Lifestyle Training: Whip Your Habits Into Shape

Creating sustainable change requires adjusting what you do on a day-to-day basis. It’s a lot like weight lifting to build muscle. It’s not easy, terribly fun, or glamorous, but the end result is predictable and rewarding.

In order for new muscle to be developed, it has to be pushed past its normal limitations. Reality is that you need to do the same in order to achieve new goals and challenges.

The new muscle is built through a process of “tear and repair.” Lifting heavier and heavier weights tears apart the muscle fibers, the “ouch” the next morning. The fibers then heal back together stronger than before.

Folks who successfully lose weight, write a book, change careers, or climb Mount Everest invariably went through their own version of tear and repair. Change is uncomfortable. Many changes tax your body. Nearly all changes wear you down mentally and emotionally. If you succumb to the pain, your brand new muscles will atrophy right back to where you started.

It’s easier to push past the discomfort, self-doubt, and neurotic panic attacks if you see them for what they are: new muscle growth that is carving you into your goal.

What can we learn from body builders?

New Muscle is Intentional

If you ever hang out in the weight room at a gym (I avoid this area like the plague, but if you’re like me just use your imagination), you will never see big, ripped guys saunter in and drift from machine to machine without any clear direction. They absolutely never yawn, look around, and pick the elliptical.

Growing new muscle (or achieving a goal) requires intention and planning. If you set out to become a body builder, you would learn everything you could on the topic: how many reps, which weights, what kind of rotation, etc. You wouldn’t want to waste your time on ineffective exercises or a diet that undermines your new muscle growth.

Hence, you need to learn everything you can about your goal, how others have accomplished it, and develop a specific plan for accomplishing it yourself. Then, go about your day with intention. This is your goal. It is your life.

You Must Be Disciplined

Body building enthusiasts (not professionals) work out between 5-15 hours per week. They know the gal at the front desk, they have a precise plan for their workouts, and they report to the weight room religiously.

If you want to lose weight, your sneakers need to become your religion. If you hope to write a book, the letters on your keyboard better start fading. If you are paying off debt, start treating every dollar you spend  as if exchanging it for your freedom.

The point is that permanent, life-altering change requires constant day-to-day discipline. Muscles don’t keep growing just because you got started in the right direction and they definitely don’t stay strong if you stop using them.

Change Your Lifestyle

Building muscle isn’t a simple formula of lifting X weight Y times for Z months. A body builder’s success hinges on a variety of direct and indirect variables, such as what they eat, which supplements they take, and how much rest they get. It’s an entire lifestyle change.

Your goal is also composed of a variety of factors that will either accelerate your progress or hold you back. Say you want to save up for a three-week trip to Europe so you set aside $300 a month in your budget. If you aren’t a great employee, will your boss give you the time off? If you don’t anticipate that your car needs new tires, where will your savings go?

If you are truly dedicated to your goal, you must be thoughtful and diligent in setting yourself up for success.

Settle In: This Takes Time

That guy with huge biceps and a six-pack didn’t get that way overnight. He adopted a mental attitude that allowed him to persevere through that awkward stage when he was the lerpy guy ogling the dude benching 300 lbs next to him. Instead of jealously coveting the other guys’ body, he instead saw his future and committed to the long-haul.

Ever had a fat friend who was always complaining about the skinny girls while stuffing her face with a giant bearclaw?

Do something about your goal and realize that you are going to have do something for a long time. It’s not rocket science. There really aren’t any shortcuts. Anything worthwhile requires persistence, otherwise we would all be skinny best-selling authors with a million in the bank.

Change It Up 

After awhile, the same exercises or the same weights are no longer going to move you toward your goal. You’ve plateaued. Because the muscle is consistently getting stronger, body building requires heavier and heavier weights in order to tear it down again.

Similarly, if your goal is to write a book and you sit down to write every day from 8 AM to 12 PM, you are going to run out of juice. Your creativity and excitement will wane, along with your results. In order to get the ideas flowing again, you might try renting a cabin for the weekend and writing in a new place. Perhaps you take a writing workshop.

If you hit a point where you just can’t seem to get traction again, it does not mean that you aren’t cut out for your goal. It does mean that it’s time for some variation.

Use a Mirror

When you imagine the weight room at a gym, one of the most obvious aspects is that the entire room is lined with mirrors and every dude there is staring at himself. Yes, they may very well be narcissistic, but the mirror is also a useful tool.

By seeing yourself objectively, you can evaluate your form and your results. Without the mirror, you may be doing bicep curls all hunched over, resulting in a strained back muscle that delays your return to the gym.

How do you create a mirror for yourself? You could check-in regularly with a mentor or a supportive friend, someone you can be totally honest with. You can also track your efforts and progress in a log or journal, allowing you to compare what’s worked and what hasn’t as well as recognize how far you’ve come.

Get a Workout Buddy

We are social creatures and a workout buddy is an incredibly effective substitute for personal discipline, especially in the beginning. By setting up a day and time that you will do X with your workout buddy, you create a social contract that you feel compelled to follow through on.

If you set up this social contract with a spouse or close family member, you may find yourself failing in your duties due to that strange phenomena where we feel less judged by those closest to us. If you set the contract with your boss or someone you respect a great deal, you most certainly are going to act.

Most of us have goals or projects that are important to us, but get set aside for other priorities. By creating a social contract to make progress with another person, you can subvert your temptation to cheat and create accountability toward your goal.


To get results, especially faster results, your workout should be hard enough to make you grunt. If you lift weights that are comfortable, your muscles aren’t tearing and repairing. Be sure to progressively step up the challenge so that you grow stronger and stronger in the process of reaching your goal.

What other tips have helped you to permanently change your day-to-day habits toward a larger goal?

  1. Just checking in to grunt! I’m exhausted, but the wheels are just starting to roll out of the muck. I took your advice and have been marking down my progress in a day planner (I’m no good at journaling) and I started hanging out with a friend who is also trying to get published. We keep each other laughing and mostly on track. Bestsellers list here we come!

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