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The Power of Positive Habits

By Tom Venuto - author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle

How much would your life improve if you could literally put your behaviors on "auto-pilot" and eliminate the need for "teeth-gnashing," "gut-it out" willpower?

What would it mean to you if you could automatically just eat the right foods and automatically carry out your workouts every day, without straining... without even having to think about it?

How would your body and your health change if you just automatically did the right thing everyday... as effortlessly as you shower, brush your teeth or get dressed?

Would you agree that the most challenging part of losing weight and getting in shape is taking the right actions every day? (Not "talking"... but "DOING"?)

It's easy to say, "Eat smaller, more frequent meals."
It's easy to say, "Eat natural foods, avoid refined food and sugar."
It's easy to say, "Eat ample amounts of healthy, essential fats"
It's easy to say, "Eat a lean protein with each of your meals"
It's easy to say, "Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day"

Yes, easy to say... easy to talk about... not always so easy to do.

Why is it such a challenge to DO the things that you know you must do every day to get results? Why do we say one thing, and then do another?

The answer lies in your subconscious mind and in the awesome force known as HABIT, which has enormous power to pull you in a certain direction... positive or negative.

Your subconscious manages and carries out autonomic functions of your body, including digestion, circulation and respiration, so you don't have to think about them. If you've ever studied human anatomy and physiology, then you can appreciate the importance of this. The complexity and number of human bodily functions is staggering.

Can you imagine if you had to consciously think about or "will" your body to digest food, release hormones, beat your heart, circulate blood and all the other countless functions that are going on in your body at the same time?

It would be impossible. And that's where your subconscious mind comes in. It handles all this stuff for you on an un-conscious level so you don't have to be overwhelmed.

In the same way, your subconscious handles many ordinary behaviors every day so you don't have to be overwhelmed.

A habit is simply an automatic behavior. The behavior has become automatic because it has been repeated frequently and thereby, turned over to subconscious control.

A habit, then, could be described as a behavior pattern fixed in your subconscious mind as a result of repetition.

Habits are a result of behaviors repeated... but they begin with a single act.

Orison Swett Marden, founder of Success magazine, once wrote,

"The beginning of a habit is like an invisible thread, but every time we repeat the act we strengthen the strand, add to it another filament, until it becomes a great cable and binds us irrevocably."

I often advise my clients to become very aware of the behaviors they repeat on a regular basis and never to do things daily that they don't want to become habits.

Take the habit of drinking for example...

You often hear the advice that drinking in moderation is okay, and that moderation is defined as "one or two drinks a day."

I've had many clients say that they enjoy one or two drinks every night. They defend their behavior by arguing that "research says it's good for you" (especially red wine), and that they're even getting good results from their workouts.

I tell them that this may be true, but I warn them to consider the long term consequences because any behavior you repeat every day is HABIT-FORMING.

We are all forming and reinforcing habits every day of our lives. Some are positive habits that move us towards our goals and some are negative habits that move us away from them. Some behaviors which appear relatively harmless as a single act are extremely negative in their cumulative effects, eventually causing much pain and anguish. Their opposites, if identified and cultivated, would bring us health, happiness and all else that is good.

Your subconscious mind is a machine. It functions exactly like a computer. In fact, your subconscious mind is the most magnificent and powerful computer ever created.

"Behold I set before you both a blessing and a curse" is not just a famous quote from the bible, it is a perfect description of the law that governs the function of your "subconscious computer."

Your subconscious does not care what instructions you program into it or what habits you choose to develop. The subconscious is completely impartial and will carry out your "commands" - whether intentional or by default - to the letter, without question, 100% of the time.

Whatever thoughts you impress upon your subconscious repeatedly will eventually express themselves in your body or through your behaviors, and whatever behaviors you perform repeatedly, will eventually become habits.

Once a habit is established, it will require no conscious thought or effort to repeat in the future, and in fact, will take enormous strength to break... very much like swimming upstream against the current.

Knowing that your subconscious is your unquestioning servant, wouldn't it be easier to harness the power of habit in your favor and be swept towards your goals by the current of positive habit?

I started working out at a very young age, and I've now been training non stop for over 20 years.

How have I become so consistent in my training? Pure habit force! There is never a "discussion" in my head about whether I should go to the gym... I just put on my gym clothes and go... automatically.

It's HARD to miss a workout!

I guess you could say that me skipping a workout is like a drug addict skipping his fix. Odd analogy, perhaps, but isn't it true that people become "addicted" to exercise?

What are you addicted to through force of habit? Are your habits positive or negative? Did you ever consider that you can harness the power of positive habits?

You can!

The question, of course, is HOW?

It seems so hard to form new positive habits, and maybe even harder to break bad ones.

Well, it takes a method... you need a strategy. People have written entire books on this, but let me offer you 4 quick and simple tips you can use right away to harness the power of positive habits in your life:

1. Cultivate Awareness

Ignorance is not bliss. Awareness is bliss. You are on auto pilot and probably don't even realize it. 99% of the actions you take every day are habits. Some are positive, some are negative. All are carried out automatically without conscious thought required. You don't have to think about how to tie your shoelaces anymore.

That "skill" has long since been filed away in your subconscious mind. You don't have to think about how to drive your car... that function too, has long since been filed away in your subconscious (but do you remember the first time you tried to drive... especially if it was a stick shift?)

And so it is with dozens of other behaviors you carry out every day. And thank God that they're automated... can you imagine if you had to think about them? (your brain would explode!)

The question is, do you have yourself programmed on auto pilot with negative habits or positive ones? If you don't know the answer, you'd better take an inventory of your habits, and identify any limiting habits that you weren't even conscious of until just now. As the old self help maxim says, "You can't fix a problem if you don't know you have one."

2. Begin with your mind, and your body will follow

U.S. Anderson once wrote, "Success isn't the result of hard work, it is the result of right thinking."

At first, this may not appear to make sense, because obviously you must take action (work hard) in order to succeed. However, by examining this statement on a deeper level, you realize it is 100% accurate because actions are a result of our thinking and our mental programming. Therefore, the logical place to begin when you want success, is in your mind, by changing your thoughts and changing the programming that causes your habitual actions. Success begins in your own mind.

The thought always gives birth to the action. Too many people focus on "forcing" behaviors, but force negates and willpower fails you in the long term. The real power lies in your thoughts which create the habitual behaviors. To change the behavior, you DON'T USE WILLPOWER alone, you simply trace the behavior back to the thought patterns that created it and change the thoughts.

3. Replace negative habits with positive ones

Nature abhors a vacuum. If you manage to simply remove a negative habit, it leaves a vacuum begging to be filled. Often the bad habit returns to re-occupy its old space or another bad habit simply takes it's place.

The way to get rid of a bad habit forever is to replace it with a positive one. This is especially easy and effective when it comes to food choices. If there is a particular food you habitually eat and know you shouldn't, don't just try to eliminate it. Instead find a better choice to replace it with. Each time you feel the urge for the old food, reach for the new one instead. It's a simple process of substitution.

4. Never repeat a negative behavior if you don't want it to become a habit; repeat, reinforce and reward positive behaviors you DO want to become habits

Suppose you've managed to haul your butt to the gym a few times a week, but you hate training legs. So you gleefully finish your upper body, then say to yourself, "Ah, I don't need to do my legs today... I'll do them next time." Sure enough, next time rolls around and the same urge pops into your mind... "My legs are fine... It's my chest and arms I really care about most." So you blow off legs again.

Right there in the moment, you must become aware of what's about to happen, and catch yourself. What's "about to happen?"  A negative habit is about to begin forming.

Forming a brand new positive habit is not all that difficult - all it takes is about 21 days of conscious effort for the behavior to be turned over to subconscious control.

Getting rid of negative habits is more difficult, so the best way to avoid falling under their influence is to stop them from forming in the first place. If you do something once... no problem. But if you're tempted to do it twice... kill it, before it grows roots.

Author Tom Venuto

Tom Venuto is a bodybuilder, gym owner, freelance writer, success coach and author of "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle" (BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has written over 150 articles and has been featured in IRONMAN magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom's inspiring and informative articles on bodybuilding, weight loss and motivation are featured regularly on dozens of websites worldwide. For information on Tom's "Burn The Fat" e-book, click here.

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