How to Help Your Members Build Habits

With a new year, comes new year resolutions. Sadly, most of your members won’t achieve their fitness resolutions. So how can you help? This article explores reasons why people fail to form habits and how you can help.

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So many of us, myself included, make a resolution each year to lose weight, get back into the gym, put on some muscle, start running again, or whatever it might be. Most of us, however, don’t stick with it for long. The sad truth is, most of us won’t achieve our new year resolution. Most of us don’t break our resolution into smaller goals, or just aren’t disciplined enough to do what we need to do and don’t hold ourselves accountable. But in the end, in comes down to not forming the right habits.

In this article, we will be looking at how to help your members build habits so that they can get superior results at your gym and just maybe achieve their new year resolutions.

The Importance of Building Habits

To be successful at any given task, you need to be consistent. If you want the perfect home, then you need to clean it regularly, invest in its upkeep, and look for ways to improve it in the future. Sadly, there are few tasks that don’t require constant maintenance.

Exercise and eating healthily are two perfect examples of things that need to be maintained constantly, your whole life! To do that, you need to turn these tasks into daily habits. Brushing your teeth is a great example of something that most of us do automatically twice a day without fail, without even really thinking about it.

The task is easy to do, and it doesn’t put any stress or strain onto our day. Which is funny, because if you brush (and floss) twice per day that’s roughly ten minutes of your life. Seventy minutes each week, 280 minutes per month, and 61 hours each year.

We spend more time brushing our teeth than the average person spends exercising! Yet it’s pretty much automatic. The reason? It has become a habit, after years and years of being told to do something by our parents, we now do it automatically.

Same thing with having a shower each day, getting dressed, making our bed, doing laundry. All of these tasks are objectively boring and take up more time than we think, but all of them get done (at least most of the time).

Talk to people who are suffering from depression, and they often describe finding these tasks incredibly draining. Which may sound crazy to you, but when you really think about it, it’s not surprising. Depression affects motivation, which can stop your common daily habits from feeling automatic, suddenly they feel like the chores that they are.

A lot of companies and health professionals have cottoned on to the fact that building habits is crucial to success, and that adding in new habits is a great way to improve your life. This is as true of exercise as it is anything else.

Sadly, establishing new habits can be incredibly difficult, and many people fail. So, let’s first take a look at why people fail to establish habits.

Why People Fail to Establish Habits

There are seven main reasons why most people fail to establish new habits. In this section we will take a look at each reason and suggest a way for you to rectify it.

Reason #1: Lack of measurement

Your perception of how well you are doing is a terrible way to measure success or failure. There are too many biases at play. Confirmation bias can make us see failure or success even when everyone else is telling us the exact opposite.

That’s why you need some form of baseline score at the beginning, and continuing measurements as you go along. This way you can actually see how you are progressing. Fitness tracking is a great tool for measuring progress. Providing fitness tracking as an amenity could be something worth considering for your gym.

Reason #2: Unrealistic goals

Anyone who has worked in the fitness industry will be aware of people setting unrealistic goals for themselves, and everyone has a story. Perhaps it’s the young woman who signed up for a marathon and is climbing onto a cross trainer for the first time with six weeks to go. Or it’s the guy who wants to lose 20 lbs in time for his holiday that’s just four weeks away.

Training with unrealistic goals means that you will either have to accept that you are going to fail or work so much harder than you would like to that you’re successful but completely burnt out.

Neither option is going to lead to long term success, and that is why unrealistic goals are so unhelpful for new members. Helping new members to create realistic goals that’re achievable early on will encourage them to keep working hard and might just be the difference between an early cancellation and a long-term member.

Reason #3: No short-term goals

How many new year resolutions that you’ve heard sound like this: “I’m going to go to the gym more” or “I’m going to run a marathon this year”? That’s great, but then how many follow it up with, “…at least once a week for the first 3 months” or “…starting with a 5k in March.” All too few, right?

To improve the chances of achieving goals like running a marathon, you need to set short-terms goals that contribute to the long-term goal. Not just early wins, like we’ll talk about next, but also goals along every step of the way.

You’ll want these goals to be specific, sustainable, and fit the timeline of your long-term goal.  They will serve as milestones on the roadmap to achieving the long-term goal.

Reason #4: Not enough early wins

If you’ve read our article on how gamification can help your gym members to succeed, then you will already know the importance of celebrating small wins early on. Think of any video game, you start off with a very easy level that rewards you for doing small tasks. Then, as you progress through the game, the difficulty becomes harder, and the rewards become rarer.

This is all based on human psychology, you need those dopamine hits early on to help you stay focused. After a while, you require these little wins less because the habit has already been established. Using a fitness app that employs gamification is a great way to build new exercise habits.

Reason #5: Poor long term planning

You don’t need to have the next 20 years of your life planned out in minute detail to succeed in fitness, but you do need to have some idea of what you want to achieve and when. Your long-term goals should still be quantifiable and include a broader timeline.

Short term planning is critical to establishing a roadmap and eventually habits, but those habits should also fit into your lifestyle. Anyone can give up carbs for six weeks, but is this habit healthy and sustainable in the long term? Not really, it is too restrictive, too difficult, and has no discernible benefit when compared to a regular diet. This is a classic example of poor long-term planning. Something that can also massively apply to workout programming. The solution is to schedule periodic induction meetings with new members so that you can help them establish the right habits.

Reason #6: Habits don’t suit lifestyle

This is perhaps the most common reason why people fail to establish new habits, and it is one of the hardest to deal with. Humans for the most part hate change. We lead a certain lifestyle, and whether we like that lifestyle or not, it is hard to break out of. There are many people who smoke five times per day, who no longer enjoy smoking. There are people who stay in jobs they hate for decades, because they are afraid to change their lifestyle.

Many people who join gyms try to drastically change their lifestyle all in one go. They set their alarm clock to 5am rather than 8am. They give up caffeine, they stop eating carbs, they start eating kale. These changes are too much too soon, and that’s why they often last less than four weeks. Some people don’t even make it to five days.

The problem is that these habits do not suit their lifestyle, and realistically the person doesn’t see themselves performing them for the next decade of their life.

Instead, people should be picking habits that fit into their current lifestyle. If you currently get up at 8am, then getting up at 7am is a better fit. Or getting up at 8am as usual and training after work. Giving up all carbs is crazy, but what about reducing carbs at breakfast? Or just measuring your portions better in the evening?

Giving up caffeine is drastic, but what about cutting down from four cups of coffee per day, to two cups and two cups of decaf? Make the goals smaller and more manageable so that they are less disruptive to your normal life.

But how do you get your gym members to understand this? There are plenty of ways to encourage this behaviour. You can setup induction meetings, hold seminars, offer rewards, publish educational content, etc. A great option is to gamify your gym experience. Using gamification techniques to encourage and sustain small changes is proven highly effective in behavioural change.

Reason #7: Not enough accountability

Discipline is one of the values the military has at its core. Special forces such as U.S. Army Rangers or Navy SEALs attribute their high level of performance and success rate to discipline. This is developed through years of extreme accountability for their actions.

Naturally, you shouldn’t hold your new members to the same kind of accountability as Navy SEALs, but the point is: when you apply consistent accountability, you instill discipline. When your instill discipline, you are enforcing good behaviour. In the long-term, that consistent behaviour becomes habit. So why not apply the same concept to your new gym members?

As mentioned throughout this article, making a plan with your members as part of their induction and periodically checking in makes it easier to hold your members accountable. Set short-term goals, check to see they are making progress, and hold them accountable if they stop putting in the work.

If you keep track of gym visits for your members, and one missed a few weeks, the next time you see him or her, give a playful nudge “haven’t seen you in a while, what happened?” it’s likely they had a good reason for ghosting the gym, but the simple fact that you’re holding them accountable might influence them to be more consistent. Another approach could be “I see your induction check-up is in 2 weeks, I can’t wait to see how much progress you’ve made toward the goals we talked about.” This might just motivate them to keep working hard in anticipation of their check-up.

The more you hold your members accountable, the more likely they become disciplined and start to form habits. Once they form some habits, they are more likely to stay with your gym longer.

How to Help your Members Build Habits

As you can see, most of these issues can be fixed by communicating with your members during their first week. Most gyms offer an induction to new members where they are shown around the equipment and given a basic program. But what should also be included and is often not, is helping them set reasonable goals, managing expectations, and working out some daily habits that they could start.

It would take 30 minutes to do, max. It could also help to massively increase the longevity of your member’s time at the gym. Getting them to sign up to a gym-based fitness tracker and app is another great way to improve their habit building, particularly if it uses gamification.

Investing this time in establishing new members will really pay dividends over the years, as members who successfully build habits will inevitably stay at your gym for longer, get better results, and be happy to recommend your business to friends and family.

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