The Issue With Habits…They Work Both Ways

Gateway Habits

The issue with habits is that they tend to work both ways. For example, have you heard the term “Gateway Drug”?

This refers to the seemingly innocuous (or ‘soft’) drugs that people claim will lead a drug user onto more dangerous (‘hard’) substances, and then to negative consequences in life.

While I’m not an expert in that area, I can definitely attest to the existence of “Gateway Habits”.

I talk to clients about the issue with habits every day and use them all the time both personally and professionally to create positive change.

These are the seemingly inconsequential tasks or daily routines that set the stage for greater change and have an outsized influence on our ability to rapidly transform our circumstances.

Gateway habits can take many forms in many areas of life but think of them as a general catalyst for change. 

Keep in mind that a habit is simply a repetitive action in our life that we perform with little thought.

The issue with habits is that they can be constructive or detrimental to our outcomes, but they are directly within our control. Think of them as a “program” or “script” that we run in our brain on autopilot.

It’s because they run on autopilot that they are so effective…or dangerous.

If we aren’t happy with where we are in a particular area of life, a smart option is to look closely at the habits we have in that area of life. We address the issue with habits.

Once we are aware of them, we can “re-write the code” to produce a more desired outcome. 

Since these gateway habits are mundane or small, most people don’t think of them as warranting attention. They fail to see the impact (positive or negative) a particular habit may be having over time.

Therefore, they fail to perform the positive ones consistently and fail to stop the negative ones early enough in the process.

In my coaching practice, I generally focus on helping people implement specific gateway habits that produce positive results in a number of key areas (increased energy and mood, reduction of physical pain, clarity of thought, mindset shifts).

This way I’m able to help “prime the system” for my clients to help them experience greater change with less resistance in the future.

The evolution of my coaching process to address these areas has been a great learning experience for me (and my clients). 

Similar to people you may know, our coaches at FRESH! see many clients that have been struggling to reach the goals they set for themselves.

These people are in a constant battle with high expectations, failure, frustration, and ever-waning determination to start the process again.

Their energy is low, they lack motivation, they don’t like how they feel in their body, they experience various levels of aches and pains, the typical “eat right and workout hard” process isn’t working for them, they are usually facing significant stress in several areas of life, and they are grasping at any promise of transformative change that social media or popular culture can give them.

One of my favourite parts of the coaching process is to see and hear the disbelief when I give them their first “homework” assignment.

It varies from person to person, but generally involves some small task or routine that takes anywhere from 1-5 minutes to complete. It could be a “mobility minute”, an evening “top 3” planning session, a breathing exercise, a few specific stretches, or writing a short gratitude list.

Usually, this is met by an awkward silence or a WTF look.

You see, when meeting with a coach, people often expect some mind-blowing insight or secret exercise that will solve their problems quickly and painlessly.

Reality is often challenging to face, but it helps reframe our mindset around the REAL challenges we are facing and provides the opportunity to reframe the scope and direction of the journey ahead.

After a large dose of initial skepticism, I explain how the process of change works, and how my approach works to “hack” the system for quicker and more lasting progress (more on that in a future post).

The great news is that this leads to my next favourite part of the coaching process…the moment of elation and giddiness that comes when my 4 Pillars coaching process “clicks” for the client.

Usually, this is anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks into the process of following my simple little “homework” tasks. At this point, they are astounded to see how much better they feel, the clarity of their thoughts, the energy they have, and how their perspective has started to change about many of the previous challenges they’ve struggled to overcome.

While these little tasks are focused on the Habits Pillar, they are also “clearing the path” for the mindset changes that are necessary to properly tackle the real challenges in the change process.

There are many reasons why these micro-habits are able to facilitate such great change in other areas. Here are a couple of the most important ones.

They allow us to FOCUS:

They cut past the clutter, chaos, and confusion in our lives and allow us to focus on ONE SMALL THING at a time that’s directly within our control.

The impact of this cannot be underestimated. We are inundated with choices, options, and decisions to make all day every day. Even buying toothpaste at the grocery store these days can require a multi-page spreadsheet with pivot table analysis!

Having a simple and single area of focus can ease the stress of change and dramatically increase compliance. In other words, you can get more done…with less stress.


Gateway habits a specifically chosen because they create a cascade of effects in different areas of life. Take sleep. Take the Mobility Minute™. It’s one of the first habits I get clients to create.

The concept is very simple. A single minute when you get out of bed, and a single minute before you get into bed at night. During this minute, you move every joint in your body through its FULL range of motion. That’s it.

It’s exceedingly simple to perform, no special equipment needed, but most importantly, here are some of the residual benefits:
  • Better blood flow
  • Boost in energy
  • Greater perspective on how your body is feeling at that time
  • Improved mood
  • Wake up easier in the morning
  • Relax yourself for sleep in the evening (it’s all about intention)
  • Improved joint health
  • Better flexibility
  • Clarity of thought
  • Increased motivation and focus
  • Improved mind-body connection
  • Confidence boost for completing task
  • Positive changes in hormone function
  • Aids in digestion, elimination, and internal body processes
  • And much more!

Pretty darn amazing for 1 minute of time if you ask me!

Unfortunately, people don’t think it’s worthwhile so they fail to do it consistently and ultimately fail to see the results that are at their fingertips.

Keep in mind that this is the issue with habits, they work both ways. Here are a few habits that can easily start you into a sneaky downward spiral in health and life:
  • Hitting snooze on your alarm clock (multiple times)
  • Waking up complaining about (and dreading) work
  • Checking emails before work
  • Reading the news when you wake up
  • Working out “when you have time”
  • And many more…
Here are some positive gateway habits that you can easily implement today (start with one and build over time):
  • Mobility minute
  • Scheduling and following a daily morning success routine
  • Energy Accelerator and Focus Finder exercises
  • Planning and scheduling daily activity breaks in your day
  • Writing daily in a gratitude journal
  • Planning tomorrow’s “top 3” before you go to bed
  • 5 minutes of “silence and breathing focus” in the morning (and at other times during the day)
  • Doing something nice to make someone’s day or make them smile

We ALL have habits. Some are working for us, others against us. How many from each list are you doing? Which ones are you going to substitute?

If you want to learn more about the issue with habits, pick up a copy of The Fitness Curveball. Pillar 2 dives into these gateway habits and many more while providing a simple and proven roadmap for change.

Need a little extra help and accountability? Book a success session with me or one of my coaches here!

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