You are (not) just a bunch of habits

A classic example, but not for the reasons you may think (credit)

It’s a brand new year and already the articles are flowing on how to keep up your new year’s resolution of going to the gym and getting into shape. That’s not to knock the BBC article, it actually has some rather good advice in it.

More generally though, (having moved in the last few years between couch potato, pretty fit, to injured and back to fit, then back to couch potato) is how my attitude to exercise and other tasks in my life has changed. When something was ‘easy’ for me to do, aka required little to no thinking, I did it. When I had to actively force myself to do something, I generally gave it up after a couple of weeks. And then I started researching the background on this and how it has applied to other things in my life.

The easier something is to do, the more you’ll do it

The easiest changes to make are the ones where you modify an existing habit slightly, such as turning off a light switch when you leave a room. Takes a small amount of conscious effort to remind yourself, but takes literally a second to do. You were leaving the room anyway and light switches tend to be near the door. Overall, a small change but could make a big impact if you constantly left lights on all the time (*cough* my parents *cough*).

Equally, when I lived on my own in my flat and had a regular commute, I built a set routine for when I came home of a weekday. Get in the flat, put on Insanity DVD (no subscription service back then!), get changed to workout clothes, execute. I think I threw myself an incentive of allowing myself to watch an episode or two of Game of Thrones when that was still on.

Fast forward a few years and not only are my hours all over the place and longer, I’m living out of a multitude of hotels with varying levels of gym facilities and pretty much expected to join my colleagues for nights out, least I become a social pariah. When I get back to the hotel room at 9pm after a restaurant meal (not always a healthy one mind you), my thoughts turn to bed – not a hard workout.

Those were all excuses in the past paragraph by the way, but the moment something becomes just a bit difficult, it’s amazing how fast you decide not to do something, even if it is in your benefit in the long term. So, based on what worked for me previously:

  • a set time
  • easy to start, just turn on the TV
  • someone telling me what exercises to perform
  • duration of about 30-40 minutes
  • an incentive at the end
Do not let the colourful graphics deceive you, this game will make you weep at higher difficulties

I purchased Ring Fit Adventure for my Nintendo Switch and am having a surprisingly good time from it. It’s not much of a “game” in the sense there’s not much real strategy to it, but let me tell you, losing to a final boss because you weren’t fit enough is one hell of a motivator. But it’s enjoyable and it meets my criteria above, so I have been able to keep doing this while stuck in hotel rooms for the past couple of months and my general fitness has been slowly but surely returning. I still have a long way to go of course, but any movement is better than none. I quite enjoy getting the achievements that I’ve done “xxxx squats”.

However, what works for me may not work for you. Try out different things.

This applies to anything you want to change

If you want to save more money or start writing a blog or get your body in better shape, you first need to set a goal of some description. Something achievable in a time frame that makes sense, else you’re going to get depressed you haven’t reached it. Then apply every nudge, trick and deception you can to yourself so that it becomes a habit – something you don’t even think about – you just do it.

Some tips to help you get started with your 2020 goals:

  1. Publicly announce your goalsaccountability of your actions to your friends / rivals will keep you on track. Supply a weekly update if possible.
  2. Track your progress – progress may be slow, but if you see and feel yourself getting better as time goes on (the blog post counter going up/you can run a mile 15 seconds faster) then you will feel achievement and carry on.
  3. Set reminders – my phone beeped at me yesterday to remind me to get writing and so I dedicated a couple of hours to blog writing – I am now nearly there with this post!
  4. Don’t break the routine if possible – if people insist you do something that would break your routine, then remind them you need to do this (see #1). No friend wants you to fail.
  5. Keep going – I think you need to keep going for at least 3 months to re-wire your brain – it won’t happen in a couple of weeks.
  6. Get plenty of sleep – it’s amazing how quickly I dip into ‘I can’t be arsed with this’ when I’m tired and fall back into old habits. Aim for whatever amount of hours you need to feel energised.
  7. Apply disincentives to your current habits – “driving my car to the shops costs £x each time, whereas walking costs me nothing” (and you get a free workout!) or “a double cheese extra large pizza is 3 hours on a treadmill, perhaps I’ll switch to the tuna salad”.
  8. Automate what you can – find and pay for a personal trainer, you’ll turn up. Send part of your pay cheque to a savings account you easily can’t access, you’ll save. Sell your car, you’ll have to walk everywhere (okay, that one’s a bit extreme).

I still need to ramp up my activity levels but I’m (slowly) getting to the point where I don’t wake up feeling like a beached whale with the changes in diet and exercise I do. I plan to accelerate this further and get back into weight lifting by the second half of the year (here’s my public announcement!), but that’s for a future blog post.

Once your habit is automatic, it becomes part of your life and you wonder how you ever did it any other way before.

Knowing your habits means you can change them

Milk before water is clearly the correct approach (credit)

Do you put milk in your tea before or after the hot water? How do you write out today’s date? Do you put your loo roll “hanging-over” or “hanging-under”? Do you know why you do it that way? Most habits are pretty harmless – but we do most of them with no conscious engagement from our brains. We’ve always done it that way.

How about that multiple coffee a day habit (paid for or otherwise)? That afternoon snack you look forward to? Those 2 hours of Netflix a night? Habits are powerful, be aware of when you’re on auto-pilot and that what you are doing is what you actually want to be doing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go out-squat a boss who kicked my ass last night.

3 thoughts on “You are (not) just a bunch of habits

  1. One of mine is making my bed in the morning. It sounds ridiculous but it really starts my mind on the right track, the same way, every single day.
    As you mentioned, this behaviour for me now is completely automatic and I’d almost feel weird for not doing it now.
    Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

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