Habit Creation: Using Technology To Reach Your Fitness Goals

In Monday’s article titled Forming Habits, How I Do It, and Why I Hate New Year’s Resolutions, I covered a pretty foolproof way of setting and managing your goals for the long term. Slow and easy win’s the race.

However, today I want to share with you some tools and strategies I use daily.

It’s crazy how much technology can change in a relatively short period. Back when I was 16 (holy crap – 10 years ago!), I got my first cell phone, and the most you could do on it was make calls, send texts, and play the occasional game. Nokia was the brand, I believe.

Image credit: sebleedelisle

Nowadays we use smartphones for a myriad of tasks – not just regular communication. Remember when there was no such thing as an App? I sure do. Now it’s not uncommon to see young teens (and even preteens) with an iPhone, or mobile tablet – they’re everywhere.

Web technology has surely changed as well. We’ve gone from just having static HTML websites to full blown, interactive experiences. We can now use websites to track our diets, training, or remind us to pay our bills, among many other things.  Just a few years ago, this wasn’t possible on such a large scale.

While all this technology can make our lives easier, it also hinders us in many ways.

If you’re anything like me, you know how distracting this stuff can get. In fact, while you’re reading this you probably have your electronic mail, Facebook, Twitter, work-related stuff, and other sites open in various tabs (remember when browsers first introduced tabs?).

When you leave your computer, you have your phone or tablet in hand. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and many other apps are just a swipe away.

As a result, there’s no need for a moment free of social media. You can track your workouts, log your macros, post a bathroom self-portrait to Instagram and tell everyone on Twitter where you just relieved yourself.

As you know, all of this can become quite distracting. Even to the point of feeling overwhelmed and like you never get anything done.

If this is you, I’ve been there – way more than I’d like to admit. In fact, I uninstalled Facebook and Twitter from my iPhone over a month ago and haven’t looked back yet.

I was tired of feeling this odd pressure to constantly check on what my friends were doing – almost as if I felt I was going to miss something.

As a result of this experiment, I’ve become more productive and actually less stressed.

On that note, I want to discuss some apps that I use currently for positive habit creation, and goal setting.

There are hundreds of apps that are good for creating habits, and to-do lists, so if you know of any you like, or use, let us know in the comments.

Remember, this is by no means exhaustive, but here’s what I’m currently using.

Streaks – Don’t Break The Chain

This app is currently for iPhone, but there’s also an Android app that’s similar. With this app, you have a calendar, and each day you do something you’ve set out to do, you place an ‘X’ for that day meaning ‘task accomplished.’

This particular screenshot is from my meditation practice that I began on July 1st of this year. In fact, I’ve been practicing daily meditation ever since, and just seeing the streak build up on my phone gave me that extra boost I needed to keep it going so to speak.

The longest streak I held was 63 days. I’ve since allowed myself to slip, and thus broke the chain, but I still practice regularly. If you’re interested in reading about how I went about meditation, read this post.

Practical Fitness Application: use it to reinforce positive habits of being active in some fashion every day – even if that means routine stretching, using bands to loosen up your shoulder girdle, or daily mobility drills.

Being active can be anything from a full blown strength training session to taking a 10 minute break from your computer to walk outside for some fresh air.

The purpose here is to use these streaks as a means to keep you motivated. A little bit each day adds up to a ton over weeks, months, and eventually years.

Start small. Focus on a little bit each day.

Meditation Timer

This is a simple timer where you can set intervals based on how long you want to meditate, so you can focus on being still and present without constantly wondering how long you’ve been sitting.

It even has nice little bell sounds that are soothing to begin and end your sessions.

Fitocracy – Website and App (iPhone + Android is coming soon)

I use this every time I train. In fact, I haven’t logged with pen and paper in about a year. Another really cool thing about Fitocracy is the point system + a community which creates instant feedback and accountability. You can get you form checked, or chat with others who are on a similar fitness journey as yourself.

Practical Fitness Application: You can actually build your routines and use them as templates each time you train, instead of having to continually input individual exercises each session. It’s really handy, and I don’t get a cent for recommending it – it’s just so amazing that I encourage others to use it. I even reference it in LGN365.

Taskify Lite

This app is pretty new to me, but so far I like it. It’s good for creating action items that you need to do. It’s similar to the lists I make on WorkFlowy, but mobile. You can even use WorkFlowy in browser, which I do a lot.

I know this isn’t an exhaustive list of apps to use for habit creation, but I’m pretty simple when it comes to this stuff. Remember the less you have to distract you, the better off you’ll probably be.

Mini-Deadlines Strategy

And now I’ll share with you a little timing strategy I’ve been using as of the last month. While I haven’t been completely consistent with it, I like the results when I practice (even using it as I edit this article).

Basically, I am loosely utilizing what’s called Parkinson’s Law, which basically states if you impose a time limit on a certain task, it will take you that long to do it.

The ultimate goal is to determine the most important tasks, and then schedule them with short, precise deadlines to ensure completion. After you’re done, you can play the rest of the day.

So what I generally do, especially if I’m answering emails, or working on client programming, is set a 20-minute timer. My goal is to get as much done as possible in that 20 minutes. I don’t work so fast that I cut corners, but place ALL of my attention on that task for the given time frame.

No Facebook, no Twitter, nothing else in sight. In fact, to help cut out the idea of opening a time-wasting site, I use SelfControl. I’m sure there has to be a Windows alternative, but I’m an Apple Fan Boy and haven’t had to search for one.

Once the time is up, I stop where I left off, and take a quick break, or work on something different.

When I need to focus on more intense work like an article or ad copy, then I’ll give myself an allotment of 40-50 minutes at a time to work. I find that by making these mini deadlines, I’m more focused and feel like I get more done. It also helps me be more deliberate with my work and mindful of the current moment (it’s all we have after all).

Practical Fitness Application: You can even use this for your training sessions. I’ve been known to let myself get caught up on chatting too much, or I’ll get a text/email on my phone when I’m listening to my tunes, and get caught up in responding… So what should be a 45-minute session ends up being a 75-minute session.

The way I combat this (almost every time I train) is to turn off all notifications, and then set the timer for however long I want to train. This way I can still have my tunes/media on, but it doesn’t distract me. Alternatively, you could just leave the phone at home, but again – I love to use Fitocracy for tracking.

And finally, here’s an app I am really excited about, but it seems they’ve been in development for some time.

I signed up for Evr.st months ago, and I think they’re about to release it. In fact, I got an email tonight asking me to input some goals I’d like to work on for 2013. According to their email, it will be released this month.

I won’t hold my breath, because it’s been a while, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what psychology they use with their UI/UX.

Wrapping Up

Remember this: you don’t need fancy apps, or some special calendar to help you stay on track when you’re creating these new habits.

However, a majority of us are using this technology already, so we may as well make the best use of it all.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”
— Aristotle

 

Comments

  1. Clement says

    I must agree that apps have certainly helped make fitness easier for us all.

    I myself use a few select apps in my “fitness” folder on my iPhone:

    1. Myfitnesspal – the barcode scanner makes it so easy to track my daily intake. I use the macronutrient function to monitor my adherence to carb backloading as well.

    2. Fitocracy – to track workouts and stalk people’s fitness lives

    3. 5/3/1 – I use the calculator to figure out my numbers for me. So awesome.

    I like the idea of Streaks. I’m actually starting one to make sure I drink at least 3L of water per day, sleep 8 hours per night and stop visiting the snacks bar at work. I’m at 3 days and counting.

    Thanks for the review!

  2. says

    Great ideas for productivity here, JC. I’ll have to check out some of those apps.

    Personally I’ve found that simply using a calendar (I use iCal) and writing down a few “Most Important Tasks” to be completed each day really helps ensure they get done, even if I only have an hour or two to work.

  3. says

    Great post man. Another great task management app is Wunderlist. They have a great support system and also do regular updates. Keeps me sane. :)

    - Armi

  4. Taylor says

    I loved this article JC. However there is one app that I think deserves a mention and that app is Myfitnesspal. It’s also great for accountability as you can form up streaks just like in the streaks app. except its tracking diet. I owe my ever improving body composition to this app.

    TY

  5. says

    Hi J.C.
    I’m interested in trying out the app for streaks. I have a crazy list of 100 things I want to do everyday to promote health in my life, and it would be great to see how long I could keep that up.
    Impressed you meditate.
    The Evr.st app looks like it’ll be pretty sweet. I will check out the link to that one.
    I agree with Trevor, great content here. :-)

  6. Trevor says

    Great article JC, good way to follow up the first one. I like the use of phone apps to help you stay organized, but I can also agree with you that things like facebook and twitter on a phone not only act as a distraction but a severe damage to people’s ability to interact with other people. Looking at how you have the streak app as a way to visually show progress, I can say methods like that do help. Every time I have a goal weight I want to hit I start tracking my daily weight on an excel sheet. I don’t pay too much attention to short term results, but when a few month have gone by I make a graph with the dates and weights and the visual confirmation of a chart or graph always gives me a solid chunk of satisfaction and motivation too keep going.

    Keep it up JC, your articles always have great content

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