Habit Shaping

If we know how to create a new habit then why is it that we fall off after just a few days of implementation? I believe that knowing is not enough. It’s just the beginning. Yes, we know that if we want to live longer we must eat healthy, exercise more often, and rid ourselves of negativity for the sake of our mental and emotional state.

This is nothing new. But if we know this then knowledge is not in fact power. Knowledge is potential power. Think of a classmate of yours (or even yourself) that earned straight A’s throughout school. Did everything they know lead to them having the most full and successful life ever? Are they at their happiest because of what they know? My guess is that they’re not. Knowledge is a tool to be leveraged. It’s a tool to be used in conjunction with habits.

Let’s say we want to start exercising (because we KNOW it’s good for us). What do we do next? Well, that seems pretty obvious. We sign up for a gym and start doing what we think exercise is for an hour and a half for five days a week. At the end of the five days you feel the weirdest combination of exhausted and excited and tell yourself that it will pay off in a few weeks (right?). Week two rolls around and you are struggling to get out of bed so you sleep in a bit longer and miss your gym window. And just like that the cycle is disrupted.

This concept can be applied to anything you try making a habit on a massive scale. You know you should eat healthier so you go out of your way to travel to the best supermarket–Whole Foods!–spend $200 on groceries, spend 3 hours prepping all your meals for the week because they have to look perfect, just so that your pattern becomes interrupted by the lack of time, money or effort in two weeks…so discouraging!

Too much too soon is the theme here. Sure, we hear of overnight successes but let’s be realistic here. If we are playing with the odds, then you should keep reading. Besides, the part that intrigues most of us about overnight successes is that the work and time associated disappears. News flash: we NEED SERIOUS effort in cultivating the best things in life.

Naturally, we envision our goals with the end in mind. Outcome driven. The problem is not the outcome but believing that our habits must match the outcome from the beginning. Momentum only lasts so long. We must rewire our minds to think in terms of longevity and proceed with small, manageable steps that will make us feel accomplished and also engage us to push for more.

Let’s get back to an example from above:

Outcome: Exercise 5 days per week for one hour (3 days cardio and 2 days strength training).

Step 1: Pack your gym bag the night before and leave it by the front door.

Step 2: Drive to the gym for those 5 days, exercise for 5 minutes and then leave. Yes, leave.

You might ask, what’s the point?! What we are doing here is shaping the mind to make leaving the house with your gym bag an effortless habit and accomplishing what you set out for without fail. We can all agree that 5 minutes of our time in a place that we anticipate staying 60 minutes is doable, right?

Step 3: Week 2. Drive to the gym 5 days in a row, exercise for 10 minutes and then leave.*

See where I am going here? Some of you may be thinking that it’ll take you years before you see results but think back to what I said about longevity. We are on a journey to build deep rooted habits and make it part of our lifestyle. You could also think about how many years of trial and error it takes a person before they just give up. This method provides a sustainable approach that tricks our mind and body to deliver consistent practice.

Slow and steady wins the race of life. Apply this to anything you want to accomplish; writing a book, becoming a vegan, journaling, etc. We can all benefit from the effect of compounding. Day by day, step by step, minute by minute.

*Disclosure: I am not suggesting this starting point for everyone. Thorough analysis of health and exercise history is factored in for best results.

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