ZooFit 101- Changing Behavior to Change the World

Photo by Jessica Podraza

Condensing my thoughts into several big ideas I’ve learned the past two years as an Optimize Coach has been difficult. Especially when I love to go on tangents about how these ideas can change your life, and the world. But this installment delves into a topic that is near and dear to the heart of ZooFit- we’re talking about changing behavior to be heroic.

In Part 1, we discussed the Hero’s Guide and taking care of ourselves (to shine brighter as a hero), turning parasites into pearls, and chewing on salty hero bars. It’s kind of the WHAT we are doing. Today, I’m going to discuss HOW we are going to do it.

Big Idea #5- ZooFit Guide to Making Behavior Change Easy

Photo by Murilo Viviani

The first year of Optimize we started a module called Algorithms, and I honestly had no idea what an algorithm was. No joke. Chris told me it was related to computers and my eyes glazed over. I thought this would be the most boring aspect of the Optimize program. But was I wrong! It’s exactly what ZooFit is all about!

Turns out, algorithms are another interpretation of operant conditioning. It’s the “if/then” statements that I am all too familiar with as an animal trainer. If I point my finger and make a checkmark, then the dolphin knows I want him to perform a jump, or bow. If I say the word “okay”, then the walrus knows he did what I wanted and can come back to get a treat. These chains create what we call the ABCs of training. Now, all this is dandy and deserves to be in ZoFit 101, but honestly, I talk about this ALL. THE. TIME.

Photo by Ranae Smith

Further Reading about Using Operant Conditioning to Achieve Your Goals

The key to behavior change is something I also have talked about here, but it’s a main idea I feel is worth repeating. Want to change the world or change your life? It starts with a simple step. Make it easy. Make it ridiculously easy. So ridiculously easy that it’s laughable. If you aren’t snorting from how stupid easy it is, you’re starting too hard.

As James Clear says in Atomic Habits, “Make it so easy, you cannot fail.”

Photo by Angel Luciano

That’s it, my friends. Do you have a big ambitious goal? Maybe a goal to raise thousands of dollars for rhino conservation? Or to lose 20 pounds? Or to get your dream job? That’s awesome! WOOP it out. And now, take your first step. What’s the easiest step towards that goal? What’s one small baby step you can take towards achieving that goal? Got it? Great. Now’s the hard part. Do that ridiculously easy thing. There you go, you are on your way.

Of course, that’s not the only thing to creating a new healthy habit. To paraphrase and reword what James Clear says: Step 1: Make it Obvious (so obvious you cannot miss your opportunity to start on the new behavior). Step 2: Make it Easy (so easy you cannot fail the new behavior). Step 3: Make it Awesome (so awesome you don’t want to fail or miss the opportunity). Put them together, and you have your ABCs of behavior change: Activation/Antecedent: Make it obvious, Behavior: Make it easy, and Celebration(Consequences): Make it Awesome. This is also the basic formula for creating algorithms. If/then is the obvious cue leading to behavior. Then the behavior leads to celebration. Algorithms. Who knew it was operant conditioning for the new age?

Big Idea #6- Changing Behavior by Deleting or Eliminating Unwanted Behaviors

Photo by Cas Holmes

Creating new healthy habits is fantastic, but what helps the most is often not what we add to our lives, but what we delete. Think about it. You can add broccoli to your diet you want, but until you stop drinking soda and eating pizza every night, it won’t do you much good. So, changing behavior isn’t just about adding the new, but cutting out the bad. 

There are a few ways to go about eliminating bad habits. In Optimize, we look again to James Clear who says to delete a behavior, basically we do the reverse of creating a habit. If we want to make the new habit obvious, to delete it, we want to make it invisible. If you struggle to stay off social media, try hiding your phone. Sometimes the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” helps a lot. If it’s still too challenging or irresistible, James says the next step is to make it hard. Want to stop eating sugar? Stop bringing it into the house. Don’t have sugar in the house, ever. That way, if you are really craving it, you have to walk to the store just to buy something sweet. It’s the complete opposite of making it ridiculously easy.

Photo by Juliana Liebermann

I personally love how animal trainers delete unwanted behaviors with their animals. Instead of punishing the unwanted behavior, they use what I call Healthy Alternative Behaviors (HABs) to positively switch the animals’ mindset, changing behavior from undesired to appropriate. Instead of stopping a behavior (which is incredibly hard to train an animal to not do something), trainers ask what behavior they want instead. Want your dog to stop jumping? What behavior do you want him to do instead of jumping? Then, you train and reinforce that positive behavior.

Want to quit binge watching television late at night? What behavior would you like to see yourself doing instead? Train that healthy habit and focus on improving that behavior until the unwanted behavior has simply disappeared or been effectively replaced by your Healthy Alternative Behavior. Make your bad habits disappear, but keep the celebration.

Big Idea #7- When Changing Behavior “Needs Work”

Photo by Catalin Sandru

In the last lesson of the Hero’s Guide, I discussed celebrating EVERY step along our journey, including our setbacks and failures. These are our salty hero bars we can devour for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But this doesn’t mean we reward our mistakes and slip-ups. We don’t need to punish them, either. So how do we work on changing behavior in a positive mindset, without reinforcing our slips, and still celebrate them? We learn from them.

I call the concept AC/DC, which stands for Acknowledge, Compassion, and use the event as Data Collection. It’s a lesson I learned years and years ago as an animal trainer with a principle known as the Least Reinforcing Scenario, or LRS. 

The mentality of LRS, or AC/DC, is simple, fun, and effective. Whether dealing with animals, or our own fitness journey, we adopt the mentality of win or learn. If something goes wrong, as it’s almost guaranteed in life, there’s no need for guilt, shame, or punishment. Just make a note that this aspect “needs work”, use AC/DC, and learn from it. Use the situation as another ingredient in your hero bar, and keep your head in the game. Win or learn. Create those yummy hero bars, and shine bright as your heroically awesome self.

What, How and Why

Photo by Taylor Kopel

Changing our behavior with positive reinforcement so we can become heroes is an epic quest. It’s empowering, fun, engaging, and fulfilling. But why are we doing this? In part 1, I explained we are optimizing our lives so we can make the world a better place. 

And funny enough, taking care of ourselves is JUST the way to do it. Keep up the amazing work. Stay focused on your journey, and let’s go change the world!

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1 Comment

  1. I love this! It’s a perfect step by step guide on how to be better than I’ve ever been.
    Create an algorithm, start small, delete your worst habits first, be kind to yourself and need’s work it when you fall short.
    Awesome! Thank you!


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