Intentional Living – Why I’m building new habits for a new year

As part of my intentional living plan this year I am working on building some better habits. Now I’m not a huge fan of exercise. Mostly because it’s hard, uncomfortable and never involves sitting on the couch watching Netflix while eating cookies. However, as I move further into my forties I know that staying fit and active is the best way to keep feeling good and to keep joint and back pain at bay. Getting fit has always been something I haven’t had too many problems doing. It’s not hard to stay focused for a few weeks or even months. Unfortunately, I then find that when setbacks occur, I struggle to keep on track and tend to end up losing all that hard won fitness and strength. What I am looking for this year is a more long term approach. I need to develop habits that will carry me through the setbacks rather than using setbacks as a reason to break from my routine.

Recently, I’ve been listening to an excellent podcast by The Minimalists. On the podcast they talk to James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits. Clear covers a number of simple ideas for forming new habits, such as breaking down new habits into two minute chunks and slowly working towards them.

He gave a great example of a guy who wanted to work out at the gym five days a week for forty five minutes. The guy knew he wouldn’t be able to stick to the routine right away so he made a rule that said he was only allowed to work out for five minutes at the beginning. So each day he would put on his work out gear, drive to the gym, do five minutes and go home. A bit of a waste of time perhaps? Not really since the habit the guy was actually trying to form was getting in the car and driving to the gym in the first place.

I really like this approach and have taken it up myself. On the nights when I go swimming at around 8pm at night, it’s really hard to get motivated to go. So I’m trying a new habit building technique. As soon as I get home from work I get out my swimming bag, put in my keys, phone etc and put the bag on the bed. From that moment, I know I’m going. It really helps with the lack of motivation after a hard day.

Another technique they talk about on the podcast is stacking a habit with a reward, and I don’t mean cookies. When I think about going to pool I now say to myself. “Hooray, Spa night!” This is because after I’ve done my 1km workout I get to go and sit in the delightfully warm and relaxing spa pool and look out the huge picture windows into the bush beyond the pool complex. This really helps change my perspective on what can be a pretty tough workout. I can tell myself I’m actually going for a spa rather than a swim. The swim is just the condition that comes before sitting in the spa.

I also read a really good article by Benjamin Hardy entitled “If It Doesn’t Suck, It’s Not Worth Doing”. The title really says it all and I have to say I do agree with this idea. In my experience, we would much rather sit around watching Netflix and eating cookies than do difficult and challenging things. I for one have never thought to myself, “Hooray, I get to do hard core High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).” not once. I do say “Despite the fact I would much rather sit around watching Netflix and eating cookies I have to do this HIIT workout because it will help me live a more intentional life…dammit this sucks.”

These habit forming techniques are going to be a great help with the things I want to add into my life this year and despite my trepidation I’m almost looking forward to how these new habits will help me ride out the setbacks ahead. What will be more challenging will be removing certain habits, such as breaking my addiction to the sweeter things in life. Breaking that habit is going to require commitment and willpower. On the podcast, they gave one example of a guy who knew he was going to flake out of his fitness plan and so drew up and signed a contract, including penalty clauses, with his fitness trainer and his wife. This worked really well for him, as signing the contract gave him the mental commitment to stick with it. Jame Clear talks about creating a new identity through the formation of new habits, one where you do all the things you want to do and have left behind the things that are holding you back.

So this year, I am not going to be someone that has a ‘sweet tooth”, who can’t say no to sweets, cake or ice cream. I am actually someone who avoids sugar as it’s not good for my mood, my health or my waistline. I’ve said it here on the internet, and all of you who are reading or follow my blog have witnessed it. I know that saying it publicly will help me to stay committed. I’m looking forward to being able to say I’m formed new habits that don’t involve ‘comfort sugar’ when I look back at 2019.

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Are you working on forming new habits this year? I’d love to hear about your plans and journey in the comments section.

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