‘How often do you exercise?’ my new doctor asked me.
‘Every day.’ I replied.
She looked sceptical and said ‘I mean proper, elevated heart rate kind of exercise.’
I said ‘I go to the gym most weekdays, and if not I go for a walk or a hike.’
It’s bizarre but people tend not to believe me when I say I exercise every day. Unless I’m sick, I purposefully move my body every single day. If I don’t manage to make it to the gym (I say gym loosely – it’s a lovely a lady up the road that runs fitness classes in her garage and half the time I can only go for half an hour), I pop my bub in the stroller and go for a walk to the park. I feel totally wonky if I don’t move my body every day but believe me, this behaviour does not come naturally to me. I was a book reading, indoors loving, sedentary gal from birth. When I was a child, if a bunch of kids from my street were going on a long ride I’d be all ‘Thanks guys but that sounds awful, I’m going to sit down instead.’ After years (and years, and years) of working on it, I eventually turned it into a daily habit. I honestly don’t even think about it anymore, I just do it.
When people question me on my unwavering daily exercise habit, it’s not that people think I’m lying, it’s just exercise is one of those habits that a lot of people struggle with and seeing someone succeed with this practice is cause for question. I feel the same when I look at thin people eating junk food. I’m all ‘How is that working? Are you just eating that for show? Why are you a size 10? ANSWER ME GOD DAMN IT!’
I’m just using exercise as an example here, but these are some reasons why you might struggle to exercise.
1. You don’t like it
2. You struggle with carving out time to do something for yourself
3. You couldn’t be bothered
4. You don’t care
These four excuses apply to all attempts at forming good habits and they can be divided into four emotion categories.
If you repeatedly fail to form a good habit, the reason why will usually fall into one of these categories. Let’s say you want to get better at saving money but you’re struggling to keep your hands out of your wallet. The reason why is probably one of the following…
1. Anger – You work hard so why shouldn’t you buy that thing you really want?
2. Guilt – Everyone else is going on that expensive holiday and you don’t want to disappoint people by not going.
3. Laziness – It’s just so much easier to buy lunch at a cafe than make it.
4. Apathy – Meh, I don’t need to save money. I’m good.
The trick with forming good habits is to figure out why you’re struggling with them and work backwards from there. If your method of self-sabotage is seated in anger ‘I don’t WANT to go for a run!’, then you need to work on reframing your thoughts around running. If your method of self-sabotage is apathy ‘Meh, I don’t care about my fitness.’, then you need to work on drumming up some enthusiasm.
If you’re looking at forming some good habits this year, here are some things to think about that will help form solid and lasting good habits.
1. The longer your list, the less you accomplish
People chronically overestimate what they will have time to do. When your list is too long, you become paralysed by choice and default to easy, mindless things like checking your email or scrolling through Facebook. Brains can handle a maximum of 7 items before being overwhelmed. So your mind can only cope with your lunch date, remembering to move your car, that meeting you have this morning, buying your kid’s schools shoes and so on. When you hit that 8th item, that’s when everything falls apart. It’s imperative to focus on one habit at a time and once you have that nailed, move on to something else. For example, in 2017 my primary focus was losing weight and creating solid eating habits. I’d had my exercise habit nailed for years, so I concentrated on eating/fasting. It took me a full year to develop good habits in this area and it’s the only thing I focussed on health wise and you know what? It worked. It took all year but I found my groove because I was singularly focussed on that one good habit. It also helped me to maintain a healthy weight while I was pregnant last year because my good habits were already properly established. Maintaining this good habit is quite painless now because I laid excellent foundations and took my time in establishing my routine around this habit.
2. Put a time and place on your habits
You’re 2x to 3x as likely to do something if you decide when and where you’ll do it. It’s important to note the difference between when a task is due for completion vs when there is time scheduled to perform the activities required to complete the task. I’ve recommended Long Day repeatedly and it’s fantastic, but I tend to use Actions now which is a product my partner released with Moleskine. I’ve been using Timepage for years as my calendar app, and last year, they released Actions which is a To Do list that integrates into your calendar. So if you’re a fan of Long Day app or want to experiment with scheduling your task, this app with be a life changer for you. You can schedule tasks on different days, repeat them and even have them in colour coded categories in your calendar app.
3. Remind yourself
Do whatever you need to do remind yourself to complete a task. Notes on the fridge, reminders in your phone, alarms, anything. I can’t tell you how many times I decided I was going to do something and then completely forgot I was even doing it. Accountability groups or challenges are good for the chronically forgetful because often they will be in a Facebook group and you’ll get daily prompts and reminders, so you don’t forget. Have you ever just completely forgot that you’re doing a health challenge? I did it this week. I’m doing a lame version of The Whole 30 again and I totally forgot I wasn’t supposed to eat processed meat during the challenge, let alone sugary sauces and I ate a bunless burger for dinner last night. I just clean forgot. So I’ve stuck notes around my house to remind myself. I even stuck a post-it note on my credit card to remind myself when I go to pay for any food I eat out and about.
4. If you don’t believe you can do it, you probably won’t
I’ve got some mates that follow this style of parenting I can’t remember the name of it but there’s this thing they call ‘positive momentum’ where if a child is being stubborn you just go ‘Oh no! Did your legs stop working? Here’s some magic potion to get them working again, oh look at that dog! Let’s smell those flowers…’ And you just hustle them along. I don’t know if it actually works on children (I have a newborn so I can’t vouch for its effectiveness) but I think this is a great idea for adults who self-sabotage. If you have a bad attitude about having to exercise, eat a salad, practice your singing or whatever you’re going to make it so much harder for yourself. If one of your things is to do meal prep, make it fun. Save your favourite podcasts and listen to them while you cook in the kitchen. It’s one of my favourite things to do on a Sunday. I’ve been binging the Guilty Feminist, and it’s such a great thing to listen to while I’m meal prepping on a Sunday. Sometimes you have to use your best hustle on yourself!
5. The most important thing when it comes to forming good habits is lowering your barriers
The human tolerance for barriers when it comes to completing a task is so ridiculously low, I’m surprised anything gets done. If you’re serious about forming good habits, you need to be meticulous in your preparation. Like when you lay out your gym clothes, lay out everything right down to your socks. If you’re looking for an excuse to not go to the gym in the morning, not being able to find socks is a great excuse. Same with meal planning, don’t make half meals like curry and promise yourself you’ll make rice during the week because if you hate cooking, you’re just not going to do that so when you plan, plan properly and remove any possible barriers you can to avoid self-sabotage.