear asserts that the acts of assimilating good habits and breaking bad ones happen in four phases: cue, craving, response and reward. Conjointly, it is in our interests to make the actions of bringing on good habits obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying. For breaking bad habits, actions associated with them should be invisible, unattractive, difficult and unsatisfying.


The book is straightforward and interesting, if not convincing.


For me, the tastiest nugget in the work is in the Appendix section and is entitled "Little Lessons from The Four Laws". As I read them, I began to think how much they apply to exercise. I thought I would share some of them here along with my interpretations of them in an exercise context.


Awareness comes before desire. Any fitness or exercise goal can be framed in terms of a problem or set of problems needing to be solved. Let's be adults and drop the idea of problems necessarily being bad. They are circumstances that require modifications or changes.


In exercise, that could be anything from weight loss to wanting to improve your aerobic endurance for a sport, or even using exercise to help repair an injury. However, in order to desire and pursue solutions for these problems, awareness of them as problems per se must exist first.


Too many people live with these kinds without ever being aware that their solutions merit pursuit and could lead to an overall better, happier and healthier existence.


Peace occurs when you don't turn your observations into problems. This seems to contradict what I outlined in my first point, and it does so because it takes an a priori view that a problem is bad.


I mean it as something that you might see as holding you back and perhaps meriting the effort towards it changing. Problems disrupt peace only when they disrupt your sense of identity and self-esteem. Statements like "I have knee pain" or "My body does not look or feel how I would like it to look" are observational statements (or problems). They disrupt your peace only when you add statements like ". . . and I'll probably never play my favourite sport again" or " . . . and people are judging me and calling me fat behind my back" to the respective ends of them.


With a big enough why, you can overcome any how. I love how this statement can so easily relate to the points immediately above. When we get too wrapped up in ourselves (no judgement here, it happens to me, too), our view literally gets narrow and overly self-absorbed. Take a satellite view and always try to keep focused on your biggest "why" for exercising. For many of my clients, this means things like being able to play with their grandkids or stay connected to or care for their spouses for as long and as well as possible.


This point of view tends to take us to objectives that go beyond and are greater than ourselves. The "how" then becomes a matter of wanted pursuit and trust in the right kinds of experts, such as qualified, experienced Personal Trainers.


We can only be rational and logical after we have been emotional. Getting emotional for a period of time about your exercise goals serves some good purposes. First, doing so can help you determine your "why" for exercising.


In my opinion though, the greatest reason for allowing yourself to be emotional about those goals is because you cannot pursue them in a rational, detached way unless you have allowed your emotional, human self to feel the physical and emotional pain of where you are now versus where you could be if your goals were meaningfully pursued and even partially achieved.


Reward is on the other side of sacrifice. Reading this in the context of achieving an exercise goal, you might be biased in favour of the reward being the achievement of a goal. That is certainly a reward, but it is not the only one and, in my personal exercise experience, not even the most satisfying one.


In my opinion, the greatest reward is actually the process of exercise itself. The sacrifice is trading off your time from things like sleeping in, socializing with colleagues after work, or simply the habits that are less conducive to your health and exercise progress. The good news is at the rewards come much sooner than you may think.


Our expectations determine our satisfaction. Clarifying your expectations around exercise is crucial to maximizing your satisfaction with the process for the greatest benefit in the long term. Our Personal Trainers at Striation 6 are encouraged and educated in the art of conversation around clients' expectations and their own. Setting expectations properly about the length of time it might take to achieve a goal as well as what that process actually looks like is what creates long-term personal training client relationships and sustainable, permanent client success stories.

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