Time to start changing your habits

Getting started

In our last post we looked at having the right vision for yourself to get started on a journey to self-improvement. Many people really do not know how pivotal this is — myself included. I am surrounded by fitness buffs. In our neighborhood there are people running, jogging and cycling every morning. I used to see them on my early morning drive to work. Sometimes, it gets pretty depressing. I never thought of myself as a fitness freak, but I always wondered what makes them get out of bed that early in the morning, after fajr and start running. I always thought it was quite admirable… and sometimes downright idiotic. I mean, who wakes up this early in winter anyway?

I always thought of myself as in shape and never felt like I needed to start doing any of these punishing regimes. I always thought of it as people using exercise to get in shape. We are constantly bombarded with advertising and images of people wanting to lose weight and for some reason, we often associate doing exercise and a healthy diet with wanting to get thinner. It never occurred to me that you just need to be fit. You just need to keep your body functioning at its peak — all the time.

When I finally realized that it’s about staying fit, not just getting fit, the vision became about a lifestyle change and not just a goal weight. Once you get that right, you will realize that who you are needs to change. It’s not about diets and seasonal shredding bootcamps anymore, it’s about what you do every day.

I know what it’s like to not be motivated to get out of bed and put on those running shoes. It’s far easier to stay in a warm cosy bed when it’s freezing outside. It’s far easier to make excuses or put it off for later. People more often than not, like to take the easy way out, and sometimes, no matter how motivated you are, you just fall off the wagon. There are always excuses. Your mind easily makes up reasons to maintain the status quo — keeping you in that warm, cosy bed. “I will be late for work”, “I don’t have anything to wear”, “I don’t want anyone to see me working out”… sound familiar?

So, is it all about staying motivated?

Look, people are lazy and they will often tend to do things that take the least amount of effort or cause the least amount of discomfort. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but if you don’t fall into that category of people, pay attention. It’s not just about motivation. Sure, you must want to do it, but wanting something doesn’t necessarily mean you will go out and get it done. Motivation is important for having the right intention, but motivation itself is not something that will change your behavior.

Sure, I want to be a famous author and I already have a great idea for a novel, but if I don’t ever make the time to sit and write it out, it will always just be a figment of my imagination. So, I am motivated to write it, and I’m excited about it, but why is it not coming to fruition? Well, along with motivation, you need a couple of other things to change your behavior. Capability and the Opportunity.

Capability is all about whether you can actually do what you need to do, and that depends on whether you are physically and mentally able to do it. Do you have the knowledge to get started? Do you need training? Do you need to do some research before you get started? Do you have any physical restrictions for what you want to do? Do you need to check with your doctor first? Think about what you will need to get started. Is there any financial investment required?

Often, this is where we give up. We make excuses before we even get started. “I don’t have the money”, “I don’t have the right this or that”… You need to start with the smallest possible changes in the direction that you want to go in. Think of the smallest change you can make without taking too much effort. For example, instead of starting off with the intention to wake up and do a 30 minute run on the treadmill, commit to something far easier like a doing a quick walk or jogging on the spot the minute you get out of bed. Even if you jog for 1 minute, you have accomplished your goal. Try not to set definite time limits for yourself. Start small and let it grow.

The second thing you need is opportunity. Is there a specific time that it needs to be done at? Is there a place that you need to be to do it? Is there a group you need to get involved in to be eligible to do it? When will you be able to do what you need to do? When will be the right time? Think you don’t have the time to workout? Be wary of the lazy brain making excuses for you. Try not to restrict yourself from what you need to do. Think of creative ways to sneak in what you need in your busy schedule. A minute or two here and there makes no difference to your schedule, but all the difference on your trajectory to success.

Routines and existing habits

The optimal way to do this is to attach these small changes you want to make to existing habits or routines that you do everyday without thinking. Think about what you do from the time your eyes open in the morning. What do you do as soon as you get out of bed? When can you sneak in that 5 minute jogging on-the-spot? Before brushing your teeth or after? Make it easy and effortless. Write it down in your diary if you have to.

Use this recipe based on B.J Fogg’s Tiny Habits to help you spell it out and commit to it. Remember to start with the tiniest change, something your brain will not have a reason to find an excuse for. Make it effortless and once it has become a routine, you can keep adding to it.

Set yourself up for success

Take the time to set things up for success so you have no more excuses. No time to work out? Leave a couple of dumbbells under the bathroom sink. Even if you pick it up off the floor to move it out of the way, you’ve made a change to your routine and lifted a couple of extra kg’s that day. Have no idea how to workout? Think it’s too much of effort? Print out an easy cheat-sheet and stick it on your shower door. Don’t have any exercise equipment? No problem, find an easy workout like the one posted below.

Make a fuss

What’s the key to staying motivated after you’ve made any small change to your life? Reward yourself. Sometimes this is just the feeling of being better and doing better, sometimes it means giving yourself permission for that creamy cappuccino after your morning run, whatever it is, heap on the praise for taking the time and effort to improve yourself. Take pride and pleasure in the little things in life.

Keep the focus

The Prophet Muhammad(صلى الله عليه وعلى آله وسلم) advised his followers, to work, to be energetic, and to start their day early, all of which are conditions for a healthy body. He also said “Any action without the remembrance of God is either a diversion or heedlessness excepting four acts: Walking from target to target [during archery practice], training a horse, playing with one’s family, and learning to swim.”[At Tabarani]. So, when you are working out, use this as an opportunity to remember the blessings Allah has given you. Your body is a trust and it is your duty to keep it healthy and fit.

Some useful links to help you get started