Choose one habit and create a daily system around it. Do that system for two months straight and you will have a new habit. Actual time needed varies depending on who you’re reading from. — Habit Guru
That is what I have read and attempted to implement countless times with limited success.
I prefer unlimited success, so I have been looking for a different way.
A shortage of Willpower
Only one habit at a time can work, due to a shortage in willpower, or so it is said.
That makes a lot of sense to me, if the habit you are doing uses willpower, such as:
- Daily writing
- Cooking your own food
- Daily gratitude journal
- Going to the gym — and then actually exercising
These activities drain willpower, but there are also certain activities that add willpower.
The following four habits supply willpower:
- Consistent quality sleep (7–9 hours for most of us mortals)
- Meditate daily
- Exercise daily (more on this later)
- Eat healthy foods
A Theory and an Experiment
Okay, so some habits drain willpower and some habits supply willpower.
What if I took on all of the willpower supplying habits and a few willpower draining habits? Could this be done successfully? More specifically, could I do this for 30 days in a row?
On November 28th I decided to challenge myself to perform seven daily activities for 30 straight days, and track the results.
These would be my “7 Habits of Exceptional Adulting.” 😉
How much could I accomplish?
The Seven Habits
My seven habits are different than Stephen Covey’s seven habits.
My seven habits align with the ideology that every adult should work every day to keep your mind and body healthy with the willpower building habits mentioned above. Then use that willpower to build other great habits. This applies to almost anything you want to do.
I threw in the writing habit for more selfish reasons. I do believe everyone should write, as I believe writing can help you clear your mind and focus your thoughts, but in this case, I’ve wanted to establish daily writing as a habit for years. Unsuccessfully.
The rest of the habits are the habits of “Exceptional Adults,” i.e. they either increase willpower or provide actionable knowledge or skill sets that can be useful in life.
If you have a habit you have been itching to pick up, you can do the exact same thing. Pair it with the willpower habits, and follow the advice below to make it simple and daily.
A focus on simple systems
In the past, my failed attempts at forming certain habits resulted in a certain level of self-awareness. My personality is very much “all or nothing,” so I would go all in on a habit for a week, and then revert to doing nothing the next week. Simple daily systems are my answer to preventing willpower burnout.
So, I “devised” a simple system for each habit, if done every day, would constitute a psychological win, and create a positive feedback loop.
This worked for me, and it will work for you. Once the simple system becomes a habit you can add to it.
The Exercise System
For exercise I would simply drive to the gym. Once at the gym I could immediately leave if I wanted, or I could actually exercise.
This worked wonders on days when I really did not want to do anything. After driving to the gym I would always walk the treadmill for thirty minutes at the very least.
Expanding the system — once going to the gym (or your simple system) becomes a habit, you can add to it, like a simple weight lifting routine for me. Don’t do this until the first system becomes so easy that you start looking forward to it. If your simple system was to go for a ten-minute walk, add in a two minute jog, or just bump up the walk to twenty-minutes.
The Meditation System
For meditation I would not worry about time limits or quality of meditation. My system was simply to sit on my ass, close my eyes, and breath. Once doing that became unbearable it was time to go about my day.
If at least once during my time meditating I noticed my thoughts were wondering and consciously refocused on breathing, that was a BIG win.
Expanding the system — this one is easy; meditate for longer periods. Meditation is tricky, in that you only need mere minutes to do it, but in our minds we can push it off so easily thinking it will take longer. Get the simple 1–5 minute meditation down before pushing towards 20, 30, and 60 minutes.
The Healthy Eating System
I bought a rice cooker and a Crock pot. When it comes to cooking, I excel at ramen and cereal, so I prefer simple if I HAVE to cook.
Throw some chicken breast into the Crock pot for eight hours on low setting and you’re good to go. If you want to be fancy you can throw in other ingredients too!
I would do this before work, then after work I’d pull the chicken out and chop it up, and put it into 5–6 Tupperware.
Next I would use the rice cooker to make rice AND steam vegetables. My vegetable of choice for this is Broccoli.
I push two buttons during this process, and modern technology makes me six meals.
For breakfast I would pour a scoop of Quest MCT powder into my cup of coffee, then supplement that with a Quest Protein Bar, and I was good to go until lunch.
Lastly, I would consume one to two Coke Zero’s if I had any sugar cravings. There were still several days I ate a terrible meal, but on average I kept this consistent.
Expanding the system — Cook better meals. Mix it up. For me I am learning to sear my chicken breast with salt and pepper on each side before throwing it in the slow cooker. Now my chicken actually has flavor! 🙂
There are a few metrics that were easily tracked. Words written, days exercised, pages read, body fat % lost, etc.
Weight / Body Fat Change
Average weight loss: 10 pounds
Weight loss is not a significant metric of loss of body fat, but I am putting it here anyway since I know most people attribute weight loss to fat loss
Average Body Fat % loss: 2.5%
I expect this would have been much greater in a non-holiday month. I will be continuing my daily exercise/healthy eating routines, and will be experimenting with intermittent fasting and ketosis.
Reading & Writing
Total words written: 29,597
The goal was to write an average of 1,000 words a day. A bit of simple math will tell you I fell just short of that goal. Who cares, though, I wrote 29,000 words the month AFTER nanowrimo (National November Writing Month).
Total Pages Read: 2,042
An average of 68 pages per day. Audio books while on the treadmill are an exceptionally efficient use of time. Not very helpful for taking notes or performing actions, though. I still recommend reading the book while listening to it on audio in unison.
Average sleep for the entire month: 7 hours and 19 minutes
You can’t substitute anything for consistent sleep in terms of lasting daily energy. I have no data to prove this but I strongly feel that consistent sleep is the “biggest bang for your buck” in terms of generating willpower.
A Success or Failure?
I failed to meditate every single day. I also failed to work on an online course every day.
I succeeded to read, write, eat healthy, sleep seven plus hours, and exercise daily.
Exercise and writing are habits I have been working to nail down for years, so seeing myself do them every day for a full thirty days was an amazing validation.
The main takeaway is that when you implement simple systems into your daily life, those systems can quickly compound into powerful habits. Because of this knowledge, I consider the “30 days of Exceptional Adulting” to be a massive success!
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