Good habit forming for improvements

2nd December 2019

Men’s natures are alike. It is their habits that separate them.


I have become quite interested of late in the subject of habits and read some interesting studies around the subject. How parts of the brain are able to be formed and shaped differently with some simple good daily habits. I believe that good practice of daily habits can have a beneficial effect on your game of squash in the bigger picture and this article will look to explore this phenomenon deeper.

Research has been conducted and it has been found that it takes on average approximately 66 days to implant a habit of a simple task (such as eating a piece of fruit every lunchtime). With complex habits, this process takes slightly longer. The neural pathways in your brain will actually physically change (as any muscle would with exercise) during this time and the nerves, synapses and myelin sheaths will all have been made stronger and faster. When looking to form a habit it is necessary to take small steps rather than big ones. So it is wise to start small and dream big.

By resisting temptations but ALSO making decisions, studies have been able to prove that our willpower in a limited resource and can be depleted during a day. This is why Steve Jobs wore the same polo-neck sweater, why Barak Obama wears the same suit and Mark Zuckerberg the same T-shirt every day – to prevent decision fatigue. Good habits can help prevent this phenomenon from occurring. This is why good habits are so incredibly valuable: They help us save willpower.

Rehearsing a new habit will take a lot of willpower in the beginning, but once this habit has taken root, you can take your hands off the decision making steering wheel and ease your foot off the willpower accelerator. It is then reasonable to propose that the fewer small decisions you have to take in the course of your day, the more effectively you will make the important ones.

What is fascinating, and has been found on a number of studies, is that one good habit can quickly turn into several. Once you have implemented a good habit, it often acts as the soil from which other good habits grow almost automatically. In one study of participants lifting weights for two months, one positive habit triggered others and soon the participants started to eat healthier, reduced their alcohol and cigarette consumption, studied more for their courses and even tidied their rooms more frequently.


So how does all this link to playing better squash?

As we know, there is very little more rewarding in a squash context that executing a shot/tactic/movement with effortlessness application and very little thought process behind it. This can be quite an enigma and can happen sporadically over a few matches. The idea behind this blog is to attempt to get you to tap into this effortless execution more often with higher levels of consistency.


Some quick wins and suggestions:

Get in the habit of being reflective after performances:

  • Journaling has been shown to have some real impact on athletes performances, this is reflective practice and writing down thoughts after a match in a journal is a really powerful habit to form
  • The act of physical writing is highly recommended and not just digitally on phones. Studies have shown the memory recall and the process of deeper learning occurs with a higher frequency during the act of physically writing it down
  • Over time and when done after each performance, the brain will be able to process information quickly and you will be able to learn better from common faults that you have been making

Use visualization strategies before your match:

  • Visualizing outcomes, both positive and negative, about a match is a habit has been proven very effective in all sporting contexts
  • Even if it begins with 3-minutes in the car as you arrive at the club this will help when done before each match
  • Try and build up the amount of time you spend on visualization and make it as vivid, graphic, vibrant and colourful as possible
  • When done well and with conviction, whatever situation occurs, the brain has been there, seen it and dealt with it. You will be in a much greater place to deal with eventualities when you have mentally prepared for them

Make healthier choices:

  • Start little and build it up in regard to healthier choices
  • Some early examples could include:
    • Cut out sugary snacks during the week
    • Have a pint of water immediately after you wake up
    • Get to the courts 10-mins earlier to get a proper warm-up
    • Add 1-2 long runs into your weekly routine
    • Replace post-match beers with water
  • Do not try and do all the above all at once, as mentioned in the blog, when looking to create habits, take small steps rather than big ones
  • Think about what healthier choices you can make immediately and see if you can dedicate to one or two of them for the next 30-days at least (aim for the 66 days if you can)


The above list is not exhaustive and there could be hundreds of more habits to form and create. For me the above simple list of habits that should become imbedded into daily practice for some real essential parts of the game of squash. Working on these and getting them so finely tuned to you specifically will be important.

Have a think about the biggest areas of your game that you are struggling with and write them down. After this look to break them down even further into some simple habits that you can start to practice daily to address parts of the issue. You will find with concerted effort and application, even if it’s just mentally, you will find that improvements will start to take place in your game and the joy when this starts happening is a great motivator for more habits and even bigger change.

In the beginning, the effects are fractional, but given time, they become radical!


Jesse Engelbrecht

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