Streamlining Better Habits

When it comes to getting things done, the hardest step is often the first one. We want to exercise, but getting off the couch is tough. We want to start writing, but we put off opening up a new document on our computer or grabbing a pen and notebook. That first step, the shift towards a new activity, is often the one that defeats us.

I’m writing this around the time when many people make resolutions. If you want to increase the chances of keeping yours, one thing you need to do is streamline the path to better choices.

Here are some examples involving exercise:

  • To make it easier for you to go to the gym, pack your gym bag the night before and place your sneakers and bag by the front door. 
  • If you’re exercising with a YouTube video, open a browser window with the video ready to go. Have it be there, waiting for you to press play. Create a playlist with your exercise videos, so you have them all in one place and can easily find the routine you’re looking for.
  • Reduce decision fatigue by picking a particular time each day for exercising. Maybe you want to do it first thing in the morning, or maybe you prefer right before dinner. Pick a time (or times) you can stick to fairly consistently. This way, you waste less energy deciding. After a while, you barely have to think about it at all; it becomes habitual. If you need to change your schedule for a given day, don’t wait until the last minute to pick a replacement exercise time; make your decision in advance.

You want to reduce the number of steps you need to take between being in a sedentary state and exercising. You also want to reduce the energy you spend wrestling with conflicting choices and desires. The more you streamline, the greater the chance you’ll exercise.

On the flip side, you want to place obstacles on the path to less desirable choices. For instance, if there’s a type of junk food you can’t resist, such as miniature candy bars, chocolate pudding, or chips dusted in cheese, don’t keep those foods in your house. Sure, you can answer a craving by heading to the nearest supermarket, but it will take more effort to do that than it will to open a cupboard or fridge and gorge yourself on the goodies within.

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