Personal trainer and co-creator of Bikini Body Guides (BBG), Kayla Itsines, explains why developing and maintaining healthy habits is essential if you want to achieve your fitness goals, and shares her tips on how to form new habits that stick beyond January this year.
What is a habit?
A habit is a clearly defined set of events or actions that you take based on a certain cue and reward. This is typically an unconscious process, meaning that you aren’t properly aware you are doing it. The process of recognising the cue, and reacting to it, is usually automatic.
Why are habits important?
Habits are an important part of our daily behaviour and can fundamentally alter the outcome, for better or worse, of most things we commit time to. This includes our health and lifestyle choices. Our habitual behaviour is triggered by cues in our environment and our personality. Because of this our habits automate a significant portion of our behaviour. Whether it be putting a jacket on when we are cold, or eating chocolate when we feel sad, we are creatures of habit through and through. The good thing about this is because you can leverage habits (i.e., influence or control them), you can provide yourself a structure for consistency which can help to create positive results.
How can we form new habits?
In the same way you can break old or bad habits, you can also deliberately create new and effective ones to improve your health. However, before doing so it is very important to make sure the new behaviours you are attempting to learn are ones you actually want to keep. The easiest way to figure out the right habits to build is to identify the ones that will have the biggest impact on the success of your health journey. Whether your goal is improved fitness, weight loss, increased strength or just feeling better in general through improved health, all of the following will apply, and therefore I think it is best if you focus on making habits surrounding these key areas.
Rest: Sleep Schedule = Getting Enough Sleep
Part of allowing yourself to do the things you want to do is having the energy to do so, which largely comes from being rested. I have found having a sleep schedule really helps remind me to try and ensure I get 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep. For me, this is as simple as using alarms to keep a consistent bedtime and waking time. However, other useful strategies you should consider include: reducing screen time at night, reducing your alcohol intake, creating a nighttime ritual to wind down and removing distractions from your bedroom.
Prioritising sleep is important for overall wellbeing, and sleep trackers can help you identify whether you are truly getting enough quality sleep.
Nutrition: Meal Prep = Eating the right types and amounts of foods
Along with getting enough sleep, a good diet is a fundamental factor when considering your energy levels, as well as many other areas of your health. In my experience, regardless of the diet you ‘follow’, if you don’t observe the principles of the eating plan, it can affect your ability to reach the desired outcome. For most women, the first step to consistent healthy eating is learning about the importance of meal prep. When you prepare meals in advance, you are committing to eating whatever it is you make the next day. As you make a continual effort to eat the healthy meals you prepare, you actually follow the diet. This means you are consistently eating nutritious meals that provide you with energy. In order for meal prep to work, you will need to organise yourself in a way that best suits your personal circumstances. For example, do you want to meal prep for the entire week (where you will freeze some portions)? Or perhaps you only want to meal prep for 2–3 days of the week when you know your schedule is crazy and you need to have healthy meals ready to go. Once you have worked this out you can establish how many portions you need to create of your recipe(s) and then write a shopping list (my book has downloadable versions for you to print and use). I also recommend that you allocate time for shopping and cooking in your schedule to ensure success.
Fitness: Workout planning = Making time for workouts and recovery
Finally, if you have all the energy you need, and are well rested, you can work out. I bet after reading the first two points you can probably guess I am going to say ‘create a workout schedule’. As silly as it may sound, it’s true! My recommendation is that you book time in your week, every week, to exercise. A lot of people say, ‘I know what I need to do, I will get my workouts in, trust me.’ But the truth is actually that 60% of women surveyed mentioned they don’t end up getting the results they desire, and 60% of women also confess to not completing all of the workouts suggested in their workout guides. I bet you can also guess the biggest reason why women aren’t getting all their workouts in: because of ‘no time’. More often than not, ‘having no time’ really just translates to ‘you didn’t make time’.