We're living in unprecedented times, forcing us to mix up our approach to life...
Hey there, how are you feeling? If you're anything like me you're ebbing between powering through and lying on the floor wondering whether you can muster the energy to make a cup of tea. But, despite the need to lie on the floor life is moving along and things still need to be done, just not at the same rate of knots a few months ago. Something, that I personally think is a welcome change to how we 'do' life.
One conversation I've been having repeatedly with clients over the last few weeks (and months) is how to stay motivated, especially when things are out of our control. It got me to thinking, a lot of our goal setting is around motivation and momentum, milestones giving us a push to the next marker. But what if things weren't moving, at all.
A good question.
I started hunting through my library of books and resources and my own habits, especially at the moment where routine and structure have pretty much flown out the window and I thought about what it is that I am doing that has kept me moving forward, however incrementally. Habit stacking. In a nutshell, habit stacking is attaching new habits to old ones.
For example, I see lots of people on Zoom meetings and calls in their leisurewear, pyjamas, or whatever else we would not wear to an office. I've also heard a lot of people saying they're binge eating, and/or not exercising because their gym has closed. We have some right royal spanners in our works, but we have the option to build new habits, routines and structures into our lives by pinning them to our current deeply ingrained habits - and yes, you do have them.
Having a shower
Brushing your teeth
Morning coffee / tea - Afternoon coffee / tea
Getting the mail
Putting on a load of laundry
Making / Eating breakfast / lunch / dinner / snacks
Posting on Social Media
Messaging or calling your partner / mother / father / children
To name a few.
Where should I start?
Start off with identifying 3 things you would like to integrate into your daily routine, right now. This is where I draw upon the work of James Clear, author of Atomic Habits.
Practice Spanish for 10 minutes every day
(Re)start meditating for 20 minutes
Do 100 push-ups + sit-ups every day
At first glance, these new additions are big and time-consuming and most people's (including me) first reaction is, I don't have time for that, it'll take too much time out of my day. Nup. No way. You've got to be kidding. Well...I'm not. And here's the strategy on how.
To introduce small, changes James Clear refers to what he calls habit stacking, which is the incremental introduction of new habits attached to current, well-established habits already in place. You saw the basic list of habits above. Brainstorm your own, you'll be amazed by how many habits / rituals you have throughout the day.
The formula to think about and follow habit stacking is;
After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]
So, the examples I put forward above, would look like this;
After I make my morning coffee, I will name and label 5 things in my kitchen in Spanish (and look up those that I don't know, hello Google Translate!)
After my alarm goes off in the morning, I will sit up in bed and meditate for 2 minutes before putting my feet on the floor to get up and start my day.
Before I have a shower, I will do 3 push-ups and 3 sit-ups.
Before you say it, yes, I know. These seem like tiny amounts. But, like me, I am sure you have resolved to do something every day, and after going hard for a week, two weeks, maybe even three, other priorities started to creep in. Your daily meditation got sidelined for seven minutes of snoozing, but you felt more tired during the day, so the snoozing increased to fourteen minutes, but still, you felt tired. Forgetting that meditation is actually one of the best things to restore and restabilise your energy.
What we want to do, is instil new habits in sustainable ways, to ensure that we will maintain our habits over a long period of time.
Incrementally increasing them over time. A concept is otherwise known as “the aggregation of marginal gains” - if you can improve by 1% every day, over the course of a year you will be 37% better than when you started.
For the visual amongst us;
You know when you decide you want to start a diet, and before starting you eat all the chocolate in the house and the next day you go cold turkey..? Yeah, I know you know that one. Well, that doesn't work for 97% of us, we either white knuckle our way through it until we break at some point, on holiday, during a shitty day at work, when life just seems HARD. A bit like now, really. Or we just, don't.
That's why it's important to focus on small changes. Manageable changes. Over a period of time.
How will I remember to do them each day and how will I know that I am improving?
I knew you were going to ask that.
If you keep a Spanish dictionary in the kitchen and label the 5 things you have named each day, you'll be reminded every time you go into the kitchen, and will without even making an effort start to remember all the words for items as you move about day to day.
If you tally the number of push-ups and sit-ups you do every day (on your phone, on a calendar, on the wall or fridge) you'll be inspired to 'beat yourself' the next day. You'll feel stronger and each day it'll get a bit easier to go for a bit longer, to do one or a few more.
If you use a meditation app, it will record the minutes spent meditating and the number of days you have meditated for a stretch without a break. I use Insight Timer. Your body will kick in and demand more, you'll think about it more, look forward to it, and all of a sudden it'll become something you can't live without.
Failing all of that, put a reminder on your phone. I have a daily mantra I receive a notification for at 9 am and 9 pm. I stop whatever I am doing (where appropriate) and take 1 minute out to say my mantra, breathe deeply and return to my day. A few months ago I would have laughed out loud if someone had suggested I would be doing this now, and at 9 am / 9 pm I would be reaching for my phone to turn off the notification before it's even popped up. But here I am, doing just that.
Which reminds me, use your phone. It's an exceptionally powerful tool for building habits. If you're not convinced, make yourself aware of your reaction when you hear a notification sound. What has this sound trained you to do..? Yep, that's right. Reach for your phone. Think on that for a moment.
Have you ever tried to use SMART goals? If not, read about how to implement them here.
So you've tried SMART goals and they weren't for you. I can appreciate that, have a look at what I use, START goals, yep, surprisingly similar, but for me more effective. Read about them here.
And, last but definitely not least, have fun. We forget that fun plays an important role in our lives. Make fun part of your day, every day. It'll make life easier, not to mention, more enjoyable.