How to Make a Lifestyle Change Stick
I am always at least a little suspicious of all the supposed “life hacks” out there. If there really was some convenient shortcut to something difficult, why isn’t everyone doing it? So I never thought I would write something where I claimed that there might be one simple key that’s been holding you back from making lifestyle changes stick.
Here’s the thing though, for the first time in my life I am actually sticking to a diet and exercise regimen. There have been times where I tried to eat healthy before, times when I tried to lose the fat around my midsection, where I tried to develop a consistent exercise routine, but up until now it’s never stuck and I’ve never gotten the results I wanted.
Now, at age 30, I’m more muscular than I’ve ever been, and leaner than I’ve been at any point in my adult life (I actually have a smaller waist than i did in college despite being an almost identical weight).
What has made the difference this time? And if it’s something that really works, why haven’t I tried it before?
The answer to the first question is monotony. Monotony has made the difference. I’ll explain what I mean in a second, but I think the reason that I haven’t seen the benefits of monotony earlier is because, well… monotony sounds kind of boring.
I think most of us have a negative connotation in mind when we hear the word “monotony.” It sounds more like a synonym for boredom than for routine.
As adults I think we usually associate spontaneity with having a good time and regard monotony as being dull, but we weren’t always like this.
Have you had the chance to observe children recently? Children glory in monotony. They revel in it. They want you to read the same book to them twenty times in a row. If you make a funny face that they like, they’ll ask you to do it again, and again, and again, and again…
That’s not to say that it’s wrong to value spontaneity, but it is to say that there’s nothing wrong with going for a healthy balance between the monotonous and the spontaneous. In fact, without any sort of foundation of monotony to contrast itself against, spontaneity becomes less spontaneous.
Discipline Made Easy
The reason that I think monotony has made the difference for me is because I think it has served as a kind of back door into a more disciplined life. What I mean is that I’ve put several processes in my life on autopilot and it has made it incredibly easy to “choose” the right, disciplined thing to do, because I’m not even actually making any choices, my routine makes them for me.
Here’s the truth: the choices we make and the willpower we exert every day takes more of a toll on us than we realize. There’s a phrase that Ramit Sethi says often that I love, which is that we need to be “cognitive misers.” In other word, like a miser is vigilant to watch his financial expenditure, we need to be vigilant to watch over our mental and willpower expenditures.
We can only bring ourselves to make so many decisions in a day before the cognitive and emotional burden of making another decision becomes nearly unbearable. We can only fight the good fight for so long before our willpower is depleted.
With this in mind, the most obvious way to set yourself up for success is to eliminate as many choices as possible from your life, especially ones that directly relate to the change that you want to make.
The Choices I’ve Eliminated
In trying to get in shape, there are three main areas where I’ve put my life on autopilot, and the first doesn’t even directly relate to health and fitness.
1) I’ve simplified my wardrobe
This is the one that doesn’t directly relate. But if you want to make a change in some area of your life, this isn’t a bad place to start since getting dressed is (hopefully) something that you do everyday.
For me it started with cleaning out my closet. Everything that I didn’t love went to the Goodwill. Here’s the bottom line: I can almost guarantee that you have items in your wardrobe only do one thing (besides take up space): exert a mental toll on you every time you look at them. You have that shirt that you thought would look so good on you and would go with everything in your wardrobe, but after wearing it once you realized that it just doesn’t suit you or your style. All it does is force you to consider it every time you’re wondering what to wear, and you don’t like having to think about how that piece of clothing makes you look.
So get rid of it.
Seriously (and I say this as someone who has historically held on to bad clothing for way too long) just get rid of it. Any time you have to make a choice about whether or not to wear that item you’re using up valuable mental energy.
Save the energy, ditch the shirt.
The next thing that I did was I set up a schedule for what I wear to work on which day of the week. Monday is my white oxford. Tuesday is the blue. Wednesday is my purple checked button down. Thursday is my denim shirt. I wear my navy chinos on Monday and Wednesday and my khaki chino’s on Tuesday and Thursday.
I haven’t set up a go-to outfit for Friday but I’m seriously considering it.
If I ever wake up one day and have the strong desire to wear something different I certainly will, but I never deliberate with myself about what I’m going to wear that day.
2) I’ve automated breakfast and lunch
This is a big one.
One of the hardest things about dieting is that most of us live our lives not knowing exactly what meal we will eat next. So you get questions like what do you want for lunch?
And then you have to make a decision.
And that’s a bad thing.
When it comes to sticking to a diet, every decision you make is an opportunity to cheat, and regardless of whether you make the right choice in any individual decision, the notion of cheating at least enters your mind.
And so eventually you cave.
The solution is to not let yourself get to the point of even making a decision. Just eat the same thing all the time.
Doesn’t that get boring?
Not if you pick tasty enjoyable meals. Plus it makes cheat day more exiting because it is guaranteed to offer something different.
How can you have a balanced diet if you’re always eating the same thing?
Just make the meals themselves balanced.
Right now I’m on the Slow Carb diet as found in The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. I’ve seen great results with it. Breakfast is a delicious creation of mine that I’ve dubbed “The Buffalo Breakfast” and it gives me 30+ grams of protein. Lunch is a delicious salad with grilled chicken and egg.
It’s not boring, and it’s very well balanced.
The salads are made ahead of time and stored in mason jars. When it’s time to “pack my lunch” for work I just grab a mason jar and head out the door. Easy peasy.
3) I found a workout routine that I can do everyday
With working out, there’s usually several obstacles in the way:
- Going to the gym takes a lot of effort and energy
- The workouts themselves can be brutal
- There can be a lot to keep track of: is today leg day or is that tomorrow? Should I add some push-ups or will that mess with my recovery? etc.
Working out is such a complicated thing, that I wasn’t sure I could ever find a program that I could make stick.
Then I heard about “Simple and Sinister” (don’t let the name scare you).
Simple and Sinister is the name of both a book and a workout routine from Pavel Tsatsouline, the guy who is usually credited with introducing the kettlebell to the west.
When I started this routine it took me about 45 minutes, but now I have it under 30. There is a prescribed warmup, then 10 sets of 10 kettlebell swings, and finally 5 Turkish Get-Ups with each hand.
For men the recommended starting weights are 24kg for the swing and 16kg for the TGU, for women it’s 16 and 8.
The nice thing is that it’s the same every day. You only need about one rest day a week.
I never even think about whether or not I’m going to work out. I just wake up and grab my weights. It’s just a normal part of my day.
Within a week, this workout routine started to cause some startling changes to my physique. I have struggled with having terrible posture since high school, but a week on this program nearly eliminated my anterior pelvic tilt, dramatically lessened the severity of my kyphosis/lordosis, and greatly lessened the rounding of my shoulders.
Is it a perfect routine? No, but a consistent routine beats the perfect one that you never get around to implementing.
I really think that nearly everyone could benefit by adding a little more automation to their life. If you keep needing to make choices over and over again eventually you will make the wrong ones. Adding some routine, some automation, some monotony in your life can do wonders for keeping you on the straight and narrow.
They say that you are the sum of your choices, but sometimes the best choice is to stop making so many choices.
The best way to connect to me is to join my mailing list for exclusive content that will help you take control of your life.