Habits are a huge part of our lives. Whether good or bad, about 40% of our daily activities are habits. That’s powerful when you think about it.
So why not take advantage of the power of habits?
Better yet, let’s first talk about why habits are a good thing in the first place. For me, I want to spend my mental and physical energy on the day’s most challenging tasks. These might be writing this blog, or throwing down a hard run session on the track. I don’t want my energy zapped from making too many other decisions that I’m left unmotivated to exercise or staring at a blank white screen unable to think.
This is called decision fatigue. Here’s one definition: “the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making.” What does this mean?
After a long day at work, with countless decisions, have you ever come home and just wanted to sit on the couch? You feel as though your zapped of energy. Then when it comes times to make a tough decision, maybe to go for a walk outside, lift some weights, or prepare a healthy dinner, you opt for the easier choice. You sit on the couch and order a pizza.
Your decision at the end of the day is the result of your having to make a lot of other decisions earlier. Your brain’s become fatigued from making so many of them. And as the day goes on, the more decisions you make, the more fatigued your brain, and the deteriorating quality of each subsequent decision. Many times, these poor quality decisions late in the day, the result of decision-fatigue, aren’t the best ones for our health and wellness.
Enter: habits. When you can automate some of your daily activities it saves both time and mental energy. You’re then freed to focus more of your energy on the day’s more taxing decisions or tasks.
The first few hours of each day is almost exactly the same for me. During the week, I wake up at the same time. I have the same morning routine. I make coffee, go to the pool, come home, grab the paper, make my wife’s lunch, make another round of coffee, read a few articles while my wife eats breakfast, I eat breakfast after she leaves, morning stretches and functional movements, then I sit down to write. It’s like clockwork. My body’s so in-tuned with the timing of my morning routine that I use the bathroom every morning at almost the exact same time.
My entire morning is a series of habits. As a result, I can spend my mental energy on other things.
But, my morning didn’t always look like that. It took some work. But, once I figured out how to trigger my desired routine, and provide my own reward, I formed my new habit loop.
A lot of what I know about habits is thanks to the fantastic book, The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, which I can’t recommend enough. He breaks habit formation down into three stages:
- Reminder/trigger – this initiates the habit
- Routine – the action
- Reward – the benefit associated with the habit/behavior
There is no single way to approach forming a new habit. What works for you may be different than what’s worked for me. And that’s okay. The point is to create a system that allows you to thrive at whatever you do.
This recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine gives a good overview of a few different triggers you can try. My morning routine includes all of them in some way or another.
Changing bad habits and creating new ones is tough work. It takes time, consistency, and diligence. But, once you’ve created the system you want, habits and all, you can create the lifestyle you want. For me, that’s well worth it. As the author John Irving said,
“Good habits are worth being fanatical about.”