What Do You Need to Form Healthy Habits That STICK?
What habits are you looking to form? What other habits will need to be broken to make this one stick?
I’ve just achieved something I don’t think I’ve ever done of my own volition as an adult: exercising and moving every day for a month. Angela (my wife) challenged me last month to do this 30-day challenge, and I quickly converted it into my 30/30 challenge — at least thirty minutes of movement for thirty days.
Staying consistently active on my own has been my biggest challenge as an adult. Being in the Army gave me a lot of impetus to maintain my level of fitness in my twenties, but I never really exercised as much as I needed to and knew was good for me, or in a way that harnessed my natural strength. To be honest, I’ve always had it incredibly easy when it comes to staying in shape because I could exercise once every week or two and sprinkle calisthenics throughout the day and be just fine. Age, a sedentary job, and a few years recovering from a car accident have caught up with me, though, and I’m currently twenty-five(ish) pounds heavier than is good for me and have lost a lot of my endurance. And something that’s true for me now in a way it wasn’t previously is that my body hurts more if I don’t exercise than if I do.
Finding an Accountability Buddy
Even knowing all that, I haven’t really created a way to get consistent daily exercise in a way that works for me. This is where Angela is a fantastic coach, in general, and specifically for me. Here are some specific ways we made it possible for me to complete this goal:
- She knows that if I want to build healthy habits, it’s best if it’s something I do every day rather than a few times a week.
- I need to make it SMART; the specificity of thirty minutes or more for thirty days — with brisk walking counting — made it super clear what needed to be done.
- She knows about my streak mentality and how once I get a few days under my belt, I’ll keep doing it so that I won’t break my streak.
There were quite a few nights where I was out walking in the middle of the night because my evening commitments and work made it such that I couldn’t get my exercise in earlier. There were also some difficult days — like when we thought we were needing to let our 18-year-old cat go or during the buildup to launching Epic Launch Playbook — that it was really hard to get it in.
There was one additional thing she added in that made all the difference: that we were doing it together. This was critical for me because she knows that I don’t do nearly as well with goals like this when I’m all by myself. We’d reaffirmed this when I started working out with Cory last fall. There were plenty of days that Cory and I agreed to that I wouldn’t have shown up for if it were just me because of a host of all too familiar excuses. It wasn’t just about the fact that I made a promise to be somewhere, though — I enjoyed being there so much more and it was some guy-time with one of my best friends.
Moving with Angela tapped into that last bit, but it also made it such that I didn’t have to choose between my goal (exercise) and spending time with her, something I really enjoy and often don’t get to as much as I’d like. Most days we ended up walking for forty or fifty minutes, which means we were also talking for forty or fifty minutes. Since we didn’t put a “no business talk” rule in place, we also were able to have a lot of owner-manager discussions that we wouldn’t have otherwise had OR would’ve had in the middle of dinners or drive-bys throughout the day (which neither of us really like to do). More of our talk was about business stuff than we’d both like, and that’s representative of where we’ve been over the last month, especially with Angela taking a much more prominent role in the business of late.
Breaking Habit Inertia
Somewhere around ten days in, the 30/30 challenge had become more or less ingrained in both of us, to the degree that we both knew it was going to happen even if we didn’t feel like it. We also knew that it would feel really wrong if it didn’t happen. This point in habit formation is where the magic really kicks in because it’s mostly no longer about discipline or willpower, or, better said, it’s when you no longer have to work against habit inertia.
Therein lies one of the secrets of habit formation: to build new healthy habits, you usually have to break the habit inertia from some other habit(s). We were breaking some media consumption habits — hers was TV, mine was gaming on the iPad — which is both where we found the time to steal and the habit inertia to break.
Given that we’ve been together for going on twenty years, this isn’t the first time we’ve tried to workout together as a way of getting us both going, but it is the first time it’s worked. Part of it was that we found a no-brainer activity that we both could and would do, but the other part of it is that we didn’t tie all of our movement and exercise to something we were doing together. There were plenty of days where Angela would exercise by herself or with friends and still get our walk in together. I only logged a couple of workouts without her, at best. Given my meeting and creative schedule, it’s much harder for me to break out during the day to go workout.
Even though we’re now four days past the 30/30 limit, we’re still 34/34. We’re both wanting to mix in more gym and cardio time, but if the last few days are representative, it’s looking like it’s going to be gym/cardio plus the daily walk. There’s still time to steal to make it happen, but it’ll be interesting to see how we work out working out at the gym together — it’s never really been something that has worked for us given different capabilities, foci, stamina, and energetic intensity. No matter what happens with the gym thing, we still have a streak that neither of us wants to break.
Charlie Gilkey is an author, business advisor, and podcaster who teaches people how to start finishing what matters most. Click here to get more tools that’ll help you be a productive, flourishing co-creator of a better tomorrow.