So, the other day I stumbled upon a YouTube channel. It’s a middle-aged guy who lost a hundred pounds and now competes in all kinds of running, cycling, and general fitness events. He’s articulate, funny, and doles out some pretty good, motivational advice. I’m not sure why, but I gravitate to those types of channels. Probably because in my head, any day now I’m going to go run an ultramarathon. Never mind that I’m struggling with 3 miles at the moment. The training is really going to kick in soon.
Anyway, in one of his videos he mentioned creating habits. He referenced a book that he says completely changed the way he thinks about this sort of thing. It’s called Atomic Habits by James Clear. Well, if it’s good enough for this guy it’s good enough for me. I jumped on to Amazon’s book site, found the book, and… it said I’d already downloaded it. I checked my Kindle and sure enough, there it was. I’d even read it. And I had absolutely zero memory of it. Clearly it didn’t make much of an impression on me.
But maybe I was taking too much cold medication that week? I decided to give it another go. Sure enough, something jumped out at me several chapters in. Something that further proved, once again, that Mrs. Troutdog is the smarter one in our marriage. She didn’t like my post from the other day, saying she hates when I talk negatively about myself. I agree that I tend to be very self-effacing when I write. Sometimes it’s for brilliant comedic effect. Sometimes it’s authentic voice. The truth is that I’m not much of a self-promoter. Besides, it’s hard to fail if you set the bar ridiculously low to begin with. Right?
So, what does this have to do with habits? One of the things that the author said about creating a habit is the importance of creating a positive affirmation. It’s a subtle thing, but one that makes a difference in how you view the habit you’re trying to start. Rather than saying, “I’m going to go for a run because I’d like to be considered a runner one day”, you need to tell yourself that you ARE a runner. It doesn’t matter that you can barely go three blocks… you ARE a runner and therefore you need to train. That subtle shift in mindset makes a huge difference in motivation to continue a habit.
I realized that this is exactly what I’ve been doing to myself, for years, and why it probably drives Mrs. Troutdog crazy. While a pure beginner may not know the difference, someone who’s participated in a sport or activity for a while can recognize the difference between an amateur and someone who’s actually good. For many of my activities I can tell when someone really knows what they’re doing. In my head, those are the people who can call themselves a cyclist, skier, runner, writer, etc… I’ve never viewed myself as one of those people. For anything. In my head I always see myself as a beginner. Not worthy of a higher rank.
I need to go for a run this morning because I’m a runner. That’s what I do. And runners need to train. Boom! Mind blown. It’s weird how such a small change in thinking, can influence your motivation to do something.
The other nugget that was in the book is about quantity vs. quality. I’ve always struggled with habits because when starting out, it’s hard. Your form is bad. You don’t have the coordination. Endurance and strength limits what you can do. You watch videos that tout “do this one exercise for 20 reps to make major changes!”. I can’t even to 10 reps, let alone 20. Guess I won’t be doing that one.
As the old saying goes, perfect is the enemy of good. Habits are formed by repetition, regardless of the quality of what you do. The author suggests that if you want to run every morning, start by getting up every day, lacing up your running shoes, and walk around the block. That’s it. Do just that for three weeks. Every single day. It makes no difference that all you did was go around the block. You’re creating a mental cue. Rewiring your brain to change what your morning routine is. It takes hundreds of repetitions to create a lasting habit. It doesn’t matter what your running form is, if you get better, how far you went, or how fast you go. What matters is a hundred times you reinforced that cue – get up, put your shoes on, and step out the door. It’s a habit.
I am a runner. I am a mountain biker. I am a skier. I am a motorcyclist. I am a fisherman. I am a photographer. I am a writer. Now please excuse me, I need to go train.