The Power of a Habit

Updated: Jan 16

When it comes to performance it's easy to get lost in data, periodisation, exercise selection, closed drill techniques and so on. And I can see why, all of these things are what contribute directly to performance outcomes. But, how do we get to these outcomes? Planning is obviously key. But the bigger question is, how do we plan? What do we put in place to ensure we continue to do the things we need to do?

Recently I listened to a podcast with James Clear, author of the book I then went on to read titled 'Atomic Habits'. It got me thinking, which can always be dangerous...

'Should I, as a coach, be promoting habit building with my athletes?'

'Should my athletes be focusing their attention on building habits?'

The answer I found for both was yes.

What is a habit?

Definition; a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

Usually associated with 'bad'. Smoking, drugs, biting your nails, drinking etc. All things that if evolve into a habit can be impossible to give up. They take serious intervention. A good habit, however, can be exactly the same. Long lasting, hard to give up, and life changing.

No, a habit isn't 'eating well' or 'being fit' - it is something actionable. Something you can say 'I do x and y daily'.

What Place Do They Have In Our Training?

I have no doubt that every athlete, from weekend warriors to the best in the world, want more from their training and performance. And in doing so, they try to implement new aspects into their schedule. Going to bed earlier, taking supplements, reading more, drinking more water, drinking less soda, training 5 times a week, the list goes on and on.

Now by itself, something like 'drinking more water' seems simple. However, all it takes is a busy schedule, and all of a sudden you're 2 coffees and a can of coke down without pure H2O touching your lips.

But by creating a purposeful habit, one that is built around drinking more water, the task becomes more automated until it becomes permanent. This could be as simple as finishing a 1L bottle of water with every meal. At first, you have to remind yourself, but eventually, automation.

Which takes us on to the HOW.....

How Do We Implement Habits In Our Training?

Well, this is a question you can write a book about, and for a matter of fact, somebody already has. As previously mentioned, this post is inspired by the work of James Clear and Atomic Habits. I would highly recommend getting this book in your hands!

But for the purpose of this post, I am going to tell you how I have implemented habits with my athletes.

With my athletes, I first bring to attention what we need to do to get from A to B. B being the end goal. Then we look at the middle, and ask ourselves 'what could stop us from progressing?'. Most of the time, we are able to quickly find bad habits and/or areas where a good habit can be implemented.

From there, it is all about design. How can we structure our environment to ensure we turn these habits into a permanent part of our routines and lives?

One of my athletes works full time, and struggles to train after work. They have always wanted to make early morning training a habit, but have struggled to put the things in place. Saying 'set your alarm for 6AM to train' isn't going to cut. So we:

- Put the phone on the other side of the bedroom with the alarm set (forces you to get out of bed)

- Make sure training kit is next to the phone - this acts as a trigger

- Aim for the start. Don't aim for the workout, aim to get in your car. Once you've done that, you'll make your way to training

See the difference?

We have designed the environment to help us perform the habit. Rather than just aiming for the habit itself. A game changer.

The Rules of Habit Building:

One at a time - Now, whilst I have seen good results with my athletes through habit building, it is vital that we don't get too carried away. One habit at a time is adequate. In fact, it is recommended. Too many can soon overwhelm anyone.

Never miss two days in a row - Nobody is perfect. We all sometimes fall off the tracks. It even happens to the worlds best. But the difference? They don't let it define them. So if you miss a day, thats fine, just don't let yourself miss two in a row.


We all want a little bit more of a something. Even if it isn't sport/physical performance related, we still have wants. And at times, it can seem a mammoth mountain to climb to get there. However, with the use of habits, and making small steps and strides, the little 1%ers compound, and the result? You reach your goal, your habit has become automatic, and you now have the space to make the next leap forward through tons more of those little strides.

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