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. 

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.  

So You Want to Stop… Snacking Late at Night

Snacking at Night

Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngSnacking late at night has been known to derail even my most motivated and disciplined clients and, believe it or not, we’re all hardwired to do it. According to the landmark work of Roy Baumeister and Dianne M. Tice at Florida State University, humans have a limited supply of willpower, and the ability to resist temptation is limited by available blood glucose. In plain English: Our willpower is weak when we’re hungry, making it tough to resist snacking.

After a full day of making healthy choices, your willpower reserves are low—another reason why it feels nearly impossible to battle late-night munchies. But there’s hope: Baumeister’s and Tice’s research also shows it’s possible to train your willpower just like a muscle. Which means, getting into the habit of resisting night noshing will make you better at resisting those midnight snack attacks overtime.

Here are some “dos” and “don’ts” my clients find helpful for avoiding the ice cream, boosting willpower, and staying focused on good nutrition habits—give ‘em a shot!

DON’T keep pitfall foods at home Yes, it can be that simple! Are you snacking on chips after dinner? Don’t buy chips. People typically hit the grocery store at times of greater discipline and clarity than those sugar- and salt-crazed moments just before midnight, so it’s easier to resist temptations and fill your cart with nutritious options. With that said, you don’t want to shop on an empty stomach—after all, willpower science shows us we’re less likely to make healthy choices with a growling stomach. If you can’t shop right after a meal, have a snack before going to the market. One smart snack now is better than seven nights of mindless potato chip munching.

DO have a fallback plan At some point you’re going to get hungry after dinner. Having a contingency plan to prevent you from suffering all night is smart. Try keeping an emergency bar (that’s one bar) of incredibly dark chocolate (80% cacao or more) in the house. Two pieces of dark chocolate with a little peanut butter can satisfy most cravings, and it’s actually pretty hard to gorge yourself on chocolate that dark.

DON’T skimp on supper Consistently leaving the dinner table hungry puts you at a disadvantage, and creates a caloric deficit that will be impossible to maintain in the long term. Be reasonable. If an extra helping of chicken or vegetables keeps you from devouring a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies later, that second serving was worth it.

DO notice your triggers I once had a client who would eat a pint of ice cream on the nights she had a self-imposed midnight deadline to finish an accounting report for her business. When I suggested she move the deadline to noon, her dark-hour dairy binges stopped. Are you overlooking any subliminal cues that might be causing you to snack? Keep track of when you’re logging those late-night snacks in your food diary to see if you can link it to a specific activity, event, or feeling.

DO have a ritual Using a set or series of activities to declare, “I’m done with that; now I’m onto this,” can be very powerful. A simple ritual that works for one of my clients: When she has finished eating for the evening, she cleans her teeth—dinner, floss, brush, done. That clean-mouth feeling reminds her that her teeth are off duty for the night, and it’s time to do something other than eat.

Stopping a late-night snacking habit can be very simple, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. There’s a lot of strategy involved, and these suggestions might only be the beginning for you.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! Have you recently quit snacking late at night? What helped you break that bad 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 Simple Ways to Become a Consistent Food & Fitness Tracker

consistent trackerYou downloaded MyFitnessPal. You said you were going to start tracking what you eat. Maybe you even logged a meal or two. But then you forgot. Or you thought you’d just do it later, but later never arrived.

You are not alone. Sure, there’s a growing number of people who track consistently and reap the benefits: more mindful eating habits, “A-ha!” moments about the foods they struggle with most, feeling empowered to take control of health goals, motivation to workout. But there are more people out there—people like you and me, who sometimes have trouble getting started.

Whether your goal is to run a 10k, have the energy to play with your kids, make better food choices, or bring down your blood pressure, tracking can be the fuel that powers that engine. So how can you really get started, in earnest, and set yourself up to incorporate the habit for the long-term? Here’s what has worked for me, and countless others.

1. Get Clear Why do you want to track in the first place? Did your doctor tell you to do it? Your trainer? Perhaps you have a friend who experienced an “A-ha!” moment using a digital food diary or exercise log. Or maybe your “Why” goes even deeper?

While a majority of trackers say they started logging to lose weight, it’s surprising how few do so for vanity’s sake. Compared to those who simply wanted to slim down, 6 times as many MyFitnessPal members said they started using the app because they want to live longer, and 3 times as many were motivated by the desire to be more active with their children.

Having a clear intention and objective in mind will give you the motivation it takes to create a powerful tracking habit.

2. Get Equipped The days when tracking involved a little paper booklet and notepad are gone—thanks goodness! But sometimes getting up to speed with the latest digital logging technology can feel equally overwhelming. Obviously, we’re fond of a little app called MyFitnessPal, which is designed to be user-friendly and does all the heavy lifting for you.

Simply, download the app and sign up! That part is key—you can download all the health apps in the world, but if you don’t actually register for an account and get started you won’t see any results. Then, set a goal. Take your clear intention (from Step #1, above) and turn it into a measurable goal with a timeline, by inputting it directly into the app.

From there, it’s all a matter of entry. While there’s no easier way to track meals and snacks than using our food database, you might want to use any of a number of compatible apps to track your exercise—whether you run, walk, or Zumba your way fit, there’s a perfect workout partner app for you. Download it and synch up!

3. Get Reminded Adding a layer of accountability can help you stay on track. Set up reminders within the app, and consider connecting with friends on MyFitnessPal. You can help each other stay motivated, synch your workouts, and log meals together!

4. Get a Routine If you say you’ll do it later, chances are you’ll forget all about logging. But if you establish an “After this, I do that” scenario, and link tracking with something else you do all the time, you’ll start to remember the task by association. Take me for example: After I brush my teeth in the morning, I take 5 minutes to track my food in advance for the entire day, meals and snacks. Two more options that have worked for MyFitnessPal fans: “After I get back to my desk from lunch, I’ll track everything I’ve eaten,” and “After I do the dinner dishes, I’ll track my meal.”

5. Get Pumped Remember that creating a tracking habit begins with baby steps. Your goal is not to track for 1000 days. Instead, start with a goal of tracking the next thing you eat. You can do that, right? When you do it, celebrate a little—for at least 12 seconds. Then set a goal to track the next thing you eat, and the next. Then set a goal to track everything you eat tomorrow. And celebrate that win. Do that for a couple of weeks and the mini-victory moments will add up to something you can really revel in!

What helps you stay on top of tracking? Share your tips below!