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Book Review: “Atomic Habits” for Triathletes

Book Review: “Atomic Habits” for Triathletes

“Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” by James Clear is for those, including triathletes, who wish to create new, performance-enhancing habits. It is also for those who want to eliminate destructive habits.

In the Introduction to the book, Mr. Clear shares a powerful case study involving the British Cycling team. By applying the principles in this book, the team went from a perennial loser on the world stage during the 20th and early 21st centuries to the dominant competitor from 2007 to 2017.

During this ten-year period, British cyclists earned 178 world championships and sixty-six Olympic or Paralympic gold medals. They also won five Tour de France races.

This is the first example of many that highlights how so-called atomic habits have been used to improve fitness training, running, and personal and professional development efforts.

Following are my takeaways from the book, from the perspective of a triathlete.

What are ‘Atomic Habits’?

Atomic habits are regular activities or routines that, while small (hence the word ‘atomic’) and easy to do, provide significant impact (also related to ‘atomic’) on a process. Repeating these over time (as a habit) leads to a compounding effect.

According to James Clear, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them.”1

Developing the habit of consistent, regular and structured training is an example of an atomic habit related to triathlon.

How to Develop Positive ‘Atomic Habits’

“Atomic Habits” summarizes the approach to developing new, performance-enhancing habits in a two-step process:

  • Determine the person you want to be and how you want to be defined.
  • Take small actions that prove that you are this person. Repeat these actions.

Related post: Book Review: The New Psycho-Cybernetics

Rather than focusing on the action you want to achieve (such as to complete an Olympic-distance triathlon), the approach described in “Atomic Habits” starts with defining yourself in terms of the person who will achieve the goal.

In the triathlon example, the person makes the subtle but important change to define him/herself as an Olympic triathlete. From here, the triathlete develops a training plan, eating habits, sleep behaviors, and so on (the process) consistent with an Olympic-distance triathlete.

The new habits develop through a four-step process detailed in the book and described in the first column of the table below.

StepMakes object of a good habitMakes object of a bad habit
CueObviousInvisible
CravingAttractiveUnattractive
ResponseEasyDifficult
RewardSatisfyingUnsatisfying

James Clear also describes ways to make sure the new habit sticks. These include habit stacking (combining an existing positive habit with the desired new habit), changing the environment, and reframing a habit (from “I have to go for a run” to “I get to go out into the fresh air and improve my heart health”).

You will also learn about the Diderot Effect and the Goldilocks Rule and how these can support building new habits.

Be Patient, New Habits Require Time

It often takes time to make new habits part of our new-normal routine. Mr. Clear cautions us to be wary in how we interpret the results as we work to develop new habits.

The tendency is to expect linear results. For example, in my training, I expect to see consistent (linear) reductions in my 5k time as I restart running after a break. However, this is not the way results typically come.

The graph of Results vs. Time below shows Mr. Clear’s representation of our expectations and experience as we build new habits.

Figure 1: Plateau of Latent Potential from page 22 of “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.

While we expect linear results, results are non-linear. The gap between the expected and actual results creates what Clear calls a “Valley of Disappointment”.

Seeing this graph for the first time created an ‘Aha-moment’. My experiences in run training definitely follow this, one reason that patience is so important. When impatience wins, I will try to speed up the results by training harder or longer. The result is usually injury and longer recovery time.

Summary

Our beliefs and the views of ourself can be engaged to drive processes that help us achieve our goals. Focusing on becoming the person we want to be can lead to greater performance than had we focused on the goal. Atomic habits help us become who we want to be and perform at a higher level.

For More Information About “Atomic Habits”

“Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” is available in print and audio versions at Amazon.com by clicking the link or picture below.

You can also see the text for free by clicking here.

Throughout the book, James Clear refers to resources on his website for creating atomic habits. Please checkout the website at https://jamesclear.com/.

Follow the links below to purchase “Atomic Habits” on Amazon.com.

  1. Clear, James, “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones”, Avery, 1st edition (October 16, 2018), p. 17.)
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Which Triathlon Has Been Your Favorite?

Which Triathlon Has Been Your Favorite?

You have probably been asked about your favorite triathlon, especially if you have completed even a few of them.

First, a little background. I did my first triathlon on my doctor’s advice to lose weight and become more fit. However, as I have done more triathlons, spending time with family and friends through these and experiencing the USA from the perspective of triathlon have grown in importance.

Nevertheless, after my first triathlon, there have been a few races that have been particularly memorable. Following are my top five.

Favorite Triathlons for Family Connections

#1 First Triathlon with Our Daughter and Youngest Son

Our youngest son, Ben, and his wife Lindsey along with our daughter, Liza, and her husband Scott joined me in completing the 2014 Maple Grove Triathlon.

picture of family members who competed with me in the 2014 Maple Grove Triathlon
Completing a triathlon with family members makes for a memorable day!

#2 Colorado Triathlon

The Colorado triathlon was fraught with challenges. Nevertheless, it was the one opportunity I had to participate in a triathlon in front of my parents.

Terry with parents at IHOP
Enjoying ice cream and memories with my parents. Photo courtesy of Joy.

#3 Wyoming Triathlon

The Wyoming triathlon was memorable for two reasons. First, it was the last time we would see Joy’s aunt Evelyn. She passed away shortly thereafter.

It also provided my ’15 minutes of fame’ as a local newspaper writer interviewed me and published a story about our Triathlon Across the USA quest (see below).

Gillette-News-Record-article-about-Razor-City-Splash-and-Dash-Triathlon
Gillette News Record article about the Razor City Splash & Dash Triathlon

Most Memorable Races

#4 First Crash

During the Rhode Island triathlon, a slow leak in my front tire led to a crash that left my right arm and leg bleeding. Thankfully, a bike maintenance aid arrived shortly after I had started to replace the tube. He completed the repair and I finished the race.

#5 First Podium Finish

In my first triathlon, I learned about the importance of having the right bike to race competitively. Before my second triathlon two months later, I purchased a triathlon specific bike.

Thanks to a competitive bike split in this race, I finished third in my age group in this second triathlon.

Ranking to Find Your Favorite Triathlon

Early in my discussions with Laurent Labbe, I asked about his favorite races. Being a technical guy, he answered with a spreadsheet for rating the long course triathlons he had completed.

The table below illustrates Laurent’s approach for ranking triathlons.

spreadsheet showing Laurent Labbe's approach to ranking triathlons he has completed.
Laurent Labbe’s approach to evaluating and ranking triathlons.

Laurent’s approach is quite detailed. His quantifies the quality, difficulty, and aesthetics of the course for each of the three legs. He also rates the overall management and race location.

Ranking Factors

  • Management (‘Mgmt’) – The following factors all lead to higher rankings in the various Management categories:
    • easy check-in and packet pickup
    • orderly swim start
    • clear marking of the bike and run courses
    • bike and run courses that are completely closed to traffic; even partly closed courses are better than those on which motor vehicles are near racers.
    • plenty of volunteer support
    • high quality food and drink on the course and after the race
    • prompt communication with racers before, during, and after the triathlon
  • Ease – This ranking relates to the race course. A low score in this category comes from high waves on the swim course and high wind or steep hills on the bike and run courses.
  • Layout – A single lap course is much preferred to one with two or more laps. The greater the number of laps in each of the legs, the lower the ranking in this category.
  • Overall Location – This relates to the cost and ease of getting to and from the race, the ease of arranging lodging, and the quality and diversity of food.
  • Ambiance – This scores factors such as the natural beauty of the race venue and friendliness of the people.
  • Overall Ranking – This number is derived from the product of the other rankings.

Knowing that family is important to Laurent, I imagine that any race involving his sons or daughter will have higher rankings.

Laurent Labbe and his oldest son on the beach in front of the swim course at the Strongman All Japan Triathlon.
Laurent Labbe and his oldest son on the beach in front of the swim course at the Strongman All Japan Triathlon. Picture courtesy of Laurent Labbe.

What Has Been Your Favorite Triathlon?

Tell us about your favorite races leaving a comment below. If for any reason you have difficulty leaving a comment, please email us at seniortriathletes@gmail.com.

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Book Review: The New Psycho-Cybernetics

by Terry VanderWert 0 Comments

“The New Psycho-Cybernetics” is an updated edition of a book that has sold over 30 million copies since being originally published in 1960.  The time-tested ideas originally put forth by Dr. Maxwell Maltz have become the basis for personal development, education, sales training, and sports coaching .

cover of the New Psycho-Cybernetics

About the Author

Dr. Maxwell Maltz began his career in a field of medicine sometimes called cosmetic surgery or plastic surgery.  Early in his career, Dr. Maltz learned the tremendous impact that cosmetic surgery could have on a person’s performance.  He saw “F” students becoming “straight A” students after surgery.  He saw shy, insecure people become confident and extroverted with even minor surgery.  This led to him publishing “New Faces, New Futures” in 1936.

Through continued work in cosmetic surgery, Dr. Maltz came to realize that cosmetic surgery alone could not change a person’s performance.  There needed to be a corresponding change in self-image.

This was the genesis of psycho-cybernetics.

 

What is Psycho-Cybernetics?

To be transparent, I am not a believer in self-help, ‘you-can-do-anything-on-which-you-set-your-mind’ philosophies that too many authors promote.

Psycho-cybernetics is different.  Psycho-cybernetics defines our ability to achieve goals or a desired level of performance in terms of a “goal-striving servo-mechanism consisting of the brain and nervous system, which is used and directed by the mind” (quote from “The New Psycho-Cybernetics”).

In the industrial world, a servo-mechanism is part of an automated machine.  The servo-mechanism causes the machine to zero in on its target through a series of measurements of position and corrections to the path as it makes its way toward the goal.  The example of a servo-mechanism used in the book is a guided missile.  The guided-missile works by locking onto its target and continuously adjusting its trajectory en route to its target.

The goals you attempt to communicate to this servo-mechanism must first pass through a filter of the individual’s self-image.  If the self-image is negative, results of the servo-mechanism will be negative or, at least, less than ideal.  Just as a faulty sensor can cause the guided-missile to miss its target, a negative self-image will lead to less than ideal performance.

Or, think about setting up to hit a golf ball over a water hazard when you are sure the ball will end up in the water.  More than likely, it will.  (The book contains many examples of psycho-cybernetics applied to golf.)

The good news is that the converse is also true – a positive, accurate self-image will promote positive results.


How is Psycho-Cybernetics Relevant to Triathlon Training?

There are at least three ways that we can apply psycho-cybernetics to preparing for and racing in a triathlon.

 

Believing You Can Succeed

As noted above, our self-image is the filter through which our built-in servo mechanism views our goals.   For me, consistent, structured training gives me a positive self-image and confidence that I can complete a race.  The more races I have completed, the more confident I have become that I will finish any race.

Think about being whacked on the head or yelled at during an open water swim.  A positive self-image will help us brush off these challenges and focus on finishing the race.   A negative self-image will set us back or cause some to drop out of the race.

 

Visualizing Stronger Performance

Dr. Maltz cites a study that reveals the power of visualization.

Researchers studied the performance of three groups of students in shooting free throws.    Their assignments and results on day 20 were:

  • Group 1 – Practiced shooting free throws every day for 20 days.  The result on Day 20 was 24% more free throws made compared to Day 1.
  • Group 2 – Did not practice; shot free throws on Days 1 and 20 only.  The result on Day 20 was no improvement over Day 1.
  • Group 3 – Shot free throws on Days 1 and 20; on days 2-19, students visualized throwing free throws and correcting their aim when they missed. The result on Day 20 was 23% more free throws made compared to Day 1.

The group that visualized shooting free throws improved as much as those who actually shot free throws each day.

Admittedly, shooting free throws is not an endurance sport.  However, we can still improve our performance in triathlon by visualizing certain activities in transition.  Some even say they rehearse, or visualize, how they will respond to the inevitable contact during an open water swim or to pain that sometimes occur during a race. 

Not Letting Others Define You

Albert Einstein’s colleagues considered him to be a daydreamer and even “dumb” at mathematics.  Fortunately, he did not let their opinion affect his success.

Some may consider us to be too old to take on a new challenge such as a first triathlon or even longer distance.  Or they may consider our goals to become a stronger athlete to be pointless.

Don’t let another human limit you.

 

In Case You Choose to Read or Listen to “The New Psycho-Cybernetics”

There is a good possibility that your local library has a copy of “The New Psycho-Cybernetics”.  I first consumed this material through an audio version of the book downloaded from our local library to my smartphone.

However, if you want to purchase a copy of the book or audiobook, you can do so at Amazon.com using the link below.

Disclaimer: Please note that SeniorTriathletes.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.  This is an affiliate advertising program that provide a way for sites to earn advertising fees.  They do this by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Amazon, the Amazon logo, AmazonSupply, and the AmazonSupply logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.  As an affiliate, I will receive a small commission for any purchases of this product that you make through Amazon.

 

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Favorite Swim Training Tools & Gear

Favorite Swim Training Tools & Gear
FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro

What if you are not from a swimming background though want to be more competitive in the triathlon swim? One answer is to add more structure to your swim training.

I Want To Be A More Competitive Swimmer

There are many triathletes whose goal for the swim is to “just get through it so that I can get on the bike”.

I am not one of these.

Swimming is enjoyable to me. I have spent many hours reading books and blog posts and watching videos about swimming in order to be a faster swimmer. I have also gotten advice from my son, a former college swimmer, on how to improve my swim.

As with most sports, improvement comes by developing better technique, a more efficient form, greater full body strength, and aerobic fitness.

Increasing Stroke Rate Using the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro

According to Swim Smooth, there is an ideal relationship between swim speed (time per 100 m) and swim stroke rate (strokes per minute). A swimming stroke that is too high (RED zone) hints at too short a stroke. On the other hand, a slow stroke rate typically indicates too much glide with each stroke and a tendency to create a hand position in the latter part of the stroke that causes one to slow.

My swim currently falls in the upper left portion of the BLUE region. Using my FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro, I am training to increase my stroke rate while paying close attention to the catch phase.

Graph showing the ideal stroke rate for various times for swimming 100 meters.
The ideal range for swim speed vs. stroke rate chart is in white between the blue (too low stroke rate) and red (too high stroke rate). Source: Swim Smooth

About the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro

The FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro is a waterproof metronome. The choice of one of its three modes depends on the training plan. For example, one mode allow you to set a time per lap for use with interval training.

I set the device to transmit an audible tone for each of the strokes in the targeted pace. For example, I set the Trainer to beep every 1.0 second for a stroke rate of 60 strokes per minute.

The pace is adjustable in 1/100th of a second increments giving plenty of resolution for every situation.

The small, waterproof device easily secures beneath a swim cap and transmits a clearly heard, audible beep. It floats in water to help avoid it being lost in the pool or open water.

The Tempo Trainer Pro also comes with a clip for ‘dryland’ training. For example, it is used in bike (cadence) and run (foot turnover rate) training.

The FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro includes a replaceable battery. I have had the device for more than five years and replaced the battery one time by taking it to a local BatteriesPlus store.

My journey toward becoming a better swimmer continues by working to increase my stroke rate. With strength training and more structured time in the water, I am confident that I will be more competitive in the triathlon swim.

You can find the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro at SwimOutlet.com

Or at Amazon.com

Check Back Next Month for Reviews of Other Swim Tools

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