So, I spent my birthday weekend training some BJJ with the deadliest human I've ever met. Naturally, I am very, very sore today, and I found myself dreading my workout alarm.
This is a key distinction I think eludes a lot of people. I wasn't debating exercising, I wasn't considering turning off the exercise alarm, I was simply dreading HAVING to exercise when the exercise alarm went off.
See, it isn't negotiable.
This is the part I find difficult to explain to folks sometimes. It isn't optional. I can complain if I want to, but unless both my arms got blown off, I'm doing push-ups when that alarm goes off. (and if they did, I'd do squats instead)
I believe the core attribute required to achieve this mindset is not discipline or willpower.
I believe it is integrity.
If I promise to do something, I will do that something. It is an important attribute to me, because I've made it important. It is this attribute that I leverage to ensure a healthy lifestyle.
I set that alarm. That means I promised to do something when that alarm went off. Not a few snoozes after it went off. Not canceled entirely and put off for another day. When it goes off, do the thing.
So, I hear you asking "how do I do that?"
Here's my recipe.
1) Define a promise
All too easily, many of us get far too loose with our definitions of a promise. "Well, I didn't actually SAY 'I promise', so..." is the biggest crock of shit. You said you'd do the thing. Do the thing.
2) Go a month making as few promises as possible, and write down every single one. "I'll call you later." "I'll be there for five." "I'll see what I can do."
Awareness is always important for acquiring or breaking a habit. Notice how many promises you're making every single day. Also, notice how vague you're being. "I'll call you later"? How about "I'll call you tonight"? Or, "I'll call you tonight after I finish xyz"? Or, "I'll call you at 8:35". Get specific with your promises, or don't make them. There's nothing wrong with saying "I'll do my best to give you a call, but I have a lot on my plate today so I can't promise anything."
3) Only make promises you can keep
4) Begin making small promises to yourself that are designed to create habits.
Here are some of mine:
"I do not hit the snooze button."
"I get up within 10 seconds of my alarm going off*"
"When the exercise alarm goes off, I exercise."
5) Consequences (optional)
You may not need this one, but sometimes both a carrot and a stick are required for optimum results.
If you break your word, there should be consequences. If you lie to yourself, there should be consequences. If you take a step backward in building accountability with yourself, there should be consequences.
Whatever your proverbial "swear jar" is, do that. If you like money, give it away if you break your oath. If you like a thing, give that away. It should be something you CAN do (eg don't say "I'll burn my house down" because... you won't. You'll justify and rationalize your lie so you don't have to.)
*If I fail to get out of bed before the tinkly bit in the Batman theme (which is approximately 10 seconds into the song) I give $1,000 to charity. (and yes, I use the Batman theme as a trigger :P )
If you can survive on $1000 a month income and you make $1800, then $800 would be the cost, not $900. It should hurt, it should suck, but it shouldn't ruin your life.
Ideally, the stick should not be a carrot in disguise. Eg, if you love getting Significance and your stick is to publically give to charity and you post that on your facebook wall, you might accidentally be reinforcing the negative loop instead of the positive one. Careful!
Here are some fun ways to make a new habit.
1) Pavlov's sticky-notes
Put a sticky note somewhere you'll see about 10 times a day. Not somewhere you'll see constantly, like on a computer screen, but somewhere you'll walk past on your way to do things, like on a window, a door frame etc. The point is to be a little surprised to see it, not to stare at it.
Every time you see this sticky note, do a thing. The thing should be relatively easy to do, like one calf raise, or one fast punch, or one jumping jack etc. It shouldn't be 100 push ups, because that has the potential to be broken. The habit we are building is the habit of not negotiating with ourselves. We saw the note, do the thing. That's it. If you're carrying a plate of food, set it down, do the thing, then pick it back up again. If you have a guest over, do the thing, laugh and explain it to them.
Always do the thing.
If you don't want to do the thing anymore, take the note down.
Never negotiate not doing the thing if the note is up. There is no good reason not to do the thing.
Pay attention to your mental dialogue. If it's a thing you don't want to do, your mental dialogue might go something like "oh, shit. I looked at the note" as you're doing the thing. NOT "hmmm did I really see the note?" or "well, I just looked at the note five seconds ago, so this one probably doesn't count..." or "I will do that thing in a few minutes." or any other negotiations. See the note, do the thing.
2) Pavlov's bitching
We all have "that thing" we don't like. Could be a red light, a sink full of dishes, an unflushed toilet, whatever.
Pick a thing, and make it a trigger for a mental exercise you'll enjoy. Some examples might be you think of one thing you're really grateful for, or you stretch your neck, or you squeeze your butt and laugh. WHATEVER. The fun thing about this, is that you'll actually begin to look forward to that red light.
This is the same basic premise as smoking, by the way. You look forward to taking a break, doing some deep, calming diaphramatic breaths, and connecting with yourself. (it just happens to be a very self-destructive away to achieve this state).
3) Evening rituals
Every time you pull your bed quilt back, do one push-up. You'll notice I didn't say every time you get out of bed. The reason for that, is if you ever have food poisoning, you might debate doing it (or have a mess to clean up.) But you're never in that big of a rush to get into bed. Think ahead when you're making these promises. They are not negotiable.
Comment below, I'd love to hear which ways you've used any of these tips, and what habits you've created!
PS this is all a lot easier if you have a reason to do.
If you don't have a strong reason to do any of the above, then no technique for doing will help you. Without a driving force behind us, we won't move, even if we know we should.
(If this were not the case, we'd all have six-packs and none of us would smoke. Knowledge is not enough. Leverage is required.)
If you're struggling to define your reason, read "How to find your passion" which will walk you through the process of both emotional excavation and clarification until you are jumping out of bed every morning to tackle your why.