Is Your 3pm Coffee Habit a Cry for Caffeine or Camaraderie?

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Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngThe most common question I get asked about habits is, “How do I break a bad one?” Now, there could be a number of things right with your daily coffee break (I’m a big fan of walking breaks throughout the day!), but if you notice that your afternoon cup of Joe also comes with a cookie or has some other negative consequences, it’s worth doing some testing to find out exactly what you’re looking for when you leave your desk at 3pm.

Habits work on a simple loop of reminder, routine, reward. And even when we know what the routine is, like buying coffee every day at 3pm, it turns out many of us are really bad at identifying our own reminders and rewards. In fact, research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows we’re much better at making up stories about the rewards for our behavior than actually figuring it out the trigger.

Let’s take your 3pm coffee habit, for example. It could be triggered by low blood sugar, but it’s probably just seeing the hands of the office clock pointing to 12 and 3 that bring on the urge for coffee, and “low blood sugar” is the excuse you’ve made up to give yourself permission to buy an espresso and a cookie. Other habit studies show that when you take someone out of their scheduled routine, the habit is forgotten, leading researchers to believe the trigger is simply that we usually do the same things at the same time every day. Think about it: how many 3pm coffee breaks do you need when you’re on vacation?

Your 3pm-coffee-habit reward could be caffeine, that tag-along cookie you buy, the people you interact with along the way, the break from your desk, or the cute barista who remembered your name 3 years ago—and now you’re just on autopilot. However, once you pinpoint the trigger and the reward, you can piggyback healthy new habits onto them. Here’s a simple way to break down this:

Step 1. Simulate your coffee break Today at 3pm, get up and do everything you normally would, short of buying the coffee (and the cookie). Talk to all the same people, even walk into the café and take a look around. Then leave, walk back to your desk, and ask yourself, “How was that?”

Step 2. Repeat step 1 several times If you do this for a few days and still feel compelled to do it when the clock strikes 3pm, you’re still being rewarded, and it wasn’t just the coffee. Now you can start exploring other things that might be rewarding during your afternoon jaunt, like the refreshing walk itself, the people you talk to, or that cute barista.

Step 3. Assess the reward If you do the loop for a few days, and still find yourself craving the coffee, then the caffeine probably was the reward. If that is something that bothers you, start cutting back by ordering 1/2 decaf and 1/2 regular, or try switching to green tea.

Step 4. Do a little time change Take the break later than usual, but do the exact same routine you would have done at 3pm. When you get back, ask yourself the same question, “How was that?” If you found yourself staring at the clock for that extra hour, your trigger was likely the clock. That’s a very strong cue that you can now use it to trigger a new habit.

Why all this experimentation? Because something is “working,” and if you can find out what’s cuing and rewarding you, you can start using this loop to your advantage. Try inserting a new, ridiculously small habit you want to start in between your trigger and your reward—like an additional lap around the block, and watch that bad habit turn into a good one.

What’s driving your afternoon coffee habit? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012.  

So You Want to Start… Working Out at Home

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Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngPicture in your mind a regular exerciser: Someone who works out nearly every day, as easily as you and I brush our teeth in the morning. Now picture them working out. Where do you see them? In a gym? Try again! According to surveys conducted by the National Institutes of Health, that person is more than likely working out at home.

What’s a gym anyway? A building with a bunch of heavy things that charges you to get through the front door—there’s nothing magical in there. Working out at home can be just as, if not more, effective—especially for those of us with jam-packed days full of errands, commutes, jobs, and families. So with a few heavy things of your own and some simple strategies, you can start the habit of working out at home today.

Find a Program You’re Excited About The most common barriers to exercise are lack of time, motivation, and fear of doing it wrong. Since working out at home is going to help save time, finding a program written by a professional that you’re excited about will take care of those other two barriers. There are lots of books, DVDs, on demand TV workouts, and YouTube channels that will ease you into proper form, loads, and volume. Still, for those of you who find Internet searches daunting, I recommend “Coach Stevo’s Pick Up a Heavy Thing Every Day Program.” Here’s how it works…

Get a Heavy Thing Whether it’s for an exercise DVD or “Coach Stevo’s Pick Up a Heavy Thing Every Day Program,” you’re going to need a heavy object. Any good program will have specific recommendations that you should follow, but for my program I’m not picky. If you think it’s heavy, it’ll do. If you think it’s too heavy, find something less heavy. Obvious examples would be kettlebells, barbells, and dumbbells.  More readily available examples (and these are things actually used by my clients) include dutch ovens, stacks of Bibles, sacks of dog food, potting soil, duffel bags filled with old shoes, and, my personal favorites, babies and dogs. (Hey, if they’re chubby, they count.)

Be Reasonable The goal of this program is to do it every day. That means 1) not getting hurt because you won’t be able to do the program from your bed and 2) being reasonable because if you go too hard you probably won’t want to do it again (because you’ll be sore in bed). So be reasonable.

Remind, Routine, Reward Finally, the way we are going to do this program every day is to make working out a habit. Habits work on a simple loop performed daily: get reminded, do the routine, then reward yourself. So here’s the program:

Day 1:

Step 1) Set a reminder based on something you already do every day, like making coffee.

Step 2) When you are making coffee, pick up the heavy thing and carry it around until you’re done. How do you know when you’re done? As soon as you have the thought, “I think I’m done.” You’re done. Put down the heavy thing.

Step 3) Reward yourself! Say, “Good job!” or “I just got stronger!” or “I’m awesome!” or anything else that makes you feel good. Maybe have a nice, long sip of that fresh coffee. Countless habit studies have shown that rewarding yourself is absolutely crucial to forming new habits.

Day 2 & Onward:

Just like Day 1 except you pick up the heavy thing and carry it further.

Invite Friends I am writing this post in the morning. In a few minutes, I know there’s going to be a knock on my door and then I’m going to go to my backyard and pick up something heavy. That’s because I work out with anyone who shows up at my house at 9:00AM every day (except Sunday). I depend on the willpower, discipline, and focus of my friends to keep my health habits on track— and I do this for a living! You want a reminder? Invite your friends. You want a routine? You can all do it together. You want a reward? What’s more rewarding than spending quality time with people you love?

Working out at home is a great way to become a regular exerciser, because it comes with the lowest barrier to entry. Even something as simple as “Coach Stevo’s Pick Up a Heavy Thing Every Day Program,” will help you get stronger and put you in the habit of working out. And if you already work out sporadically, nothing will keep you in the habit more effectively than sharing your sweat sessions with friends and family (remember, your kid counts!). So look around your house and find something heavy. We start today!

What heavy thing are you picking up today? Think you can stick to a working-out-at-home habit?


Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012. 

5 Ways to Find the Bright Side of Weakness

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Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngWe’ve all been there. The sun has just come up, and your head feels like it’s twice the size as the one you went to bed with. You’re hazy on specifics, but there are still a few congealed pieces of pizza on the counter. And now you’re trying to decide if logging all that pizza, wine, and ice cream into MyFitnessPal will just make you feel worse. Yes, you’ve stumbled, but with a simple mental shift you can get back on track in the time it takes to find the Advil and read this post.

“Becoming is better than being,” Carol Dweck writes in Mindset. A psychology professor at Stanford University, Dweck finds the key difference between successful people and those who aren’t is a “growth mindset,” a way of looking at life that highlights effort and learning over innate ability and given circumstances. I have seen this mindset first hand working with elite-level, internationally competitive athletes. These athletes sacrificed decades to prepare for a single moment of competition, and if anything went wrong on that path to the top, they would do something quite amazing: they’d shrug it off. These athletes would find something positive to say about the experience, and move on as naturally as you and I are breathing. In the world of sport psychology, this powerful skill is called Reframing. And, like all skills, reframing can be learned, practiced, and improved with time. Here’s how:

1. Forgive yourself It wasn’t going to be easy and it wasn’t going to be perfect. You’re still on the path, you’re still moving forward, the road just isn’t as straight as it looked from where you were. For many of my clients, this is the most difficult step, but there’s a trick that might make it easier: Take a deep breath and actually say the words, “I’m OK,” out loud.

2. Learn from the experience One of the athletes with whom I worked had a sticker on her training journal that said simply, “Win or Learn.” This is an opportunity to reorient. Why is the path different than you thought? Are your priorities in order? Are you pushing yourself too hard? Or not enough? Are you bored? Are you missing something? These are all fixable problems if you take the time to reflect.

3. Change your perspective There is a saying in Zen Buddhism: “The obstacles are the path.” Context is everything, and if you think of this moment as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and what you’re doing, then you’ll actually be better off for the experience.

4. Don’t worry about the next mile, worry about the next step Put your time and energy into what you need to do today to get back on track. What can you do in the next day, the next hour, or the next 60 seconds that will refocus you on your goal? Even if it’s simply tossing the leftovers in the trash or making a cup of coffee, you’ll be headed in the right direction.

5. Have a ritual My best athletes had some set pattern that told them it was time to move on. They took a deep breath. They took off their shoes. They packed up their gear. Even the simple act of saying out loud, “Whelp, glad that’s over!” can create the space necessary to get back at it.

Reframing can seem like huge task when you’re down, which is why I didn’t try to teach the habit to athletes at the State Championship. We practiced these steps in training sessions instead, when the stakes were low and the emotions were less charged. You can practice them in daily life too, by reframing a typo in an email, burnt toast, or a wrong turn. Practice makes perfect when it comes to getting into the habit of finding the bright side—especially when it’s the bright side that has you reaching for the Advil.

Have you “reframed” a misstep or mistake lately? What helped you see the bright side of the situation?


Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit.  He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012. 

Easy Ways to Make Exercise Happen

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If you’ve been lacing up your sneakers and breaking a sweat a few times per week for a while now, you’ve got a great fitness routine going—good on you! But what happens when things go haywire? Say, your calendar fills up with work deadlines, the babysitter cancels, or a tire goes flat on the way to the gym. Cut yourself some slack, and try one of these tricks to keep some activity in your day.

Put it on the Calendar—in Pen! Schedule your workouts the same way you plan your week around your favorite TV shows. Yes, you can TiVo those episodes to watch on your time, and—guess what!?—you can do that with a run or power walk, too. Find a time that works for you and make fitness happen!

Make it Fun Stop thinking of exercise as something you have to do. Fitness should be fun! Find an activity that you love—adult kickball, soccer, roller skating, anything!—and make that part of your routine. You’re more likely to stick to an exercise plan that makes you smile than one you dread. Plus, there’s no rule that says you have to spend an hour a day slogging it out on an elliptical machine, while staring at a wall. Open the door and…

Get Outside! Skip up a hill—don’t laugh, it’s a calorie-torching workout! (Or do laugh—it’s great for your abs!) Invite your friends for a power walk around the neighborhood and some girl time. Or turn your 2:15pm touch-base with a coworker into a walking meeting, and do a couple laps around the building. (Don’t forget to log that walk in your MyFitnessPal exercise diary.)

Don’t Aim for Perfection Instead of getting bogged down with doing the perfect workout or signing up for the trendiest class, simply add more movement (any and all movement is great!) into your day.

Just Keep Moving! You’ve heard these little suggestions before: Take the stairs, park in the furthest spot possible, get off the bus one stop early—all that extra movement really does add up. Being more active in general will increase your calorie burn and enhance your weight loss efforts.

Time for a group share: How do you slip extra activity into your day? 

How to Break Up with Drive-Thru Dining

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Hi there. I know we’ve been only been friends for a little while, but that’s why I’ve brought us together for this chat. It’s high time we got honest and clear with each other. We need to talk about what you’re doing at night. On your way home. When you think no one else is looking. We need to talk about the Drive-Thru.

There is hot debate over who invented the Drive-Thru (McDonald’s and In-’N-Out both lay claim to that dubious honor), but the impact of all those customers lined up for convenient bags of burgers, fries, and sodas is clear: 65% of McDonalds’ annual sales, $10.55 billion, go through car windows. And what people are buying is clear too: Convenience. According to QSR, an outlet that reports on fast-food industry drive-thru sales, it takes an average of 189 seconds for customers to get their food from the drive-thru window. That’s just over 3min from the speaker to a 1400-calorie meal in your hand—and you never even have to stand up. And before you pat yourself on the back for passing up the burgers for coffee, remember that a Starbucks’ grande Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino has as much sugar as 7 Kripsy Kreme donuts, and comes with a straw so you never even have to look down to eat it.

As a coach, I’m not bothered by that burger or the 7 donuts, for that matter. The problem I have is the “189 seconds and it comes with a straw” part. Anything that convenient is likely to be abused, and if you want to break up with the Drive-Thru, we have to make the healthy alternative even more convenient.

Josh Hillis, possibly the world’s best fitness coach for ladies looking to drop fat, says it’s all about planning ahead. “My leanest clients, including the fashion models, are great at food preparation,” he says. “Quite simply, the better you are at the habit of putting food in plastic containers, the leaner you get, and the easier it is to stay there,” says Hillis. So learn from the best and focus on getting better at the basics.

Make dinner before you leave the house Dinner is not a surprise; it’s pretty much a nightly occurrence. So plan it out, chop it up, portion it out, and put it in the fridge before you’re anywhere near that fast-food window. Then you won’t spend your drive home worrying about prepping, cooking, and cleaning—you just have to tackle reheating. Pressed for time in the morning? Make dinner the night before, or pre-plate a few meals on Sunday.

Have a snack in your car As I mentioned last week, we make the poorest food choices when we’re hungry. Always carry something with you—baby carrots and peanut butter, or trail mix, to tide you over until you can make it home for a full meal.

Take the long way Sometimes the best way to get away from a bad relationship is to avoid the person. That strategy works for fast food, too. It’s a lot easier to take the back roads than to drive right past those golden arches. And let’s be honest: You’re not “just gonna get the salad,” are you?

Invite someone over If you know you don’t have any food in the house, and fries sound so good you can almost taste them, go on a preemptive strike and invite a friend over for dinner. You can meet at the grocery store, order some healthier take-out, or combine what’s in your fridges for a creative leftovers dinner. Any menu the two of you create will be better than continuing the cycle of convenient, car-based calories.

Reflect on how you got here When there’s a paper bag in your lap and the smell of KFC on your breath, it’s time to ask yourself a simple, nonjudgmental question: “How did I get here?” At some point in your day, your plan proved too hard, too complex, or too unreasonable. Reflect on what you can do to make your evening meal simpler and more convenient than those 189 fateful seconds to help you break free of the pattern the next time.

There is nothing wrong with an occasional burger or blended coffee drink. The problem with drive-thru dining is how easily it can turn convenience into a mindless habit. Dump this loser and build a healthier, happier relationship with your food by planning ahead, instead. You deserve better than 3 minutes!

Fess up! Do you have a bad drive-thru dining habit? What are you going to do to change it?


Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit.  He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012.