The typical advice when trying to build a new habit or achieve a goal is to do it one at a time. It’s good advice considering that building habits takes willpower. The more you spread out that willpower the less chance you have in succeeding. However, after working on many different habits myself, I’ve noticed some habits are easier when done simultaneously.
The definition of synergy is a creation of a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts. In other words, sometimes 1+1 doesn’t equal 2 but 5.
Similarly, sometimes working on two habits simultaneously will get you better results — synergy. Other times, the effect is exactly the opposite — discord, because one of the habits makes it difficult to do the other one.
My main goal this year is to work on gaining more muscle mass and reducing body fat. To get there, one of the habits I’m working on is eating healthy and eating a lot. I started doing it earlier this year, but a month later I also decided to get braces to fix a crooked tooth problem. Anyone who’s had braces knows that eating is a pain in the ass. Food gets stuck and you have to clean your teeth all the time. In hindsight, getting the braces at that time was a terrible choice since it made my other goal harder. This is a great example of discord.
Another big goal of mine this year was working on quitting my job and doing my business full-time. That turned out to be very synergistic with the new exercise habit since now I can set my own work schedule. I can do my workouts whenever I want without rushing. Doing that when I had a full-time job and running a side business would have been difficult.
Since I work with clients on goals and habits all the time, both of these examples above got me thinking what habits and goals are synergistic with each other and what are some of the discords that we should avoid. Let’s look at a few common habits and how we can combine them.
Any type of exercise is going to require extra time. Even if it’s just a short jog in the park you have to set aside the time for it. If you’re currently working on another goal that is taking a huge amount of time, like a work project, it’s probably not the best time to start your exercise. If the time you spend exercising comes from cutting your sleep, for example, it’s a terrible idea. Your body needs even more sleep to recover and renew your muscles after a workout.
On the other hand, if you combine improving your sleep with working out, it’s going to make your recovery faster. Because of that synergy, maintaining the workout habit is going to be easier too.
Another big discord with exercising is currently having an injury. Earlier this year I injured my back and that made it more difficult to do my workouts. I had to be very careful, have perfect form, and make sure I don’t put any weight on the injured part. Again, in hindsight, it would have been easier to let the injury heal for a few months and then start the exercise program.
Eating healthier foods will help you do better with just about everything in your life — exercise, focus, productivity, etc. However, having a healthy diet usually costs more.
Many times I’ve started a healthier diet without thinking about if I can afford it and it ended up taking way too many resources.
A great habit to do alongside the healthy eating is budgeting. Creating a simple budget of how you’re spending your money is a great way to make sure you have enough to invest in your new diet.
A big discord with healthy eating is the people and environment around you. It’s much easier to stick to your healthy diet if the people around you are doing it too. So if you’re planning to take a vacation and go see your family for a month, and they’re not big on healthy eating, it’s probably not the best time. Even if you have very strong willpower you’ll constantly be tempted by the people around you. You’ll be better off waiting for a time when your environment will be more supportive.
Reading / Learning
To some reading and learning is enjoyable and comes naturally. Others have to work hard to do the habit consistently and continue growing.
One of the best ways to do your reading consistently is to set aside a period of the day that is dedicated only for that. Since life is so dynamic nowadays, that’s easier said than done. For me, the best time to read is in the evening before going to sleep. It’s a great habit to wind down, relax your mind, and get ready for sleep. At the same time, you’re staying away from bad habits for sleep like watching TV or browsing the internet. Doing both the reading and “no screens at night” habit is actually easier than doing them separately.
A great example of discord is the new season of your favorite TV show just coming out. You’ll be so tempted to watch it every night that the reading/learning habit will always be a second priority.
Waking Up Early
Getting out of bed in the morning as a night owl is hard, especially in the beginning. So to be successful we have to do anything we can to make getting out of bed in the morning and staying out easier.
One of the most effective things to stay out of bed is to go outside as soon as you wake up — also a great opportunity to get some exercise and get your heart rate up. True, you need extra discipline to work out, but at least you won’t be tempted to go back to bed. Even if it’s just a simple walk in the park, it makes the early rising much easier.
On the other hand, if you try to start meditation after waking up, you’ll find a lot of discord. Your mind will be foggy because of the grogginess and you’ll be tempted to just nod off and go back to sleep.
There are countless examples of discord and synergy. The ones above are just to get you thinking in that direction.
The best way to find out if two habits or goals are good together is to figure out what are the resources that you’ll need.
For example, one basic resource is time. If both new goals require extra time, they’re not a good match. On the other hand, if one of the goals frees up extra time for the other, they are synergistic.