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What is physical literacy?
January 17, 2018
What is Physical Literacy? Physical Literacy is a term gaining currency to help promote the need for children to be given the opportunities to move. Physical education has been squeezed out of the school curriculum, competitive sports have taken over and many children are disheartened and therefore disengaged. “Partly through lack of sufficient activity some children […]

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How to change habits: part 3

“Good habits formed at youth make all the difference”

habitsAristotle gets it right again. In the 2 previous blogs we have looked at the importance of lifestyle in athletes’ lives and how to use goal setting to set plans.

Today we will look at some useful tools that can help change your goals into habits.

Specific is best

The more specific you can get, the more accountable you will become as it is easy to measure whether you have done what you said you would.

Eating right” is vague. “Eating breakfast every day” is better. “Eating a breakfast that consists of organically reared chicken eggs, spinach soup and flaxseeds that have been harvested by a Zen monk on the slopes of Everest” might be a bit too much to start.

Getting 8 hours sleep” might seem specific, but it is dependent on other factors.”Getting into bed by 1030 every night, switching off all screen devices at 1000” is better.


5 a dayThe next thing to do is to get yourself organised. If your goal is to “eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day” then you had best make sure you go shopping so that you have them in the house. That goal is easier to achieve with an apple on your desk than without.

That is why online shopping is useful: you can just leave your favourites entered so you never forget.

If your goal is to “run 2 miles every morning” then you had best have an alarm clock, wet weather clothes and a pair of running shoes.

A smartphone app  such as runkeeper is also useful to help plan your training runs (special report here)


It takes about 21 days of continuous effort for a task to become a habit. If you break this down into 3 x 1 week sections, then it suddenly becomes very achievable.

In order to get this done use our Checklist pdf (here) to write down your set of tasks that you want to get done this week. Set yourself a reward for the end of the week once you have managed to do them for 7 days in a row.

Do that for 3 weeks and you suddenly have a new habit formed.

For example:

My last 3 weeks were set for “5 Healthy behaviours” which included: daily flossing, static stretch in evening for 15 minutes pre bed time; walk 30 mins a day; 5 portions of fruit and veg a day; pre breakfast exercise routine of 8 mins.

I fell off the waggon twice, but got back on it and now all those little things have become habits.

The next set was: no alcohol (quite easy); eat Vit D / fish oil capsule each day (easy); avoid foods with processed sugar (very hard).

For BHAGs, which take longer to organise and achieve, you might try Day Zero which has a 1001 day (about 2.75 years) count down tool. Here you can plan bigger projects or challenges and break them down into manageable chunks.

Where would you like to be in 1001 days time?


Don’t try and do this on your own. Let other people know what you are doing, get the household engaged (don’t bore your team mates with the “I am eating lichen after my foam roller conditioning session” though), and write it down.

This means having the family support your efforts (note to wife coming home with chocolate digestives!) and hold you accountable accordingly.

I use Habitforge which is a free online tool for reminding you about your tasks for 21 days at a time. It also allows you to share and be accountable with people who have similar goals.

Fatsecrets (hate the name, but good tool) is good for any food/ diet related goals. You can monitor food and exercise and it also reminds you of weigh in dates or other goals. You can share this with friends too who can help you keep on track.


chocolateI know that “success is its own reward” but think of the rewards as milestones. Every week or 3 weeks have a reward scheduled; but not a destructive one.

For example, if you are “doing my knee exercises daily” then the reward could be going to the cinema.

If your goal is “cut out chocolate” then the reward shouldn’t be “a chocolate orange” (I find it weird that people who can manage 6 weeks of behaviour change in Lent ruin it all in a chocolate binge over Easter).


  • By making small incremental changes over time, you can achieve your big goal.
  • Conversely, your big training goal is unlikely to be achieved if your lifestyle is detrimental to the overall plan.
  • Habits and behaviours take time to form. Recognise this and think of how many “3 weeks of modifcations” you can fit into a year.
  • Change things one at a time, or along a theme (i.e healthy behaviours, sleep, breakfast, warm ups).
  • Recognise that you will not succeed all the time, but it isn’t a catastrophe, get back on to it, or find the reason why you keep failing at it (lack of sleep might be due to your facebook addiction).
  • As a coach, help your athletes along the way and be patient.

(Those of you on the Sports Training System and those being coached have access to more resources to help).


  1. […] may seem a bit slower, but it has been more consistent, and the habits are ingrained. There is still room for improvement, and John Jacobs and I are always talking about how to […]

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David Ardley- triathlete
I had the pleasure (I think !) of working with James for a year or so focused on getting my Triathlon times down. Its amazing what was achieved in the space of an hour before work. What stood out for me is the constant variation of exercises and his ability to set the difficulties levels just right. His sense of humour and competitive spirit always helped when my energy levels were not quite there. I can attribute his structured training to my eventual success competing in the World Triathlon championships (age group) in Hamburg.

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