“We are mere bundles of habits.”
– William James
“We are mere bundles of habits.”
– William James
My two-year-old son, Ace, is a pattern machine. When he finishes dinner, he says, “bath.” When we change him into his PJ’s he says, “read.” If my wife’s phone rings, he yells, “JuJu! (his aunt’s name)” If anything ever goes wrong, he says, “Oh, sorry Daddy.” When he sees my wife getting ready to go out, he says, “Mommy cuuuuute.” And any time he sees his mother or I exercising, he says, “push-ups.”
In fact, something about me doing dishes always cues him to come grab my hand and take me to the same spot where he does push-ups, down dogs, jumps, and other moves. Dishes now take awhile. Every part of Ace’s world is a habit loop. Cue-routine-reward.
This is all adorable. The mind of a toddler—how sweet and simple. But, you and I are just the same.
- When your phone vibrates, what do you do?
- When you are driving and you see red lights, what do you do?
- When you smell and see tasty food, what sensations arise?
- When you drop a glass and it breaks, what do you say? What immediate response does your body have?
Patterns aren’t just isolated responses either. One pattern leads to the next. They create a trajectory. Making the bed often precludes a morning Netflix show and prompts you to begin the day’s tasks.
Exercise leads to more productivity, more energy, better nutrition, and more confidence throughout the day—these powerful dominoes are known as keystone habits. They amplify how effective you are in a day. Actions can spur a negative cycle as well. You get cut off in traffic and the next thing you know you’re arguing with your wife about the thermostat.
For some reason today is the day to address her temperature sensitivity. Likewise, if you wake to a new Netflix series or to video games, Uber Eats and pizza rolls might be in your future. Actions create a trajectory. This is why so much is made about successful people’s morning routines.
The Core Habits
While there are other patterns I find invaluable, these three change your mentality and amplify impact more than any others. They are the core habits for prompting a life well-lived. And, as famed wrestler and coach Dan Gable said, “If it is important, do it every day.”
One workout won’t do much. On your fourth attempt at meditating, you might be more frustrated than in the first. Reading for self-development only once a week is like 86% less effective than reading every day.
For these habits to truly work their magic and create a series of chain reactions outside of their narrow lanes there must be a daily commitment. But adopting three new daily habits might be a bit much to bite off in one sitting. If you are looking for one place to start, it is the chief habit: daily exercise.
Say you don’t buy it. Working out a few days a week is sufficient for your health. After all, you should only workout three or four days a week, right? I’ll get back to this question, but first let’s look at another.
Why daily? Other than the fact that you want the positive ripple effect of powerful action every day, this goes back to the very core of how habits work. Habits are reinforced through daily action and weakened by altering patterns. The best way to set a habit is to do it every day. Days off, reinforce the habits patterns of inaction. Over time, these can lead you to quit.
For example, I used to take a cold shower every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. I hated it and, despite my many reasons for wanting to engage in this practice, I eventually quit altogether. When I decided, again, that cold showers were a worthy pursuit, I knew I had to make them a daily discipline. Since that decision, I’ve taken a cold shower every day for over 3-months. There is no wiggle room. No switching to tomorrow. I just do it.
As I’ve written before: “By consistently facing physical resistance, we gain the confidence to enter the resistance that permeates every other meaningful life endeavor. The opposite is also true. Every time you skip a workout, you subconsciously excuse the pattern of avoiding resistance throughout life.”
This is why you exercise every day. It is the best way to create a habit that you maintain. And the best time is first thing in the morning. Habits are made up of a cue, a routine, and a reward. Waking is the most consistent cue that there is. If you don’t wake up, you have big problems.
Furthermore, moving right away rips the Band-Aid off, training willpower and activating positive momentum first thing in the morning. Thus, waking to a consistent movement practice is the essential habit.
You could just do ten-minutes and then workout later depending on the day of the week, or get it all done right there. It doesn’t have to be long, or extremely strenuous—just consistent. Once planned, it is as simple as deciding to always follow through. As I tell myself, 99% is a wimp.
Daily Movement Is Critical
Now, we have to address the elephant in the room. Science. General adaptations syndrome. It isn’t a good idea to crush yourself every day of the week. The body needs to face resistance and then an appropriate period of recovery in order to grow resilient. But this view of training is clouded by our modern world and its industrialized, compartmentalized view of training.
Humans move every day. Throughout history, humans have experienced tremendous physical vigor through daily movement. They ran climbed, carried, and moved earth, at varying levels of intensity, every single day.
All that activity didn’t impede their progress but actually promoted it. Relatively low-intensity movement promotes recovery. I say relatively because we are all at different levels and our threshold for volume will grow over time.
Strength legend, Pavel Tsatsouline, has helped many people build exceptional strength and fitness through an approach he calls, “grease the groove” training. Put simply, he recommends training every day while never approaching failure or extremes.
His Easy Strength and Kettlebell Simple and Sinister programs demonstrate how effective this can be. He does advocate occasional gut-checks, but these are easily handled by a system that isn’t overdrawn.
Grease the groove training is phenomenal for habit building. By lowering the barrier to entry it makes the habit of fitness more likely to become deeply rooted. We’ve all watched as people’s best intentions to go to fitness classes after work are slowly eroded by exhaustion and erratic evening schedules. Morning daily movement removes these obstacles.
Even among those most successful exercisers who choose to go hard three or four times a week, most are actually doing some form of exercise every day. They are going on walks, stretching, rolling, practicing yoga, and using other recovery modalities on off days. Fitness has crossed over to passion so they put in more time per session, but the reality remains, they too build the daily habit.
My own workouts shift in volume and intensity depending on the day of the week. I hardly ever do my main workout during my morning movement routine. But regardless of the day, I wake to a movement flow and then do a 10-minute calisthenics strength-endurance routine. Movement is essential. It should be done, daily.
Add Daily Movement
For anyone who is looking to start adding exercise to their lifestyle, looking for more consistency in their exercise, or for those who just wants more energy and productivity out of their days, I strongly recommend starting with a modest daily investment first thing each morning.
This process is forever sustainable and can be scaled to every level, need, and lifestyle. It precludes burn-out, allows for variation, and ensures a chain reaction of personal empowerment and growth.
Your habits define your actions in the long-term. Thus, you should define what actions are most important and do them habitually. No habit has more positive ripple effect than a daily movement practice.