Habit Change and Battleship: One Hit at a Time

Taking a cue from a favorite board game may help us discover a path to successful health and fitness changes.

My clients are generally successful women. Most run their own businesses or are well into a long career in law, marketing, or sales. Like most women I know, they have a lot of responsibilities toward their families, careers, and communities. They have perfected the art of multi-tasking and juggling.

These women (and men!) often approach weight loss in the same manner as the rest of their pursuits. This approach isn’t bad, especially if it’s an approach that has worked in the rest of their lives. You know that approach- lean in, dig deep, and grind it out, right? Multi-tasking the problem isn’t necessarily the most effective approach, even if you’re really good at it.

For real change that we can actually see and measure, we have to act like scientists. When we try to change more than one variable at a time, we can’t know which thing we tried worked. As Coach Steveo of Habitry explained, “In 1000+ clients, I have rarely seen a failure of willpower but I have seen 10,000 failures of focus.”

It can take a while for busy, successful people to come around to the idea of doing one habit at a time. It’s not glamorous, and it doesn’t even sound like you’re working hard. Both are true. Ask yourself: do you really need one more task that requires hard work, or are you okay with doing things the “easy way”?

Even still, many people (myself included!) try to sneak in more than one habit change at a time. They want to focus on eating at meals only AND prepping all their food for the week. Sometimes this works, but more often it doesn’t. And even if it did work, how can we tell which action gave us the most results?

The best analogy I gave one of my clients was comparing their habit changes to the old board game Battleship. You know the one where you try to sink the other person’s ships? I asked them, “If you were playing Battleship and you got a hit, what would be the next play you would make?”

Most people answer that they would continue to attack the area of that hit. Just to be a pain, I sometimes follow up with “Ok, so you wouldn’t call out G9 when you just got a hit in A4?” And then they look at me like I’m a little crazy because what I’m saying sounds like a pretty lame strategy.

Sinking habits, one hit at a time. Photo: Flickr/Derek Gavey

Going after G9 when you’ve gotten traction in the A column or Row 4 sounds crazy. If you’re getting good traction with your “eating meals only” habit, it can be distracting to start working on a meal planning habit. But it is so easy to do because the way in which we live our lives is so focused on tackling as many things as possible.

Eating well, getting fitter, and living a healthier lifestyle can be a struggle for many. We need to put our scientist mindset and step away from the temptation to throw in another variable. The most important thing to assess is whether what we are doing now is working. If not, then adjust your direction or focus. If it’s working, keep going in the SAME direction.

Once you get a “hit” in a habit practice and find something that works for you, keep focusing your effort at that area. Once you have exhausted the benefits, it’s time to move on. Sooner than you think, you’re winning at your goal.

Susan Ogilvie coaches health and fitness changes with her clients online and the metro Detroit area. Find out more at www.sofitwellness.com.

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