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Habit Layering

Let me walk you through what the first ten minutes of my typical day looks like. After my alarm goes off and I roll out of bed, the first thing I do is stroll over to my coffee maker. I grab the hand grinder; dump the coffee beans in and start grinding them up into the perfect consistency (if you aren’t using freshly ground beans then you are missing out). I then add water, switch on my percolator and start the brewing process.

As the water heats up and starts making my perfect cup of Joe, I grab my dog’s leash and take him for a walk around the block. As we are walking, I have learned to think about two things. First, I think about the one thing that I want to accomplish at work that day if I couldn’t do anything else. This isn’t always a major thing. Sometimes it might be to schedule a new athlete for their first training session or write a blog post. Sometimes it could be a bigger task like collaborating with other coaches to develop the next several weeks of a training block. Doesn’t matter, the important thing for me is start pondering how I want to go about accomplishing this agenda.

The second thing I think about is what I want to focus on for my training session later. If it is a particularly heavy training day, I might focus on my heaviest, top end sets to get my mind right. I might envision myself lifting more weight than last time. Sometimes, I may remind myself to focus on certain coaching cues or tweaks that I want to make to an exercise or two. Again, these thoughts aren’t always major goals or strength numbers that I want to hit in the gym. It’s just something that I want to get done for that particular session.

My dog just turned one year old this week. That means for the better part of the last 365 mornings, I have spent the first ten minutes walking alone with him. When my wife and I first got him, it was not nearly as easy as I remembered growing up. We would have to take him outside every two hours in order to train him. There was much sleep to be lost. I don’t recall that part of my childhood pets, I need to thank my parents! Rain or shine, we would take him outside 10 times per day. This was not what I had envisioned when looking to get my first pet as an adult.

Nowadays, I have learned to enjoy our early morning walks. There is no one else outside. The sun hasn’t risen yet making cooler. I purposely wear shorts and a t-shirt regardless of the temperature. I find that being just a little cold forces me to wake up. It’s nice and quiet and I can focus on the important parts of my day. I use this time as a daily meditation of sorts. A ritual if you will. When we get back inside, my coffee is ready to go and I am ready to tackle my day.

Implementing successful habits isn’t easy. Before I had a puppy, if I had tried to get up earlier in order to walk outside and think about the day ahead of me, I would have made it about three days. After that, it would have died with all of the drastic New Year’s resolutions I have made in the previous 20 years.

Instead, I built that habit over time. The walking the dog part was forced on me because I had to do it. At first, I wasn’t using this time wisely. I was focused on making him go as soon as possible so I could be back in the comfort of inside. Eventually, I started using our walks as a time to think about my day like I have mentioned. After that was going well, it clicked that I should make my coffee beforehand so by the time we get back, my magical brown liquid is finished. Once I started doing that, it allowed me more time to walk and thus, more time to focus on my important tasks.

I advise you to start small. Let’s say you have a goal of losing a significant amount of weight in the next four months. Right now, your diet looks terrible and you aren’t sleeping well. Instead of trying to create all of the habits of a top-level athlete at once, let’s start by drinking water with each meal. Simple enough, right? Let’s nail that down for a week or two then we can change something else. Next we can focus on let’s say spending ten minutes picking out your work clothes and making your lunch before bedtime. This way, you can optimize you time it takes to get ready in the morning and have a healthy meal already prepared and you can sleep just a little more. Once that is automatic, move on to the next step.

Habits are not made overnight. You can’t just magically optimize training, recovery and sleep with the push of a button. If that were true, we would all be gold medalists. The drastic changes that stick are the ones that we build over time. Don’t get discouraged if you have stalled in your progress. Get back to keeping it simple, tackle one small change then move on to the next and watch it snowball from there.

If you are still struggling on where to start, you can always force yourself into changes and get a puppy!

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