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Method For: Habit Tactics

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I’m not finished with the subject of habits, there is still more to say! Atomic Habits has application in so many areas of life; I could list a hundred but the one I’m honing in on for illustrative purposes is fitness.  Fitness feels relevant to me right now as I’ve been evolving my fitness routine recently, unknowingly using many of the tactics outlined in Atomic Habits with good success.  Clear lays out so many effective tactics in the book; here I’ve chosen the four that have worked best for me in my pursuit of a stronger body.  Once you are successful using the tactics in one area of your life, you’ll start to see opportunities in other areas as well and before you know it you’ll be a Habit Machine! 

stack your habits

Strength workouts were my nemesis until I started Habit Stacking

Habit stacking is layering on a new habit on top of something you already do.  This one is my favorite, I use it everywhere! But I’m supposed to be sticking with my fitness example so here’s my big win: I’ve always been a cardio girl and tend to let Strength take a back seat in my fitness pursuits. For years now I’ve been into spinning, first with Flywheel and then with Peloton and it’s not hard for me to motivate and get on the bike.  What IS hard for me is doing any kind of strength workout.  I’m naturally weak, totally inflexible and getting to the age when you start to naturally lose muscle mass if you don’t intentionally take steps to keep it.  Peloton has a great Strength offering on their app but if given the choice I’m always going to choose to ride over weights, core or any other strength-focused workout. In an effort to overcome my penchant for strength-avoidance I started tacking a short class (like 10 min) on after my ride.  Short classes are not as intimidating and I already had momentum from my ride.  This got me going with strength.  Over time I graduated to longer classes but then noticed my consistency fall off because of that pesky few minutes after I finished my ride, when I was finding an excuse a couple (few) times a week to ditch the strength.  Once that emerged as an issue I switched my ‘stack’ to do strength first; kind of like eating your vegetables first to get it over with.  It’s been months since I made the switch and now I stack all kinds of strength classes up before I ride; still mostly short ones (20 min is my max) but when you add them all up I usually get about 30 minutes of strength work in 5 days a week.  Habit Stacking – it totally works.

Remove Friction

Laying out your clothes the night before removes a major friction layer in the early morning

When trying to land a new habit it’s important to first identify any friction points you encounter along the path to action and remove them.  When the ‘pre-game warmup’ is friction-free you give yourself a better chance of gliding to the starting gate without veering off the path.  I workout early in the morning because I am a morning person and thus if I wait to do my workout until late in the day it doesn’t happen, WAY too many friction points including depleted energy stores.  Because it’s dark when I get up a major friction point for me is making my way over to my dresser and fiddling through the drawers to grab my gear.  Not only does this add extra minutes to my routine it’s also annoying because I’m trying not to wake my husband up as well.  So to remove this friction I pick out what I’m going to wear the night before and lay it out on the bathroom counter. It’s easy for me to get dressed with the clothes laid out int he place where I’m brushing my teeth, putting in my contacts and using the restroom.  This whole ritual takes less than 10 minutes and I can accomplish it all half-asleep since everything I need is within arm’s reach (make it easy!) Find your friction points and mitigate them, it will smooth the way to a successful habit!

Design Your Environment

My Home Gym where I’ve incorporated Law #2 (Make it Attractive) and Law #3 (Make it Easy) into the design

Environment plays a huge role in getting new habits to stick; Clear calls it ‘the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.’  You can prime your environment for success by making it pleasant (i.e. attractive.). Think about your environment as full of relationships instead of things.  Back on my fitness example – when we got our Peloton we did not have a home gym.  In fact, for at least a year I had been fending off Jay’s desire for a Peloton, citing my oft-quoted declaration never to house big, ugly exercise equipment in my house.  When the pandemic hit and Flywheel folded Jay finally won me over and I now had to figure out how to set up our new workout ‘environment.’  I needed the area to be motivating, convenient and pleasant to hang out in.  I chose our downstairs Family Room as the spot for our new Home Gym.  In addition to the Peloton I added a bench, mat and weights  ad mirrors (motivating), wall-mounted cubbies for bike shoes, headphones and towels (convenient) and a Mix Tiles gallery of my favorite photos of our 3 kids (pleasant.) This is an environment that beckons me to come work out, has everything I need within arm’s reach and I can admire my offspring (they are awfully cute, especially the toddler shots) while I ride. Obviously the Peloton platform is an effective motivator in itself (they employ Clear’s 4 Laws of Human Behavior to great effect) but the environment I created plays a material role in getting me down there every day at 0’Dark Hundred.

shift your mindset

Saved the hardest for last.  Reprogramming your brain to enjoy hard habits is says-easy, does-hard but sometimes even a small tweak in mindset can make a huge difference in motivation. A mindset shift often quoted by fitness instructors is ‘be grateful you’re able’ or ‘you don’t have to, you get to.’ While these can sound trite in the moment they carry a lot of weight if you can reprogram your mind to think that way. I have two examples that worked as motivators for me in my fitness journey. The first was several years ago when my mom had a stroke. I was 45 at the time and soon became terrified that I was going to suffer the same fate because, genetics. I did a lot of reading about strokes, health and longevity and ultimately reached the conclusion that working out was not a chore, it was a habit that could materially impact the longevity of my high quality of life. I thought about that every day, especially the days when I was ‘too tired’ to get out of bed or ‘didn’t feel like’ working out that day. It worked and I’ve been really consistent ever since. The second example is when I injured my knee skiing and for several days I didn’t know how serious it was or if I would need surgery. I couldn’t do anything for those days and it sucked. When I was able to start exercising again (I did not need surgery, thank goodness) I was so grateful. I was literally Grateful I was Able because the alternative had scared the crap out of me! I think the thought in my head, say it out loud while looking in the mirror and talk about it to friends and family; all of those actions reinforce the mindset and keep me on track. This one takes a little more effort and practice but it’s highly effective if you apply yourself!

I hope you are as excited about Atomic Habits as I am – if you haven’t done it yet read the book, there is so much more to explore and apply to work, kids, relationships, food, you name it! I could keep writing about all of the ways to apply Atomic Habits but it’s probably better if you just read the book!

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