Fitness success secrets: On practicing one strategic habit at a time. | Precision Nutrition

Fitness success secrets:
On practicing one strategic habit at a time.

By John Berardi, Ph.D.


Have you ever missed out on accomplishing a goal or task because you were overwhelmed? Maybe you had too much information to sort through or tried to do too much at once.

If so, I’d like to share a powerful principle with you – one that can increase your chances of success. (And not just a little.)

If you apply the principles discussed here, your chances will skyrocket from less than 35 percent to greater than 80 percent. That’s the difference between “maybe this will work” and “this is totally gonna happen.”

Habit-based coaching

The principle I want to share today is one that we use very comprehensively in Precision Nutrition Coaching, a 12-month personal nutrition and exercise coaching program in which we walk clients through the process of changing the way they look, feel, and perform.

It’s called habit-based coaching, and it’s reflective of our commitment to a single, but immensely important idea:

Focusing on less helps you achieve more.

Now, this concept isn’t new. Many of the top experts and achievers use this method to live fitter, healthier, more productive, and more fulfilling lives.

In fact, Leo Babauta, author of the bestselling book The Power of Less, is a prime example. Over the a two-year period, Leo:

  • Quit smoking
  • Lost 40 pounds
  • Went from a non-runner to running marathons
  • Became a vegetarian
  • Tripled his income
  • Wrote a novel and a non-fiction book
  • Eliminated his debt.

Oh, and those children people use to justify inaction? No more excuses there. Leo has six kids.

From The Power of Less

In The Power of Less, Leo outlines his method of success, one that we also use here at Precision Nutrition.

What it all comes down to is this. In a world full of distracting “technologies,” “novelties,” “cutting edge resources,” and “gadgets,” one thing ALWAYS rules: the application of basic habits.

From Chapter 5: Create New Habits…

“The only way you’ll form long-lasting habits is by applying the Power of Less: focus on one habit at a time, one month at a time, so that you’ll be able to focus all your energy on creating that one habit.

  1. Select one habit…only one habit per month. You can choose any habit – whatever you think will have the biggest impact on your life.
  2. Write down your plan. You will need to specifically state what your goal will be each day, when you’ll do it, what your “trigger” will be, who you will report to…
  3. Post your goal publicly. Tell as many people as possible that you are trying to form your new habit. I suggest an online forum, but you could email it to coworkers and family and friends or otherwise get the word out to a large group.
  4. Report on your progress daily. Each day, tell the same group of people whether or not you succeeded at your goal.”

Now, according to Babauta, here are “the rules”:

“There are only a few rules you need to follow to make this challenge a success. If you follow these rules, it would be hard for you not to form a new habit by the end of the 30 days.

  • Do only one habit at a time. Do not break this rule, because I assure you that if you do multiple habits at once, you will be much less likely to succeed. Trust me – I’ve tried both ways many times, and in my experience there is 100% failure for forming multiple habits at once, and a 50-80% success if you do just one habit at a time – depending on whether you follow the rest of these rules.
  • Choose an easy goal. Don’t decide to do something really hard, at least for now. Later, when you’re good at habit changes, you can choose something harder. But for now, do something you know you can do every day. In fact, choose something easier than you think you can do every day. If you think you can exercise for 30 minutes a day, choose 10 minutes – making it super easy is one of the surest ways to ensure you’ll succeed.
  • Choose something measurable. You should be able to say, definitively, whether you were successful or not today. If you choose exercise, set a number of minutes or something similar (20 minutes of exercise daily, for example). Whatever your goal, have a measurement.
  • Be consistent. You want to do your habit change at the same time every day, if possible. If you’re going to exercise, do it at 7 a.m. (or 6 p.m.) every day, for example. This makes it more likely to become a habit.
  • Report daily. You could check in every 2 or 3 days, but you’ll be more likely to succeed if you report daily. This has been proven over and over again in the Challenges.
  • Keep a positive attitude! Expect setbacks now and then, but just note them and move on. No embarrassment in this challenge.”

One nutrition habit at a time

In The Precision Nutrition System, Volume 4, we outline everything, nutritionally speaking, that athletes and recreational exercisers need to know to get the body they want.

However, there’s one small problem here.  If you try to apply ALL the information in PN V4 at once, your chance of success drops precipitously. So, what to do?

Well, the lessons we teach in Precision Nutrition Coaching give important clues. As in The Power of Less, the key is to shoot for ONLY ONE HABIT at a time.  For example, you might start by:

  • Eating breakfast every day
  • Increasing your fruit and veggie intake to 5 servings per day
  • Taking 1 gram of fish oil per day
  • Eating lean protein with each meal and snack
  • Making smart carb choices at each meal

You get the idea.

Based on your own personal limiting factors, there are likely dozens of simple habits you can put to work immediately.  The key, however, is to work ONLY ONE habit at a time.

Research has shown that when people try to change a single behavior at a time, the likelihood that they’ll retain that habit for a year or more is better than 80 percent. When they try to tackle two behaviors at once, their chances of success are less than 35 percent.  When they try for three behaviors or more, their success rate plummets to less than 5 percent.

Is it any surprise, then, that when people try to massively overhaul their lifestyle in short order, the changes simply don’t stick?  Of course not.  But, let’s be honest.  Most of us aren’t known for being patient.  And most people who come to us want to be in shape, like, yesterday.

Thousands of case studies

As I mentioned above, we use this habit-based coaching system in Precision Nutrition Coaching.  And because of this, to date we have over 30,000 case studies demonstrating the effectiveness of this principle in action.

Interestingly, people still try to argue against it.  In their impatience, they want heaps of information from the start.  They want to know ALL the strategies.  And they want these strategies on day one.

Maybe you’re the same way. But I’ve gotta be totally honest here.  That’s not how it works. Because that’s not how YOU work.

Your only chance of success is to simplify, to tackle one basic habit at a time. You practice the habit for a week or two. Then you execute it for another week or two.  Then it becomes a habit.  And then, ONLY THEN, you can move on to a new idea.

Of course, you don’t need to be a Precision Nutrition Coaching client to put these principles to work for you.

With PN V4, you can isolate the habits that are most important for your goals and implement them as discussed here.  Patiently.  One at a time.  So, for most of you, this is the best first step to improving your eating habits, your body, and your life.

Eat, move, and live… better.

Yep, we know… the health and fitness world can sometimes be a confusing place. But it doesn’t have to be.

Let us help you make sense of it all with this free special report.

In it you’ll learn the best eating, exercise, and lifestyle strategies — unique and personal — for you.

Click here to download the special report, for free.