The Power of Routine

This month at Heartland Weight Loss we are focusing on habits. Routines. Not just setting goals, but actually putting systems in place to make those goals into reality. This month’s posts will touch upon the things that my wonderful, brave patients are tackling – day after day. Changing habits is hard!

To quote my children, I am a book nerd.  I love books. I will pretty much read anything.  However, given a slew of options, I will usually choose a self-improvement book;  something that has the potential to make me better in some way. Last year I had the good fortune of reading a book called, “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.  This book blew me away. There are so many great ideas in this book that can be applied to weight management. Most of what follows are the author’s words – not mine.  I’ve just condensed, summarized and applied the concepts to eating behaviors and weight management:    

 First, think about these two statements:

  1. A habit is a routine or behavior that is performed regularly – and, in many cases, automatically  
  2. Success is the product of daily habits – not once-in-a-lifetime transformations

The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them.  They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous.  It is only when looking years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones become strikingly apparent.  The most powerful outcomes are delayed.  

Changes that seem small and unimportant compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.  In other words, your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits.  Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits.  You get what you repeat.

I love this visual:  the impact created by a change in your habits is similar to the effect of shifting the route of an airplane by just a few degrees.  Imagine you are flying from Los Angeles to New York City. If the pilot leaving LAX adjusts the heading just 3.5 degrees south, you will land in Washington D.C., instead of New York.  Such a small change isn’t noticeable at takeoff – the nose of the airplane moves just a couple of feet – but when magnified across the entire United States, you end up hundreds of miles from your target.

Similarly, a slight change in your daily habits can guide your life to a very different destination.  Making a small choice seems insignificant in the moment, but over the span of moments that make up a lifetime, these choices determine the difference between who you are and who you could be.  

You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than your current results

Most of us want to be healthy.  We want to make healthy food choices. We want our bodies to feel good.  We know deep down inside that our habits create a great deal of our health.  However, it’s easy to excuse little bitty unhealthy habits over and over again – especially when everyone around us seems to be indulging.  A cupcake on Monday to celebrate a coworker’s birthday with the promise to yourself to do better tomorrow. A caramel mocha latte on Tuesday to help wake us up on the way to work – excused because it’s coffee and it’s only a medium.  A burger and fries on Wednesday as we rush the kids to soccer practice – not the worst choice – especially because you skipped the soda or milkshake that you really wanted. Those little bitty decisions, day after day, define your eating habits.  Although you can’t see the detrimental effects on your waistline and liver function each time you make the choice to be unhealthy, they are keeping you pointed away from your goal of health and the more often you make them, the further from the goal you will end up eventually.   In other words, your weight and metabolic health are a lagging measure of your eating habits.

Now, here’s some good news.  If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t all you.  The problem is your systems. More on this next week!

until then…

be strong – be healthy – be happy

Courtney Younglove, M.D.