by Tony Gjokaj February 22, 2020 5 min read

“I fear not the man that practiced 10,000 kicks one, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."

- Bruce Lee

Sometimes I'll go into a gym and be so focused that I don't even say "hello" to the same people that habitually workout at the same time as me. Towards the end of my workout, I realize that I've been in my own zone for over an hour. This is discipline. 

Discipline is defined as training oneself to do something in a habitual way. Since I've been resistance training for a decade (essentially putting thousands of hours into it), it has become second nature to me.

Some of us might understand this in fitness, while others understand it in their careers or other hobbies. However: how do we get to that point where we can turn a new habit into a long-lasting discipline?

I wanted to give you our own specific "theory" on habit-building by taking some neurological research and applying it behind the sciences of habit.

The Science of Habit

We are a byproduct of our habits - consciously or subconsciously.

We have discussed the science of habit-building on multiple blog posts, yet we have never dived into the deep neurological processes of how our brain thinks and operates. This is what we will be talking about in this section.

A prime opportunity According to Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, there are two systems of thinking for the brain: what he calls System 1 and System 2. You can read an excerpt of the book here.

System 1

Have you ever driven home without realizing how you got there? That is the System 1 part of our brain in action. System 1 is instinctive, quick responding, and emotional. It is the lazy system in our brain.

We theorize that we can alter some of System 1's processes by building a habit through hours of practice. A habit is a byproduct of repetition and consistency. You know when you're at that point when it is instinctive or a gut-feeling.

A habit is a byproduct of repeating System 2 processes.

System 2 

Remember you on your first week of getting hired at that new job? There was so much to learn that you were so exhausted when you came home that your brain literally could not think. This has everything to do with our System 2 brain.

System 2 is the more rational and logical part of our brain. Our brain expends a lot of energy trying to solve complex problems or learn new things. This is where brain fog kicks in - where willpower goes out the window at times.

Remember our previous driving example? Now remember when we first started driving: we needed to concentrate on the road... and our parents were so concentrated on us so that we didn't crash. Both required the deliberate thinking of the System 2 brain. You are tired from focusing so much. Your parents are tired from having an internal panic-attack from you driving terribly.

In health and fitness, learning new things requires a lot of research and practice. Watching exercise "How-To" videos can get as mentally exhausting as putting them into practice.

Remember though: System 2 allows us to modify our thinking with System 1. We can turn new hobbies into habits (System 1) by consistently doing them.

The Challenge of Habit-Building

Now that you know about System 1 and System 2 parts of your brain, you can see where things can get complicated when trying to build new habits. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Trying to learn multiple things at once is not effective. Since learning new tasks requires us to expend more energy, it is important to optimize by learning one new thing and building a habit through repetitious practice.
  • As mentioned before, System 2 can burn through willpower and motivation. After a long and complex day at work, you might not have the willpower to work out or resist that sugar craving you have.
  • When starting a new diet or exercise program, you will be more mentally exhausted than others who have been at it for a while. It's not just your body that's exhausted, it's your brain as well. You pain in BOTH your mind and body when you start exercising or trying a new training style.
  • You can understand why most people fail their New Years Resolutions. System 1 doesn't want to change. System 2 does. It's a war between the parts of your brain and System 1 typically wins because it's mentally easier.

In just these bullet points, you can see that your brain is against you. It doesn't want you to try new things, it wants you to habitually do what you've been doing. 

"One of the tasks of System 2 is to overcome the impulses of System 1. In other words, System 2 is in charge of self-control."

- Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Your System 1 brain is literally your relative that's set in their old-fashioned ways. Your System 2 brain is you with the new innovative ideas that you haven't put into practice yet. You need to take action and show your System 1 that this is the way of things now.

Putting It Into Practice

Inputting what we learned into practice, here are a few things we should keep in mind:

  • The System 1 brain is backed by habits: it requires less energy to expend. It's lazy.
  • The System 2 brain is one of logic and deliberation. It requires a lot of energy to expend - this is especially so when trying to do new things.
  • Your System 1 brain is against you building new habits. It won't support you. Understand that new habits are really hard to get into for everyone. You need to keep persisting.
  • Adherence is an important thing to have. If you can stick with that specific diet or training program, building a habit will be significantly easier. If not, tweak a few things or even try some other activities that interest you.

Final Thoughts

I hope understanding the System 1 and System 2 parts of our brains helps you build a foundation for forging new habits. We wanted to give you a starting point by helping you understand habit-building and our brain's way of thinking.

We hope this blog post might give you more confidence to push forward more than ever before with your training and exercise. In understanding this as well, you can apply the System 1 and System 2 theory when creating other habits for yourself.

Our goal at Reforged is mastery of the mind and body. Understanding this is the starting point to getting there.

If you have any questions, comments, or other insight, feel free to comment below. We are always looking to engage in exciting conversations.

Remember that legends are forged in the fires of desire.

Until next time Reforged Legion! 

Tony Gjokaj
Tony Gjokaj

Tony is the Owner of Reforged Performance Nutrition. He is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and has been in the fitness space for over a decade. His goal is to help bridge the gap between physical & mental health through fitness.

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