A couple weeks into the New Year and many are staying strong with their resolutions.
Those that are struggling may find it helpful to read books such as Atomic Habits or follow blogs like Praxis for productivity advice. I’ve compiled some thoughts from a few reputable sources that give the most bang for your buck. And added a couple tools for tracking and monitoring progress.
From Atomic Habits by James Clear, there are different layers when it comes to creating lasting habits:
Layers of Behavior Change
- Goals: the actual outcome, finite
- Systems: the process to get to an outcome, infinite
- Beliefs: your perception of identity, amorphous
Going down the list, the motivation becomes less superficial and more intrinsic. We also reach a paradox with the initial two.
Goals and Systems can’t exists without each other. If you use purely systems thinking, you won’t know what’s working. Having the goal establishes a binary answer whether the system works. Without the system, we have no way of iterating after we reach the initial goal. Review of this system keeps it working forever. Updating the goal keeps the progress trending upward.
The hardest part of behavior change is adjusting your perception. Making new habits identity based allow us to shift the script on how bad we want it.
It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.
You vote with your actions on the person you want to be. As you gain momentum, these “votes” become a self fulfilling prophecy.
Intrinsic motivation is the most powerful tool for behavior change. Without sounding too rah-rah, what the mind can perceive the body can achieve. Believe you are an athlete and do what an athlete does. Believe that you are a chef and you will build the skill to cook well.
Set the goal. Establish a system to achieve it. Achieve the goal. Update the goal to a higher level. Rinse and repeat.
Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results. We need processes and tools to achieve our goals. These tools need to be able to update as we level up and achieve our goals. Life is an infinite game. Goals help us win the game. Systems keep the game going.
Perform a weekly review to see where things went wrong. Keep a journal of each day to find the reason why you didn’t get 100% completion. What gets measured gets managed, therefore keeping a journal makes it easier to adapt your habits and goals.
It’s alright to adjust goals if they are too difficult to accomplish at first. We can steer progress to habit building by managing the intensity. Like adjusting the amount of weight we put on a barbell if we’re having a bad day.
Tools I Use
We need a “point-and-call” system for our personal lives. Tools like the Lights spreadsheet are able to give a visual representation of the habits we want to build and show our progress in creating the habit.
I first heard about the Lights spreadsheet through Nat Chat where the owner of Ultraworking (Sebastian Marshall) introduced the tool. The Lights spreadsheet shows the general trend of where your habits are going. Completing the habit is binary, either you did the task or not. At the end of the week you have an objective view of which habits you are on track and which need work. Take my own goals for example,
I’ve set a few goals for:
- Speaking fluent Spanish
- Reading/Writing every day
- Maintaining a training regimen
- Going through my morning routine
- Getting to sleep by 10PM, Waking up by 5:30 AM
I am able to list them in the spreadsheet with options to add more if I choose. The creator Sebastian Marshall recommends only having a few to track because it is easier to stick to three habits than 20. The goal is to be able to make the habit an unconscious routine. You don’t need to think about doing it because the environment and triggers let you go on autopilot.
If I want to add a habit I want or delete a habit that I don’t need I can do so each week. I like the 4 week layout of Lights because it allows me to review it on a monthly basis instead of at the end of the year where goals and habits have changed. I’m making it part of my monthly review to gauge progress towards larger goals.
My morning routine from waking up to getting out the door for work takes a little over an hour each day. I’m able to minimize the friction to do everything I need within that time. This is the result of slowly adding each component (wake up, brush teeth, make breakfast, exercise, etc.) as it became more automatic.
I can’t recommend the Lights spreadsheet enough for those that are looking for a quick tool to use as a habit tracker. Try it out for a month and see how your progress goes. It is (and will probably always) be free to use thanks to the good folks at Ultraworking.
Training Log/Workout App/Video
I have used a notebook and workout log for a few years. It’s helped monitor my progress across the years and outlines the different phases of training I have performed. I highly recommend using a notebook and a digital app like TrainHeroic to keep track of your lifts and progress.
Video is an essential tool to improve quickly. It is easier than ever to identify where form breaks down or where your body is compensating. Keep a record of your exercises and review them each week. If needed, have a coach or post to a reputable forum to get feedback on your technique. Lean on the experience of the athletes that came before you and level up your fitness even faster.
We can achieve many things by manipulating the way our mind perceives our new habits. Setting up the proper systems and using goals to make sure the system works allows us to repeat forever and improve ourselves for the long term. Online and analog tools allow us to track our habits in an accessible way. The initial execution becomes the hardest part. Embrace the process. Build slow and incremental. Life is a long game. Enjoy playing it.