Why Identity is Everything When Forming New Running Habits
Identifying Yourself as a Runner is Half the Battle When You’re Forming Running Habits
If you’ve run for a couple of years or for most of your life the idea of you being a runner is always there. You’ve already solidified running habits that will probably last the rest of your life. The identity of a runner is branded within your mind, body, and soul. Tattooed from the years of effort and running. If you’re a new runner or simply transitioning from one state of your life to another, sticking with running and forming good running habits for the long haul can be difficult.
Seasoned runners sometimes forget where we come from, and how difficult our journey might have been. While others, even though they are runners, still hold onto the baggage they once saddled on their back and most importantly what they communicated to their body.
When we take that step from the comfort zone (sustainment) into a discomfort zone (growth) it’s a little scary. The familiarity of the comfort zone keeps us there and makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside. The discomfort zone is new uncharted territory, it takes mental and physical effort to push yourself there. Once you’re in the zone of discomfort you still have to work hard to make it your new comfort zone.
Some of us try to leave our comfort zone and we don’t make it out very far. Before we know it we get pulled back to where we started. This happens multiple times a day whether you’re consciously aware of it or not. Our mind is constantly looking for signs of familiarity, comfort, safety. It’s wired in our DNA – it’s a survival mechanism.
I personally struggled with weight loss for a long time (many, many moons before running changed my life). Here is a picture of me around the age of 28. I had graduated from college 4 years prior and was extremely overweight. My job as a senior software programming lead forced me to sit beyond a desk for about 10 hours a day for years. I drank around 4-5 sugary drinks a day. I ate horribly and felt miserable.
One day I woke up and realized that I didn’t want to be overweight anymore. I attribute my weight loss and health kick to identifying myself as a healthy person instead of an overweight person.
Many attempted weight loss plans fail because of an unsustainable state of mind. If a person tries to lose weight and yet they still think and believe that they are an unfit, overweight person the struggle will still persist. Even if they lose 50 lbs – the chains are never truly broken until their state of mind and identity change. You see this over and over again with the term “yo-yo” dieting. The problem isn’t the diet, the problem is within your mental state and identification.
Beware of Complacency
Let’s say that you start a brand new weight loss plan that claims you will lose 20 lbs in 60 days (it’s a big claim, but it’s possible if a lot of the weight is water weight). Around day 45, you jump on the scale and you’ve lost 15 lbs. You tell yourself that you’ve only got 15 more days to go and then you’re done. If you’re a seasoned weight loser, you know that this is skating on thin ice.
What happens when 60 days are up? How will you maintain your weight after this point? Are you going to go back to the foods you were restricted from before you started your weight loss diet? In order to keep the weight off, you must have a mental shift in a change of state.
Instead of picturing yourself as an overweight person, you need to mentally visualize yourself as healthy and in shape. Emotion is tied to the state of your mind. Don’t worry I’m not diving into the foo-foo, new age wizard stuff. You’re not losing weight – you’re adopting a healthier lifestyle. You’re not on a diet, you are changing your eating habits for life. The older you get the more difficult it becomes to shed those extra pounds. Act now towards reframing the whole weight issue beliefs.
BMI – Body Mass Index
I’m not advocating for everyone to be skinny as a rail. Also, DO NOT take your BMI reading to heart, instead simply throw it in the garbage. BMI doesn’t account for muscle and your waist size. I have a 34-inch waist, my blood pressure is well below average, I’m 6’3″. I weigh 225 pounds (16 stones), my VO2 Max is @ 43, I can run 1 mile in 7 minutes and yet my BMI measurement classifies me as borderline Obese…. sorry BMI – I’m not overweight.
If you didn’t know this already, a Belgian scientist named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, that came up with BMI said, “it could not and should not be used to indicate the level of fatness in an individual.” According to a study on the NPR website, “He produced the formula to give a quick and easy way to measure the degree of obesity of the general population to assist the government in allocating resources.” [BMI article].
I was a smoker 16 years ago. I picked up the bad habit in college. How did I end up quitting? One day I decided that I would quit cold turkey. The perfect opportunity to quit arose on a one-week vacation to Disneyland with my mother and my nephew. I quit smoking that week, and if I thought back on it long and hard, I remember telling myself that I’m no longer a smoker. I think this helped separate the mental fixation of smoking and route it out once and for all.
Instead of smoking, the physical side of the addiction told me that I wasn’t getting off that easily. My body had decided to eat as much sugar insight as possible. If you’ve been to Disneyland, you know that there’s no shortage of sugar. Kicking the smoking habit, unfortunately, set me up for my eating marathon in which I managed to gain about 60 pounds (4.3 stones). I’ll save my eating habit treck for another post.
Recently, starting in 2019, I started to cut back on drinking alcohol. Don’t worry I’m not going to go on a bloody rant about alcohol and its horrible side effects. I love to drink beer, especially after a good race! I know for a fact that if I want to be able to run a sub two hour half marathon at my age and fitness level I have to become thinner.
Well, I’ve tracked my habits over the course of months and drinking has been the culprit that is adding to my extra layers. I immediately started a new habit. I decide to only drink once a week and on special occasions (any race, any distance).
My new habit has quickly made me become a social drinker. I also launched myself into signing up for as many races as possible, because my reward was a few cold ones after the race!
Coaches can quickly spot habits
Whether we like it or not or spouse, running partner, friend, and of course a coach can spot habits you don’t see. Our habits we refuse to see. These could be something like always whining after a horrible run or simply never taking it easy on an easy run. We all have good running habits and bad running habits. Once we acknowledge our good and bad habits we can take action to stop or carry on with the habit. Here are 6 things (habits) a running coach would wish you would stop doing.
Positive, Negative, Neutral
How you identify with yourself can also be delivered in a positive, negative, or neutral manner. For instances let’s say you are a brand new divorcee. This can be a temporary or long term identity change. For some of us, it can be positive, like leaving an abusive marriage. On the other hand, it can be negative and feelings of loss and sorrow kick in. This can be found in any number of facets of your life. For instance, weight loss or the need to stop smoking or possibly even a career change will rattle your identity.
Recently, there have been some studies done that downplay the idea of keeping a running count of how many days you’ve done something to avert a bad habit, such as smoking. For example, I quit smoking 31 days ago or I’ve been smoke-free for 31 days. Instead, the studies rally towards the idea that you’re identity is still that of a smoker and until you start identifying as a non-smoker, you truly won’t change the habit.
The 21-day myth
Do you know that there is no specific number-of-days formula that it takes to form a new habit? Also, on the other side, there is no magical number that says that it takes “X” amount of days to break free from a habit. The forming and breaking of habits (excluding chemically dependent habits – alcohol, drugs,etc.) comes down to repetition. The more you repeat something the faster the habit will solidify within your daily routines.
For example, let’s say you want to start writing a blog post. You set up some criteria for accomplishing this goal. The criterion could include, write 250 words each day or write 1 blog post a week. You decide to start on Monday and your goal for each day is to write 250 words by the end of the day. If you follow through with your habit every day of the first week there is no reason why you can’t continue the next week. The habit could be formed much quicker.
The more often you repeat something the quicker your habit will form.
Create new habits / Evaluation
If you’re not creating new habits as you move along in life you’re not growing. We should all take the time to check our habits to evaluate whether they are positive and move you toward your goals or negative and hinder your goals. Even if your goals are minimal everyone still has something that they want to change or achieve.
Habits align with a new identity
This might be one of the most obvious points of all – alignment. Let’s go back to the new goal to lose weight which should form a few new habits such as:
- Practice better eating
- Count calories
- Avoid dinners in groups of friends that aren’t eating in alignment with how you eat
- Prepare your meal choice at home before going to a restaurant
- Avoid eating late at night
When you create these habits you’re essentially pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and into no man’s land. It’s much easier to pull back to your ways and habits. If the choices you make after you create habits don’t align with your new trajectory/path, you will find it increasingly difficult to stick to your new habits. Makes perfect logical sense right? Well, yes, but food tends to mix with our body chemistry and some people even form “emotional” attachments to food.
Unlatching these bad habits and replacing them with better ones is part of the struggle that we all face when trying to override a bad habit. Continue to tell yourself that you are choosing to eat as a healthy person does. You’re going to pick the better choice of foods just like someone who watches their weight does.
Peer Pressure and identity
One of your best friends makes dinner plans with 9 of your best friends. You all show up at the restaurant and start to order off the menu. You are the last to order. All of your friends are ordering like it’s their last meal. The pressure is mounting for you to make a choice. Good or Bad what’s it going to be. In situations where the dinner is outside of your control and with friends, you have a few choices:
- Look up the menu on the restaurant’s website and select something healthy prior to arriving at the restaurant.
- When you’re ordering you can tell a white lie and say that you’re not feeling that hungry to avoid any “health talk.”
- Eat what you want to and don’t worry about what anyone says or thinks (this is the one that my wife struggles with, for me, I have no problem eating whatever I want).
- If it’s your cheat meal then it doesn’t matter and you get to eat away guilt-free.
For some of us, all of our friends consciously eat healthy, for some of though, especially in Texas, they aren’t so conscious about what they eat. I tend to limit my social eating habits, with friends or family, outside of my home to only once per week. For some of us, that’s impossible because of jobs, tons of friends, etc. In all fairness to restaurants, many are attempting to make healthy strides and offer many healthy food choices on their menus. Some restaurants even have the calories printed on the menu next to each item.
When forming new running habits it’s important to remember these key elements:
- Forming a new identity sometimes pushes you into a discomfort zone
- The more you repeat your new habit the quicker and more likely it is to stick
- Align your habits with your new identity
“The value of a goal isn’t in accomplishing the goal, the real value of a goal is the person you’ve become when you’ve achieved that goal.” – Tony RobbinsScott Morton is the author of, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 10 half marathon race. He is also an RRCA certified coach.
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