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Keystone habits

In my Day 1 post, I mentioned Charles Duhigg’s book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business.” If you haven’t read it yet, it’s definitely worth a trip to the bookstore or library. In his book, Duhigg writes about keystone habits – habits that have “the power to start a chain reaction” because they offer small wins and have the ability to disrupt other parts of your life. He uses exercising as an example, stating that someone who starts working out regularly will likely begin to make other changes in their lives. For example, they may start sleeping better and feeling more energetic throughout the day, so they may become more productive at work. Or they might start eating better and smoking less. That one decision to be more active, has the ability to basically change the person’s entire life.

This concept of a keystone habit was the underlying motivation for this challenge. You see, last year, when I finally began losing weight after years of starting over week after week and failing over and over again, it was all thanks to one small change I decided to make. I hadn’t read Duhigg’s book yet back then, but I knew I was stuck in a vicious cycle of striving for perfection, only to fail, binge, and start over again. And, the more I did it, the more weight I gained. I needed to break the cycle and try something new. So, instead of starting a new workout program or diet, I decided to just log my meals every day. That’s it. No changes to my diet, no new workouts, no striving for perfection, just one thing: log each and every little thing I ate into MyFitnessPal.

And that’s what I did. I had originally planned to do it for two weeks without making any changes to my diet or lifestyle, but as I saw the numbers add up in MyFitnessPal (much higher than I had anticipated them to be), I found myself trying to figure out how many calories I should be eating. Once I knew what my calorie limit should be, I started to make different choices to cut back on how much I was eating. This change was unplanned. I didn’t do it on purpose really – it just sort of happened. And over time, my habits continued to change. It was a very slow process, but the weight eventually came off. More importantly, it didn’t feel very hard to do (unlike every other time I had tried).

Unfortunately, the problem with habits is that you never really get rid of the bad ones. Their triggers linger and lurk, waiting for just the right moment to suck you back in if you don’t stay on top of them. Despite the changes and progress I’d made, my old, “anything goes” vacation habits took over this summer, and getting back on track since returning home has been hard. I tried the whole logging my food thing again – it worked once before, so I figured it had to work again. But, it didn’t. It felt too hard to track my food on vacation, and I just haven’t been able to motivate myself to stick with it, until yesterday.

After my “small win” on Day 1, I was feeling pretty pumped yesterday. I decided to go for a short run with the little kid and figured I’d at least try to log my food. My husband and I took the kids to the park and played with them, instead of watching them from a bench. I even volunteered to walk the dog again (my husband usually walks him). By the end of the day, not only did I surpass my step goal, I actually managed to log everything I ate (and drank). Granted, I ate and drank a lot, but that’s not important just yet. What is important is that I did it. Baby steps.

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