Today I want to talk about where you spend your money and time. Whether that’s on the things that support your vision of who you want to become, or take you further from it.
Do you invest in a gym membership that you never use, because that casts a vote for the you that you want to become – but you’ve not yet found a way to make it fit in with your current lifestyle? Do you begrudge paying for great quality fresh ingredients, because you don’t yet see that as an investment in your health? Maybe all that you need is a perspective shift.
Next time you consider sacking off the gym, or not hitting checkout on those new headphones… new trainers… or new bike – think about whether this supports your goal of who you want to be. Every decision you make every day is a vote for your identity. Make them deliberate choices for the person that you’re trying to grow into.
1. Keep this decision at the front of your mind.
If you’re trying to start a couch to 5k programme, keep your running shoes by your front door where you’ll see them every morning. If you’re trying to drink more water, keep a big bottle on your desk and keep topping it up. Don’t hide things away out of your sight where you might forget about them. Keep the fruit bowl full and on the counter where you’ll pass it every time you walk into the kitchen. Join the gym which is on your way home from work. Maybe think about getting an accountability partner to meet you at the gym, or just text you to ask if you’ve been.
2. Make sure it’s desirable.
Making something an attractive prospect in terms of fitness can be tough in the beginning when you don’t yet know what you enjoy. Some ways you can achieve this is to join a gym which offers classes as part of your membership. This way you can hand over your training for that hour to the fitness instructor, and you don’t have to think of something yourself to do. Over time you’ll learn which movements have a low barrier to entry for you, and a higher barrier to entry for you. For example, I never have to talk myself into a rowing workout, or deadlifts, or a bike ride – but I often have to talk myself into a run. That way when motivation is low – just go do your low barrier movements.
3. Make it super easy.
Ideally, you want to make the habit so simple that you can start it – and finish it in less than 2 minutes. This likely means doing something on a smaller scale than you might want until it has become second nature. It might be something like just putting on your running shoes – don’t worry about running the couch to 5k, just lace up and then see how you feel. Lacing up is the whole goal. If you want to eat more veggies in your diet, get the ones which are already prepped and take almost no work. It’s more expensive to do it this way, of course, but if it’s the difference between you getting your broccoli for the day, provided it’s within your budget – go for it. We can think about making it cheap once it’s easy.
4. Make it gratifying.
A satisfying behaviour is one you’re more likely to repeat, so find ways to reward yourself. For example, if I attend the gym 3 times this week, I’ll get a new workout shirt. Or if I complete the couch to 5k programme, I’ll get myself some new trainers. Eventually, the behaviour itself will become the reward but in the beginning, that doesn’t always seem to be the case. Spend time reflecting on how completing the behaviour made you feel, possibly even write it down somewhere and formally consider that as part of your practice.
Another tip for developing habits that contribute to the sort of person you want to be is to track the behaviour in a habit tracker. There are all sorts of apps and stuff for this, but the easiest way to start is to put a tick on a calendar on the days when you perform your habit. Now after only the second day, you’ve got a streak going and the only thing you’re trying to do is not break this streak.
When I was a teacher my students would use this app called Forest to help them study. They turned the app on when they started to study and it started to grow a virtual tree. The longer they studied, the more elaborate and beautiful the tree grew. The more episodes of studying they performed, they’d grow more trees. They’d come to class, and be comparing the size of their little virtual forests, and they’d get quite competitive. Each of them knew how many hours their classmates had studied the day before, and many of them studied so long that the app even planted some real world trees – and they loved that!
It’s not a perfect system, but it is a system to get started – and often that’s all we need.
Many of the ideas discussed in this article come from James Clear’s excellent book “Atomic Habits”. For a more in depth look at how to start a good habit, and how to break a bad one, it’s definitely worth checking out.