Hhm.. How many times did I make new year resolutions and promises to myself, only to break them in a few weeks.
As you probably know, gym membership skyrockets by 100% each January only to crash back the next month.
So at least I wasn’t alone in this crap.
But good news, there are proven ways to break that cycle and convert the initial motivation into a long term success.
And it doesn’t apply to gym ONLY, but to any self improvement habit from weight loss to learning how to play an accordion.
We are going to talk mostly about exercise here, because that is what I have successfully tried myself and have some insights into, but the principles are universal. From exponential returns to KISSing your way through and from pleasure stacking to hijacking your dopamine systems. It is a science with a prescription.
So, back to New Year’s Resolution Syndrome. Up until 2 years ago I was repeating exactly the same saw pattern, signing up, going all out, dropping out.
Basically, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
The mistake I was making – I was trying to run on MOTIVATION alone.
But you see..
MOTIVATION only gets you to the foot of the mountain.
To get all the way up – you need DISCIPLINE.
So what I really needed was a Game PLAN. I had to outsmart my monkeys. Everyone has those, physiologists call them fast and slow thinking systems. But after my meditation adventures I like to give them some personalities, it makes life a little more fun.
And Unfortunately My “main ” or at least the noisiest monkey, who’s in charge of the default network of the brain, most of the time is extremely lazy, emotional and hates any change.
So, to stop the insanity I had to convince her/him/they to try something NEW this time. Get away from making resolutions and start working on good habit building.
Sources on Habit Building
When I’m not saving the world, one blog at a time, and have to waste the valuable time to pay the bills, I write code.
And because in my opinion, all good programmers are lazy, when I run into a coding problem, the first thing I do – I go to stackoverflow.com and in 90% of the cases somebody has already figured out the solution.
When I write the script for my life and run into a problem, the first thing I do – I check the library and in 99% of the cases somebody has already written the book with the solution.
My top books for the deep dive into discipline and setting yourself up for a success are:
- Atomic Habits by James Clear – how to create good habit loops
- Obstacle is The Way By Ryan Holiday – why the hard things are exactly what you want to do
- Influence by Robert Cialdini – all the psychological tricks to affect other people, but what’s more important in this case – yourself.
So let me outline the main tips I’ve pulled from these books to get consistent resistance training into my life and how I apply it nowadays to running . It is work in progress as of today, but at least now I know that success is possible and how long it takes.
Know your WHY, but focus on the PROCESS.
Everyone wants to be healthy, but there is a difference between everyone and successful people. Successful people have the process and routines dialed in.
So, I’m not training for a 10K run, instead I just go for a jog every other morning. But the key here – is to have it on a schedule, so that lazy monkey knows ahead what’s going on.
I used to have TODO lists, until I realized – that they are just graveyards of my good intentions.
Nowadays, if I want something done – I put it on a schedule. It removes the wiggling room from the monkey.
Schedule can be amplified or in some cases replaced by
That’s when you pair a new habit with an existing one, so it gets triggered automatically and doesn’t require processing power.
In my case: I already have a lifetime routine: I wake up, greet the sun, have a glass of water, do a few “secret soviet” breathing moves, and then I stick a run on top of it, a then jump into a shower and only after that have a coffee and check my phone.
So you see there is a mixture here of the things I already do, which is a trigger, with new additions and a small reward in the end. No run – no coffee.
No training – no breakfast.
Change your self perception.
Be the person you want to be, before you really become it.
So from this day forward, if you also decide to work on running, let’s say, you are not a person who tries to run, because that person defaults to not running. Instead, you call yourself in your head a RUNNER, that new you defaults to getting out, even if the total run is going to be a 100 steps.
We can double on self-perception. Your brain doesn’t like cognitive dissonance, it’s too taxing. It wants to be consistent with what you think, what you say, and what you do.
When I think “I’m a RUNNER”, when I say to you “I’m a RUNNER” my emotional monkey doesn’t want to be caught lying and for a run we go.
Here’s a simple exercise you can do right now.
Think about one thing you want to improve the most, share this article and write alongside “I’m a … that thing” Put the pressure of the social responsibility on your monkey and it will cooperate much better.
You can spike your dopamine by binding your new activity with something pleasant like listening to music or a podcast. But don’t do it every time. When you are already out, flip a coin. And either enjoy the music or enjoy the clean pure effort.
Embrace the Effort
But that effort – you have to fully Embrace. That is where the change happens.
Think about it like a game, when you feel the resistance, but get through, all that experience makes you so much better. In a way you absorb that energy which you conquer.
It applies both to mental resistance – get up, put the shoes on and to physical resistance – run another ten steps. And then maybe another ten.
The only way forward – are small, but consistent improvements. Don’t try to kill yourself with big efforts, because the goal, right now at least, is to make a sustainable habit.
So KISS – keep it simple, slow or short. If it’s too hard – run slower, right.
Again, Small efforts, but consistent. At this stage of the game, we are not after the massive gains, but after making the new groove and retraining that monkey. If you put too much on her back, it will crumble.
I’ve tried once to get into lifting weights, running and waking up early all at the same time..
Sounded so great on paper, but you know the monkey had a breakdown
If you need extra boost, I have a special T-shirt, just for the bad days to remind myself about the 8th wonder of the world.
Track and Reward
So reward yourself mentally for the smallest effort – don’t think I could’ve done more, instead think, yeah I did more than nothing! And keep that winning streak with a journal. Or there is a great website called habitica, which helps to gamify your efforts and provides in-game rewards.
Don’t forget to sleep. Did you know that sleep quality affects how both motivated you are and how hard you can push yourself?
Think about your will power as a limited resource, which gets used throughout the day and then get replenished when you eat and sleep.
Don’t overtax your battery and keep it charged. Good news, all this process, if you follow it, grows the battery as well.
More on my sleep adventures: Perfect Sleep Mattress Quest
Ok, the last point is not from the books. It’s from me personally.
Whatever you do – Start with Love. If you like yourself, or even better – love yourself and want to improve something – you will succeed, because love always wins the day.
If you don’t like yourself, or worse, hate yourself – you will sabotage yourself.
So put love before the horse, if you decide to skip a day, or have an extra cookie, whatever, always say to yourself: “It’s the best thing I can do for myself now”. This is what stops the bad binges in their tracks.
How Long it Takes
And I’ve been applying all of the above for a couple years now to my own life. And what I can say, it takes about 6 months until YOU yourself notice some improvements. About 2 years for your friends to notice and start commenting on (which is kinda funny, because you post regular updates that you now exercise, and in 2 years they are like Oh, you exercise now! DUH!!)
About 3 to 5 years to actually go from impostering to a full tilt – yes, that’s who I’m now. That’s when your lazy monkey switches to the new tracks.
And don’t get me wrong, hard things – they are still very hard, but how should I put it, trying and doing these hard things is a habit in itself. And the more you do it, the more doable and satisfactory it gets.
It doesn’t get easier, but you learn to enjoy doing the hard things. And that’s, I hope we can agree, is a worthy goal in itself.