There’s an amazing lake a short drive away from my house.
The grass there seems to be greener than anywhere else. The water always glistening and intermittently you’ll see a fish jump out of the water like it forgets its limits and thinks it’s a bird.
I love using path around the lake for my morning walks and ponderings. I think a daily walk helps clear my head and oxygenate my blood.
Though walking here is not a chore to me, I found it difficult to make this a daily habit.
Instead of starting my day with fresh air, movement, and sunshine., I’d procrastinate. That made it harder to prioritize and I would reason myself out of it or wait till it was too late to go. I have to go either uber early or as the sun is going down as my complexion is what some would describe as “milky joe”. The harsh Australian sunshine after 9am is my cue to retreat to the safety of the gym.
Recently I’ve been delving into the domain of habits. I created a little game for myself I like to call “Habit Stacking”.
On a blank sheet of paper I write just one habit that I can do daily that I want to achieve this week. The rule is one goal at a time. As Dan John likes to say, “Keep the goal, the goal”.
Somehow the resistance – the term assigned to the voice that reasons me out of my goals and chains me to my comfort zone – finds a way to tell me walking at the lake shouldn’t happen today.
“You won’t make it to work in time if you do that, it takes too long, you can do it later. If you go now you might melt because it’s sunny, cardio will kill your gains.”
All of these seem silly to my current self. But in the moment the resistance can reason me out of any goal.
So if my “walk a lap of the lake at the day no matter what” fails, I go back to my habits, and I break that habit into a stack of mini habits.
My goal becomes: go to the lake at 6am everyday, or whenever you drive by stop there. (I have to pass it everyday anyway).
This triggers a habit, so that without having to decide, I know everyday I will drive to the lake.
Once I achieve this, it’s time to add to the stack. I’ll book in ample time in my schedule so I can walk. You can break this habit down into multiple steps and make it so easy that the resistance won’t even bother telling you, “You can’t.”
The hard part was never to walk the lake, but to convince myself to go, even though I love it.
The gym is the same deal for many of us. You can tackle this by breaking down the habit:
You just have to pack your gym bag and take it with you everyday. So if you feel like going, then you can.
Now you’ve been lugging your gym bag around you can just pop in to the gym at X time. It helps to schedule a specific time and stick to it.
Once you’ve got into the habit of showing up, you can do an easy workout that you’ll enjoy. No pressure, just stick to a short weight routine that you know you can do.
After a week of doing this you might want to push a little harder, by adding in a harder workout, hiring a PT for one of those sessions, getting a workout buddy to add some healthy competition, or doing a class for extra sweat points.
It all seems a little less daunting when we break it down this way.
You can also assign a points system to each stack. So when you have a few banked up maybe you reward yourself with a remedial massage or a new outfit.
This is a great “win everyday” strategy. Rather than the miserable “waiting for the scale to change” approach people usually take.
The habit stack I’m creating builds up into these daily goals:
> walk and sun exposure in the AM
> write for 60mins uninterrupted
> ride my horse
> intermittent fast (mostly to have more time in the morning to get things done)
> prioritise sleeping / going to bed at the same time daily
At one point this seemed far too daunting, and I would be overwhelmed and end up procrastinating and getting none of it done. Focusing on the end result instead of the key trigger habits was not helpful.
This is me giving you permission and encouragement to start small. Because the power of incremental, consistent changes far outweighs bigger steps only done once in a while. Once you get momentum in the right direction, it’s easy to make achieving your goals as enjoyable as walking around a beautiful lake.