Thanks to my DGFD firefighter, Anthony B for the reminder about this topic. This is a great one!

While Part II of my Nutrition blog is still banging around in my head, I’m going to revisit a previous topic I wrote about pertaining to habits and Monster. This is the product Monster, as opposed to the Monster that resided in my body for a decade. You can read about that Monster here if you’re so inclined: Summer Strong '12 Recap

My mind reading skills tell me that once you decide to make a change in your life, things go pretty well for a few days. You set your alarm and get up early to train at the gym. You choose spinach over French fries. You shut off the TV and take Buster for a walk. In short, you get on a roll. You have a plan and you prepare yourself. You stick to your guns and complete your behaviors in a predictable fashion. You pat yourself on the back and tell yourself “great job! I’ve got this!!!”

But along comes the end of week 1 and the start of week 2 and let’s be honest—the shiny sparkle of newness has worn off and your motivation is waning. And the weekend is coming and all you can think about is beer and pizza. The unicorn poop has dissipated and your ability to white-knuckle it through the day is all but shot. You’ve lost your <gasp> MOTIVATION for this ridiculous health and fitness crap.

Therefore, motivation is not a reliable avenue for health and fitness change and why HABITS are so very important. I’m going to tell you a little story here and it’s not one that I’m proud of, so please don’t judge.

I started at the Fire Department in 2004. I was completely unprepared for how the sleep deprivation would wreck my life and rock my world. And little by little I started forming a VERY BAD HABIT.

I would sometimes stop for gas in the morning after shift (at 0700) because it was on my way home and why not knock out a chore when it’s easy, right? I’d stop for gas at a 7-11 near my house and because I was so dang tired, I’d get a Monster energy drink (the 0 calorie one, not the 300-calorie bomb; I’m not a complete savage).

I’d purchase the regular size can which I believe is around 20-22 oz. and slurp that baby down on the way home and feel pretty awesome! I honestly couldn’t wait for that cold fizzy deliciousness to tickle the back of my throat—it was such a TREAT! It tasted so good that I started to stop at that 7-11 every morning after shift to get a Monster whether I needed gas or not.

Monster became a ritual for me in the morning, so much so that I started getting Monsters every morning; not just shift mornings. In fact, just the act of driving by any 7-11 at any time of the day started triggering my crack-like addiction for Monster.

And, most of the time, there was a special—get 3 Monsters for $5. That was a HUGE savings over buying them one at a time so I’d get 3. And sometimes I’d drink all three in one day. Can you see why I’m not proud of this story? Luckily Monster isn’t crack, or I’d be residing in a gutter right now.

My dirty little habit was getting expensive so I looked for the economy size, you know the ones with the lid you can screw back on, so the drink doesn’t get flat? And honestly, the volume of the small ones wasn’t enough anymore so that’s why I’d get the big ones with the lid.

And then I discovered the BFC (big f****** can). The BFC was twice the size of the little can and because it didn’t have the lid, I’d have to guzzle that one quick. {Boy. This is embarrassing. I was truly becoming the equivalent of a drug addict looking for a fix).

I might as well tell you the whole story since I’m getting it off my chest. For the sake of economy and convenience I started buying Monster by the case at Sam’s Club and I’d be upset when they didn’t have it in stock.

I had it in my garage fridge all the time and I was drinking a lot of it every day. Any reason was a good enough reason to crack open a Monster! Mowing the lawn? Monster. Driving to the store? Monster. Movie with a friend? You guessed it. I loved everything about Monster. I loved the fizz, the taste, the feel of the can in my hand and the way it woke me up.

Let’s review the facts:

  1. I began getting 1 reasonable sized can of monster after a shift (that’s every 3 days) to ‘wake me up’ in the way that some people drink a cup of coffee in the morning, but only if I had to stop for gas.

  2. I started stopping after every shift to get 1 can whether I needed gas or not.

  3. That was so fun that I began getting one can every day.

  4. Just seeing a 7-11 made me get a Monster regardless of time of day. And I’d get the special of several cans for a lower price.

  5. The small cans weren’t enough so I started getting the bigger cans

  6. I stocked at Sam’s club so I had them at home so I didn’t even need to go to a store anymore

  7. I realized that this was a stupid addiction; a habit that had gotten out of hand and something I needed to change

I’ll tell you how I changed my habit at the end of this blog. It worked for me, but I’m not saying it’s the only way to change a habit or even the best way. It’s just what I did.

The time is ripe to revisit habits vs willpower/motivation (aka self-control). Willpower is a fickle and complex beast. Willpower and motivation are affected by perception and mood; time, and the difficulty of the task. They are also an exhaustible natural resource because exerting will powerfeels fatiguing. In short, willpower is far too complicated and unreliable to allow long term success. Willpower may work for a few weeks, but you’re going to be back in the same spot you were when you started once you lose your willpower and motivation. That’s not awesome.

Enter the habit. Whether good or bad, habits are powerful (if you don’t believe that after the Monster story, I don’t know what else to say!) Habits are often unintentional. Habit decisions are made on almost a subconscious level.

Why do you brush your teeth? It’s not fun or sexy or even immediately gratifying. You brush your teeth because it’s a habit. Should you do it? Yes. Is it gross if you don’t do it? Also, yes! But very few people even think about brushing their teeth. They just do it—it’s part of their routine. Brushing your teeth doesn’t define you, or increase your social status, make you money or garner respect. But you do it because it is your routine and it is a habit.

If you think about it, there are also triggers for brushing your teeth. Those triggers might include tasting onion in your mouth, having your PJs on, it’s bedtime, you’re getting ready for a date etc. If you can identify triggers for bad habits, you have or good habits you’re trying to start that will make your job easier.

Take a few moments and think about a habit. A friend once commented that she tends to want to snack when she’s done with her work and gets bored. So, for her, the trigger is “Done with work, time to snack”. Right now, my friend is only experiencing that challenge at work. But it is possible that with reinforcement of that habit over time she might begin to experience that outcome at home too. It’s important to identify the trigger (“I’m done with my work”) to reprogram the outcome (“I can catch up on a few paragraphs in my book—Yay!!!”) Instead of “time to put something in my mouth because that’s what I do when I get done with work”

Identify the triggers for your habit --> program the outcome. Simple, right?

Not so fast. There are also outside players in this game. Those players could be friends, family or co-workers who have an expectation of how you should act. If you’ve always been the life of the party (read: drunken clown) it’s going to be difficult for them to understand when you want to stop at one drink. If you’ve always been the one to wolf down a giant slab of chocolate cake while patting your Aunt Mildred on the back about her excellent baking prowess, it’s going to be hard for her to accept that you’d rather munch an apple today instead.

This is where language comes in. The monologue you run in your head and the words you say to the other actors in your play are very important. Compare the following language:

I can’t VS I don’t

I’ll try VS I will (or will not)

I must or should VS I choose to

All the language in column 1 leaves the outcome open to interpretation. “I tried to stick to my palm sized portion of protein and thumb sized serving of fat but instead I ate pizza, apple pie and 3 beers because that is what everyone expected me to do.” That’s very convenient!!! YOU tried, but everyone else messed it up, right?

The monologue you run in your head and the words you say to the other actors in your play are very important.

Wrong. Re-frame your monologue and the conversations you have and wonderful things will happen! “I don’t overindulge at picnics because my body doesn’t feel good afterwards” leaves no room for negotiation, cajoling or guilt. You said it, you did it. Done!!!

In summary, recognize the triggers for your habits and reframe your mindset. Use language that puts you in power instead of making you the victim. You’ll be amazed at how well this works!

*How did I kick my habit? I know you’re probably dying to know!*

I told myself that I would take my last drink of Monster on the day that I took the Lieutenant’s examination. The date was September 11, 2012. I studied that morning and drank a BFC of Monster. I enjoyed it thoroughly and then I went in and kicked proverbial peach on that test. That was it. I told myself that healthy people don’t drink excessive Monster and since I was unable to control my intake, I couldn’t have ANY. Intelligent people don’t use a substance geared toward teenage skateboarders to get through the day. Brilliant, strong people figure out why they’re tired and fatigued and they fix the problem. In my head, I repeated “I don’t drink that” and not “I can’t have that”. It worked for me and that was one powerful bad habit!!!

AZ out