When Wendy Penhale came to Motions Fitness she had a goal of losing 150 pounds. Her story is fairly common: “My big breaking point was having to get a seat belt extension for my flight to Aruba. I was ashamed of myself. Embarrassed for my family, my husband and my kids for having to deal with someone like this in their lives,” she told us.
A goal as big as this needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and based on a timeline in order to be reached.
One of the reasons Wendy has been so successful at losing weight is because she mastered the “Golden Rule.” Study after study has shown the most powerful thing a person can do to create change is, they must insert a new routine within the cue-routine-habit cycle.
This process within our brains is a three-step cycle. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular cycle is worth remembering for the future. Over time this cycle – cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward – becomes more automatic.
Not only is Wendy enjoying a huge weight loss reward, she has had many pain related rewards as well. She stated, “I was in a lot of physical pain. Knee and Hip pain. I had to sleep in a recliner in the living room because it was too difficult to lay down. I struggled walking from my car into work. Just a small hill will leave me breathless and tired.” The main objective was getting the right routines placed within the cycle to allow Wendy to reap the weight loss and pain relief rewards she was after.
When Wendy was asked how she felt about her routines, she said, “I love them! Every week I have a sense of accomplishment. They makes me feel good.” Aims such as this help clients get tunnel vision, to focus more on expanding efforts to get immediate results. So, unless you deliberately fight a habit – unless you find new routines – you will automatically lose. The beauty is that the brain has this amazing ability to find happiness with the new routines.
One thing we as professionals and fitness enthusiasts must know is that it is easier to convince someone to adopt a new behavior if there is something familiar at the beginning and end. Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. That’s the rule! If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit.
Sometimes the only way to improve client compliance is to find a way to insert a new routine keeping their focus on the rewards. For Wendy this was the fear of her family history. Her father had two heart attacks. Her mother had heart disease. Her family is generally unhealthy. Her Grandmother wore a size 56 and that scared her. She didn't want to keep going down that path in fear of what her future would hold. This helped her think of more ambitious and more long-term rewards.
The rules are simple. Clients can suggest any reward they think they should be pursuing. There are no charts or memos. The concept is, nothing is off limits! Trainers can approve or deny each suggestion quickly. If we can get people to identify their ambition first, and figure out the habit afterward, they will be encouraged for bigger thinking. If a goal seems half-baked, “say yes.” This is because even if the goal isn’t that ambitious, it’s still better than what they’re doing right now. With the client’s energy behind the goal, it will still turn out great. The craving for the reward will make it easier to push through. Researchers have found that cravings for a reward crowd out temptations to give up and drive the habit loop.
Twelve months later, after her new habits had been drawn and set into a series of rewards, Wendy hit her 150 pound weight loss goal. “I got caught in a tremendous rush of adrenaline through the process,” Wendy said. “The workouts, nutrition, and tweaks to my weakly planning that my trainer came up with were so encouraging, it’s unbelievable.”
Today, Wendy continues to be successful because she stays focused on her rewards such as being healthy, maintaining her weight loss, the endorphin rush from her workouts, the sense of pride she feels after successfully completing another week of great nutrition. The influence of her immediate rewards with the freedom to think about bigger goals is what has allowed her to respond to the conditions around her. “I cultivated my cravings of losing weight and becoming healthy in to mild obsessions,” she said. And that’s what the “Golden Rule” is all about!
By Mike Koskiniemi PhD – Motions Fitness