by Dan John T-Nation
Here’s what you need to know…
- Big life improvements start with simple changes practiced daily.
- The best way to learn good habits is to give yourself daily tasks so easy that it’s unthinkable that you can’t succeed.
- Examples of small daily tasks include eating one more vegetable a day, drinking a good amount of water upon waking, or doing one mobility movement a day.
- If you can’t do 25 pull-ups or deadlift twice your body weight, simply commit to practicing those movements until you can.
- Don’t establish a deadline for these goals. Just let a few people know about it.
Small Steps, Big Goals
Successful people set goals. They write them down and commit to reaching them.
But having a big goal can be overwhelming at times. The finish line can seem very far away, even unreachable.
Successful people learn to break down the process into smaller steps and making them into habits – little things they can do every day that get them closer to reaching that goal.
The problem? Most people never attain their goal because they never establish those little habits. Why? Well, often it’s because those behaviors seem too easy.
What Is Your Fitness Goal?
Quick, think of your main fitness goal. Maybe it’s hitting a new PR in a certain lift, losing 10 pounds of fat, doing more pull-ups, or improving your conditioning. Doesn’t matter, just name your goal and write it down.
Now, jot down a list of things that’ll help you reach that goal.
But here’s the catch: These must be small behaviors that you’ll do daily, little steps toward the big goal. Maybe it’s eat more vegetables, drink more water, practice the pull-up before every workout, or a certain mobility drill daily.
Ideally, these should be things that you know you need to do, but for whatever reason haven’t actually incorporated into your daily routine yet.
Now, let’s begin the journey towards mastering these good habits.
3 Ways to Get Better (And 2 of Them Suck)
See which one you prefer:
1. Disappointment and Pain
This is often the best way, but I hope you never have to use this method.
This would be that horrible life altering moment when you literally can’t do anything except change your habits, your lifestyle, or your location.
Pain is a wonderful lever. An example would be a persistent pain in your chest that’s either a heart attack or a case of mistaken vampire identity. Most likely you’d start eating better or exercising.
Likewise, losing the big meet, getting divorced, or some kind of public humiliation seems to be a wonderful way to get people motivated to take on change.
The trouble is, most people simply have it too good. They don’t experience pain often enough to force any kind of a change in behavior.
2. Force and Imprisonment
Oh, this one works great. If I locked you down in prison or stuck you on a deserted island, we could make this a go. I’d feed you Purina Monkey Chow. It has all the nutrients humans need to survive.
For exercise, we would do some kind of Game of Thrones thing where we make you walk around a lot then fight with some kind of beast, demon, or surly human.
After all this, you’d be bound to make changes.
3. Improving Your Habits
BJ Fogg coined the term,”tiny habits” and it works. There are also no heart attacks or dragons involved. Bonus!
It comes down to this: Instead of aiming for a huge goal, set a goal so small that it’s unthinkable that you can’t succeed.
For instance, I wanted to drink more water, so I took a sip of water with every cup of coffee or adult beverage.
Then, when you do the work (the sip of water or whatever), you give yourself a high five, pat on the back, or a rousing cheer.
Now it may seem a little weird, but Fogg recommends flossing one tooth a day to teach the habit of daily flossing. One, not all of them. Eventually, it becomes ingrained and lo and behold, suddenly you’re flossing all those suckers with wild abandon.
What This Means For You
The big picture is a little different, but not much.
To accomplish a long-term goal, you need to master many small steps without draining yourself of energy.
The small steps have to be “built in.” They have to become habits. To go from where you are today to your long-term goals, take tiny steps to ensure everything important is part of your daily routine.
Commit, But Make It Easy
Habits are about commitment. Let’s look at some ways we can take on new commitments.
For example, I don’t know of a diet or eating plan that doesn’t encourage or demand more vegetables. Pavel Tsatsouline summed up the needs of most of us with the great line, “Meat for strength, veggies for health.”
I don’t know of anyone who couldn’t use more veggies in their diet, so start with this commitment:
I am going to eat one more vegetable a day.
Don’t work too hard on this. I get my canned vegetables with pop-top lids as it saves me a bit of time getting them from shelf to plate. Buy frozen veggies that you can microwave. I also buy pre-sliced and pre-washed mixes to pop into soups and salads.
I have the discipline to toss some fajita-mix veggies into a stew without much effort, but I’m not sure I want to spend time picking, packing, cutting, cleaning and slicing.
So, commit to one more vegetable, but make it easy on yourself!
The Water Habit for Fat Loss
Commit to something as simple as drinking two glasses of water when you wake up. I keep a jug of water next to my bed with just a hint of lemon juice in it for flavor.
When I wake up, I drink deeply from the jug. I don’t even think about doing it. It’s the best hangover cure I know and the best way to just get me moving forward.
Beyond that, you need lots of water!
By the time I leave my bedroom, I already have a start on the volume of water we need each day.
My best fat loss clients quickly discover that this, along with sleeping enough, are the simplest and most effective arrows they have in their fat loss quiver.
Commit to Better
There are a few benchmarks that athletes ought to be able to do as they age:
- Stand on one foot for ten seconds
- Standing long jump as far as you are tall
- Carry bodyweight for at least a few steps
- Squat down, hold the squat for thirty seconds, and then rise
- Hang from a bar for thirty seconds (highlights grip strength, sure, but most fail due to mobility issues)
To train these, I simply show athletes the list, have them attempt each, and then ask them to commit to “trying” to do better.
Over the next day, the next week, or the next month, I’ll ask if they squatted or jumped. Oddly, just practicing a little bit seems to get most people right back to these standards.
Pull-Up by Pull-Up, Inch by Inch
Commit to different challenges. Try doing 25 pull-ups. If you can’t, strive to do them by simply practicing pull-ups.
Can’t deadlift double bodyweight? Commit to it. Don’t establish a deadline; just let a few people know that’s your goal. Put any worthy goal “out there” and commit to achieving it, but don’t put a date on it.
This is how education works. You don’t sit down with a five year old and show them the piles of books, assignments, and papers they’re going to have to devour, finish, and deliver by the time they’re done. The five year old just “shows up” and day-by-day the work gets done.
Committing to a worthy goal works the same. I “retired” young because I followed the simple advice of my high school econ teacher and started putting aside ten percent of my earnings. What works in finance works in fitness.
Commit to doing one mobility movement a day. For me, it’s the windmill.
I started throwing the discus in 1971 and ten thousand throws a year left me with some asymmetry issues. So, each day, I hinge back and twist in to my windmill and assess things.
If I suddenly find that certain discs in my spine don’t want to move, I foam roll, warm up a bit longer, and assess again.
As you build on a commitment, add more. Make a plan for adding protein shakes, supplements, and clean meals. Make a commitment to squatting and deadlifting better.
As discus record holder John Powell tells us, “Yard by yard it is hard, but inch by inch it is a cinch.” Good habits will take you further than you think. Establish them by doing the little things now.
Commit to it.