I’ve come to realize that habits are the key to success.
The great thing about habits is that they become easy once they are established. The human mind loves to take shortcuts. So naturally, it tries to turn everything into a routine. This is why habits are so important–you do them without thinking about it.
I knew this. Yet, I was having trouble establishing the habits I set out to form. For one, I tried to overhaul all of my habits at once and completely change my life. Ambitious, yet I failed miserably. After some research, I found the best approach is to focus on one habit at a time.
But then, I ran into the problem of which habit to focus on. I couldn’t make up my mind! I kept switching around the habit after a few days.
Finally, I decided to focus on exercise because it effects so much of your life (i.e. energy, sleep, diet, mental sharpness, emotions, etc.) This is what Charles Duhigg calls a “keystone habit” in his book, The Power of Habit. The keystone habit is one that spills over into other habits. For example, if I exercise everyday, I’m going to have an easier time falling asleep, which will in turn give me more energy during the day, and so on.
So, I set out to create my daily exercise habit. However, I kept missing random days. I was trying to make exercise a habit, but it wasn’t going as perfectly as planned. Not that I am a perfectionist by any means, but I wanted to do better.
That’s why I decided to create a formal application process for myself. For each habit I want to form, I have to go through a list of questions/steps and write out a contract with specifics. I then place the contract in a file folder labeled “Habits Log.”
This accomplishes a number of things.
1) I get clear and specific about the habit. Ambiguity is the enemy of action. I want to achieve certainty and directly tell my brain what I want it to accomplish, and when, where, why, how it is going to happen.
2) I write it down on paper. There’s something magical about writing it down. It makes it legit. It removes the abstract idea floating around in your brain and makes it concrete.
3) I make a commitment to myself. Before I could rationalize not following through, but now I have signed my name to getting it done. If I mess this up, it’s on me.
4) It takes me through proven steps and techniques for establishing the habit. In my application, I included a number of techniques to help myself follow through. For example, creating accountability by telling a friend or two about your goal.
Without further adu, here’s an example of a recent habit application I filled out.
How To Follow Through On Habits
1) Identify the habit you want to create. Exercise for 10 minutes everyday. (Important to start small.)
2) Write down a start and end date. Start: May 13, 2013. End: June 12, 2013.
3) How will you accomplish this? What are specifics you plan to do? I’m going to lift weights 3x a week and play basketball, run on the other days. My lifting program will follow the simple strength training program that Mark Rippletoe advocates in his book Starting Strength with a few tweaks. This will focus on the fundamental lifts. Specifically, workout A is bench press, front squat, and deadlift. Workout B is standing overhead press, pendlay row, and front squat. Then, I will sprinkle in pull-ups, dips, and some core exercises. I can do pull-ups in my house or after my workout if I still have energy. Same with dips. I will do my core exercises on off lifting days after running/playing basketball.
4) Choose a trigger. This is going to be tough considering the next two weeks will break from routine as I transition into summer. I’m going to exercise first thing every day to combat this. My trigger will be finishing up breakfast. I plan to lay out all my workout clothes in advanced to reduce resistance and provide an additional trigger.
5) How can I make this fun? The best way to make lifting fun is to see results. I will take a before picture and track the weight I lift meticulously. When I run, I can explore new paths and parks each time. Listening to new music or audiobooks will also help make it a satisfying experience. I already enjoy playing basketball so nothing extra is needed for it.
6) Create accountability. I need to clarify this. I’m going on vacation soon so I can use my family to provide accountability for that period. However, I’ll be in Como for a few days after exams so I need to make sure I have somebody who is checking up on me. I will make some calls/emails tomorrow to help find accountability. (putting it on my task list.)
7) Assign a time during the day that you will this habit. First available time in the morning after breakfast.
8) Create a reward for doing your habit. The endorphin rush is already a decent reward. Also, I find it satisfying to breathe deeply after getting my heart rate up. Feels good. I have a big calendar that I X on the date if I did my habit for the day as well. I think it could be a good reward to text my accountability partners after I complete my habit, like “wussup son, just exercised like a boss.”
9) Make sure to start small with the habit. Even though exercising for 10 mins a day seems like cake, I’m following through with this concept.
10) Identify possible failure points. This is important. I failed before because I was stuck at home (I usually workout at the rec) and never got around to going out and running. The best way to beat this is to make it #1 priority and do it early in the morning. Also, I was considering buying a trampoline as a fun way to exercise at home. I really have no excuse not to go run around for 10 minutes. Come on now.
11) 1 Habit At A Time. Yep.
12) Why do you want to form this habit? Exercise is important for many aspects of life such as happiness, productivity, rest, energy, mental sharpness, emotional stability, need I say more? Plus, I want to get back into lifting.
13) Have a motto to say to motivate yourself during tough times.
“The pain you feel today will be the strength you feel tomorrow.”
14) Specific guidelines to follow. In order to complete my habit for the day, I must exercise for 10 minutes. Walking does not count.
15) Track your progress in a journal. Done.
16) Post in an open forum. Periodic updates on dabos3.com will suffice.
17) Write out a contract, and sign it.
18) Additional motivation: Watch videos on fitness, people with energy, people with good health/fitness, bodybuilders, running, etc. Attempt to watch a motivational video before every workout, but not completely necessary. Make sure workout music is poppin.
19) Actions I need to take:
-Email Mizzou athletic trainer
-Create a spreadsheet to record journal entries.
-Buy a new, healthy protein supplement.
-Take Before picture
-Record beginning lift numbers
This may seem excessive, but I wanted to get specific about the habit so that I have no reason not to follow through. I encourage everyone to do this even if it seems stupid, it’s better than the alternative of “keeping it in your head.” Also, I am confident it will prove effective.