What came first, the chicken or the egg?
This is my current mindset, my current reality, when it comes to building habits.
This year, my work schedule required me to leave earlier than usual. Knowing that my morning workout makes all the difference in my day (and my life for that matter), I took a close look at my morning routine.
Grab my workout clothes (set out the night prior).
Go into the kitchen and start my morning coffee.
Chug 32 ounces of water (set beside the coffee pot the night prior).
Change into my workout clothes.
Refill my water, and take the glass of water, my coffee, and my earbuds to the basement, where my workout will occur.
In the basement, I have my weights set out from the night prior.
And from the time my alarm sounds to the time I am in the basement, 15 minutes have passed and I am starting my day with my workout.
Now, there are other things I’ve done to reduce the friction in working out, which I won’t cover here. However, everything is done with the intent to remove as many obstacles, as many excuses as possible leading up to my workout. This has allowed me to keep my priorities straight, maximize my time management, and fit lots of things I “get to do” into the first hours of my day, which for many people, are the wee hours of the morning, all before sunrise.
How does this work?
Well first, if you haven’t purchased and read Atomic Habits by James Clear, I’d recommend you stop reading this post immediately, and make that purchase.
And second, while you wait for the book to arrive, you may want to take a few minutes to read this article from the James Clear website, “How to Build New Habits By Taking Advantage of Old Ones”.
In the article, Clear writes about how the brain engages in synaptic pruning, in which results in habits forming and becoming stronger, the more you engage in a behavior. These connections can be useful when forming a new habit.
And then, there’s habit stacking. This happens when you connect a new behavior to a previous one that’s firmly in place. In my case. the alarm clock sounds, and I instantaneously rise. I grab my clothes and am in the kitchen, drinking water and dressing for my workout, before I even have the chance to decide otherwise. It’s as if this series of behaviors are dominoes. The first domino gets tapped and the rest fall, with very little effort required.
Why does this work?
Our brains thrive on structured routines, patterns, and when we remove as many obstacles as possible. And once the habit is securely formed, it’s as if we have links chained to one another. The links reinforce one another.
To begin, take a look at your current schedule and look for places where this will fit. For me, the alarm will sound at the same time each morning. So this is a natural cue for the other habits in the stack. The time is highly specific, and the action is immediately actionable, since the location is built into the design of the habit. And this happens with a frequency that is dependable, Monday through Friday, and even, more often than not on Saturday and Sunday, without the alarm needing to even be set.
A few closing thoughts to consider, for anyone looking to get started with a new habit.
Be realistic and reasonable with your goal.
Start small and simple.
Celebrate the small victories and build from there.
Don’t grow frustrated if you get thrown off one day. Recommit the next day.
Treat yourself to a calendar and mark down your progress. It’s amazing how motivating it can feel to draw X’s through days on the calendar with each day’s success.