The habit-perception gap
We run a mentorship programme at City Road where we meet up one-to-one with each of our members on a regular basis to assess their progress, offer guidance and answer questions. A lot of the same things come up over and over again. There is often a conversation like the below:
Member: I’d love to make faster progress. I feel like I’m not moving towards my goals as fast as I should be. What should I do?
Coach: How many classes are you doing each week?
Coach: Are you really doing 5 classes each week?
Member: Yeah, more or less.
Coach: But are you REALLY coming to 5 classes each week?
Member: Ummm. I mean, I think so.
Coach: I’m not suggesting you’re dishonest. But it might be that you aren’t coming to 5 classes in a week as much as you think. Come to 5 classes every week and you’ll make rapid progress. How’s your diet? Are you eating paleo-ish?
Member: Yeah of course.
Coach: Really? Like more than 85% of the time?
Member: Yeah I guess so.
Coach: Are you sure? It doesn’t sound like you’re sure.
Member: yeah I’m sure, I think…
Coach: Eat meat and fish, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar 85% of the time and you’ll make great progress.
The point is that there is often a huge gap between what people think they are doing and what they are actually doing: the habit-perception gap. We are not nearly conscious enough of what we are doing, when we’re doing it to be aware of the habits we are making or breaking. You miss a class, you have a cheat meal and you almost immediately forget. Time passes and you believe you are attending 5 classes a week and eating great because you have never made yourself take note of the occasions where you mess up. Or even if you are aware of those mistakes when you make them, you have no sense of their frequency over time.
This is why it is often so hard to convince people that remarkable results are down to nothing other than consistency and patience. Because many believe they already are consistent to a large degree. Therefore there must be some other trick they are missing.
Of course you know by now that there is no other trick. And there is a simple way to narrow the habit-perception gap. Becoming more aware of your own behaviour will dramatically increase your chances of success. The solution is to create a measurable lifestyle.
Towards a measurable lifestyle
CrossFit was founded on data-driven principles of fitness: measurable fitness. You are fitter if your work capacity increases over time. What I’m talking about now is measurable lifestyle. Your lifestyle becomes objectively better over time if your lifestyle data improve over time. Ok, that’s all very esoteric. What’s the practical application.
The practical implication is that you should be tracking certain variables daily, weekly and monthly. I use an iPhone app called Tally (download here) to track a variety of data points. At the very least you should be tracking the following, daily:
Training session yes/no
20 mins mobility yes/no
Nutrition perfectly on plan yes/no
Cheat meals yes/no
7+ hours of sleep yes/no
Relevant supplements yes/no
The app lets you set up as many variables as you like and roll them daily, weekly, monthly or annually. Each data point appears as a square on your screen with current numbers displayed. Most of our data points we want to roll weekly. Then you can simply set your targets and see very objectively if you are meeting them. Your weekly targets might be to train 5 times, mobilise every day and only have 1 cheat meal. You might also factor in a maximum of 4 alcoholic drinks and one night of missed sleep.
How to use a measurable lifestyle
You now have a measurable lifestyle and this has a number of useful effects. First of all, you will be very aware of those occasions where you are off-plan. Second, with weekly targets you can alter your behaviour after slip-ups to make sure you reach your goals. Finally, over time you will get an objective picture of your habits. With the app, you can look at past data to develop a sense of how you are performing over months, something that is very hard to intuitively understand. With that in mind you can be honest with yourself. Are you making those weekly targets at least 80% of the time? If you aren’t then you know what the problem is. And until you are meeting your weekly targets 80% of the time, save yourself the hassle of asking your coach how to make better progress because you’ll have that same conversation over and over again! Your coach knows that if you meet your lifestyle targets consistently over time, you will make as much progress as anyone could hope for. Once you have all that down, then we can talk about the other smaller details and hacks that can help you make improvements beyond that.
To go one step further, a measurable lifestyle will allow you to objectively observe if your habits are becoming better or worse. This is going to get a little bit nerdy… Your overall lifestyle metric over a particular period of time is the percentage of weeks in which you met your lifestyle targets. You can use a rolling 4-6 week lifestyle metric to measure if your lifestyle is improving or getting worse. If your metric is going up, your progress will accelerate. If your metric is going down, your progress will decelerate.
The realisation that there is a wide gap between your behaviour and your perception of your behaviour can be powerful. There have been a number of times where after I’ve convinced a member that they have a habit-perception gap, they make startling progress almost immediately. There is one case in particular (you’ll hear more about this soon) where a member had been with us for close to 2 years before we had a conversation much like the one above. After that meeting this member went on to lose roughly 10kg in 12 weeks. That’s pretty remarkable. Start tracking your own data. Create a measurable lifestyle and you’ll set yourself up for incredible results.
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