I have an interesting method for writing. I’ve been told it’s a great way to waste time, but most of the time it works for me. I’ve been really working out the kinks for the first section of my book The Zookeeper’s Guide to Fitness. As we inch closer to the end of the old year and look forward to the beginning of a new one, now is a great time for me to discuss the Habit Hive.
First, though, let me just discuss a little of my writing process. It’s important to the post.
When I have an idea for writing, I usually use this blog first and foremost to get the thoughts out into the universe. I haven’t done that recently, as with NaNoWriMo, I just got my immediate thoughts out onto paper with a rough rough draft of What Do You Do With the Dolphins When It Rains? But now I’m trying to work my way back into The Zookeeper’s Guide to Fitness and I am finding it helpful to revert back to my old habits.
I write initial rough draft on my blog. This gets my ideas out of my head where many brilliant thoughts often go to die. So, I’ve learned, even if it’s not the most refined wording, it is helpful to have the words out there on my blog.
After my blog, I take what I wrote and edit it a little. Then I read it over and give it to my writing group. This is still what I would consider my first draft. After my critique group tears up my drivel and edit still some more. Unfortunately for me, this is about where I hate my words I’ve written because I’ve heard them in my head so much.
Maybe the method isn’t working for me. Maybe I shouldn’t have the blog and I should skip this step and go straight to the rough draft. Or maybe this is how my method works for me. And when I’m old and teaching writing classes, or sitting on a panel, someone will ask me “PJ, what’s your method? What is your writing process?”
And my answer will be- “Write it in a blog. Just get it out into the universe so it isn’t taking up space in your head any longer, not paying rent.”
Here is me working out the kinks for the first section of my fitness book. It’s called Goals Versus Desired Outcomes. And it’s an important component to the Habit Hive.
There is a lot of complexity when delving into the fitness world. I think in the very beginning, when most people are feeling the most gung ho about everything, and wanting to jump right in is probably the most challenging aspect for me to teach to others. Utilizing a zookeeper’s philosophy of training animals in our fitness will urge us to hold those reins in tight for just a little while longer. There is some vitally important groundwork we need to lay down first.
If you ask a trainer what the goal of a training an animal to enter their crate voluntarily, and the trainer will answer “Um, to get the raccoon to walk into the crate when asked and stay calm while the door is shut.”
If you ask the same trainer why this behavior is important, what the desired outcome will be, the trainer will likely answer “It’s better for the raccoon’s health and well-being if he enters the crate or carrier on his own. It’s more positive, and less stressful for the raccoon, and the staff. Voluntary crate training is better for the animal’s welfare.”
Do you see the difference?
There are three main reasons for training a behavior- husbandry, that is, the daily care for an animal, enrichment, or mental engagement or just for fun, and building your relationship. There are dozens of other reasons, which coincide with these three main reasons. Demonstrating a natural ability of a species, such as teaching an elephant to grasp onto a paint brush and make paint strokes shows off the dexterity of the trunk, can also be classified as enrichment. It is mentally engaging, and a fun activity to do with elephants.
One of the first behaviors young dolphins at SeaWorld would learn after a target would be mouth open. Trainers would then teach the dolphins to let them massage or play with their mouths and tongue. This became a secondary reinforcer, something the dolphins truly enjoyed, but had to be taught. Once the dolphins learned to open their mouths and let trainers rub their tongues and manipulate their mouths, trainers could use this just to play with dolphins, building a stronger relationship with the animals. It could also be used as a husbandry behavior, if they needed to examine the mouth for any reason, to retrieve a foreign object, or possibly to give oral medication should the need ever arise.
It’s also more difficult to train an animal “Better Welfare”. That prospect sends zookeepers into panic mode. That’s like, everything a trainer does. Even breaking down the behavior to be “Train Husbandry” or “Train Enrichment” is likely to overwhelm a keeper. Instead of training for the outcome, zookeepers train individual behaviors to support the desired outcome.
It doesn’t surprise me, having this knowledge, that we humans overwhelm ourselves and give up as often as we do when pursuing an ambition in fitness. We are trying to train the animal everything at once instead of breaking down our desired outcome into small habits and build those behaviors to support the intended results.
Instead of focusing on “losing weight”, we can enjoy ourselves a lot more by focusing on small individual habits that will bring about weight loss. We can drink more water. We can log our meals in a journal or fitness app. We can do cardio vascular exercise three to five days a week. We can eat less processed foods. If we focus on these smaller behaviors instead of the whole kit-n-kaboodle, the whole process is a lot more enjoyable. You will celebrate a lot more victories, which will fuel the fire to winning the war.
I am not advocating to ignore your wants and desired outcomes from your fitness and wellness program. Quite the contrary, I want this idea in the center of your thoughts. Let the promising results be the motivation you need to keep going when the going gets tough. There will be rough patches. In the coming chapters, I will show you how to prevent many of those setbacks, and even how to successfully deal with the others which sneak past even your most ironclad defenses.
It’s often the tough times during the training for your desired outcomes become the most overwhelming. So, my solution is to stop thinking of your program as a fitness goal.
Work on the little things that add up to achieve the results you are wanting.
Let’s take the classic- losing weight. Hey, I wanted to lose weight when I started. I wanted a lot of things when I started. One of those was losing weight.
It’s really hard and overwhelming to train oneself “to lose weight”. Believe me, I tried. Many, many times. But instead of thinking it in terms of losing weight, I worked on small habits I knew would help me achieve weight loss.
I began building a food logging habit. From a study done in Portland in 2008, logging food meticulously has been proven to help one lose nearly twice as much weight as someone who doesn’t keep a food journal of any kind. So, I felt confident if I could consistently log my meals, it would lead to losing some extra pounds.
I also joined a gym to develop an exercise habit. Exercise is one of the best ways to lose unwanted pounds, and also lift your mood. It’s an all-encompassing miracle drug. (Brian Johnson) says exercise is just like taking a little bit of Ritalin with a little bit of Prozac. It improves your mood, increases energy, and helps you focus, thinking with more clarity.
Later in my program, I discovered a gym wasn’t necessary for me to achieve my exercising behavior goal. But I will admit, first starting out, at least for me, it was vital to my success. As I learned movements and how to program workouts, the gym began to lose its appeal to me, and I attended it less and less. Not because I didn’t want to exercise, but because I learned to do the workouts at home, outdoors, at the park, and even at work. But joining a gym in the beginning for me was a necessary step to create an exercise habit.
One more habit I wanted to build to support weight loss was drinking more water. And I meant more actual water, not the fake sugary shit I poured down my throat to make me feel better about not drinking enough water. I wanted to start drinking 80-100 ounces of pure water. Every day.
With losing weight as my desired outcome, I began working to develop these specific habits to support that desired outcome. I mapped out my training plan by placing the desired outcome in the center of a circle. Then I connected the habits I wanted to establish to the center circle. As I sat there looking at my master plan, I came to the realization it resembled a hive. Maybe it was the zookeeper in me, and absolutely everything I do relates back to animals. But from that moment on, I called the process of mapping out my program, the Habit Hive.