Yesterday morning I skipped the gym because my wife left early for a work trip. I usually exercise at 6AM and I needed to stay with our son, get him ready for school and everything. What’s interesting is that I was tired and needed a day off anyway, and yet in spite of my fatigue I still wanted to go.
This would have been crazy talk three months ago. For most of my 39 years, driving to the gym at 6AM was, in the words of Sir Lancelot, not right for my idiom. But over the summer I read this book called The Power of Habit and it changed things. I won’t attempt to summarize a sharp, complex book in a quickie blog post, but one of the many takeaways is that habits can be formed (and bad habits can be replaced) by defining a clear reward.
There’s a cue that triggers a habit, a routine (the habit itself), and a reward for following that routine. The brain automates this cycle so it can deal with other stuff.
A bad habit could be (1) Cue: Twinge of Depression (2) Routine: Emotional Eating (3) Reward: Cookie Pleasure.
A good habit could be (1) Cue: Wake and Put On Track Pants (2) Routine: Workout (3) Reward: Guilt-Free Bacon.
I like bacon and eggs. I like them a lot. So I established this routine in August and it worked like pig-flavored magic. I wake up, put my track pants on, go to the gym, and return for bacon and eggs. For the first week, I used a lot of willpower simply to rise and get in the car. But no joke: on those mornings when I wasn’t up for it, I visualized my future bacon. When I struggled with a pullup, I pictured bacon. And when I made it home and ate the bacon, I savored how good it all felt. I told myself, “This bacon is making you fitter. It’s giving you discipline and confidence. It’s not enough calories to sabotage the gym time and you’re developing a habit so simply it’s incredible.”
A few months later, I’m twenty pounds lighter. I have bacon every morning. The dog gets a piece. I walk in the door and he jogs to the kitchen, because it’s his habit, too.
Track pants, gym, bacon. I did it this morning. It was awesome.