It’s been a while since my last blog. I mean to write more often as I love writing and I am passionate about health and fitness. But somehow I just couldn’t find the time, peace and quiet in the last few weeks to sit down and write. You may know this feeling – there is something you want to do, but for some reason you don’t do it and then it’s constantly at the back of your mind and you start feeling bad and guilty about not doing it. Procrastination is the act of delaying doing something until the last minute or past its deadline. Although I don’t really set myself a timeline to blog – after all, I am writing about health and fitness because I love it and I am making no money from it – I still have an expectation on myself to post regularly. So lately, it felt like I had been procrastinating.
Would you like to know how I actually ended up sitting down and writing this in this moment? I set myself a reminder on my phone to write for five minutes. Just five minutes. And I set up this rule for myself that only after I have written for five minutes can I play scrabble on my phone. I love scrabble and play it daily on an app. So before opening the scrabble app, I sit down at my table and I set a timer for five minutes. I write for five minutes and then close the document.
This strategy is from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s a fantastic book with a lot of strategies about creating good habits and giving up bad habits.
Clear calls this strategy of setting yourself a timer to start a new habit the two-minute-rule. The idea is that a new habit should take less than two minutes to do. You may think that a habit takes more than two minutes to do, but actually, almost every habit can be reduced to two minute versions. For example, if your goal is to do exercise every day, start with two minutes of push-ups and sit-ups. Instead of cleaning the bathroom, spend two minutes wiping down the sink. Go for a walk daily can be turned into putting on shoes. Daily meditation can be reduced to two minutes. Or in my case, writing a blog every day becomes writing for two minutes. Well, obviously I changed that into five minutes, but it’s still little enough to make it easy to do.
With time, this two minute ritual can be extended to the next level. Exercise or meditate for 10 minutes. Clean the sink and the toilet. Walk around the block. Eventually you will have started a new habit. I don’t know if you have ever read the blog about my weight loss journey, but I kind of employed a similar strategy to lose over 25kg. I started with one little habit and then just extended it until I had several habits that helped me to lose weight. Getting sober was a similar process.
As described in the book, these two minute rituals can be timed so you perform it immediately before a well established habit – a habit that you are looking forward to. Like my scrabble play. Playing scrabble turns into the reward for performing the two minutes ritual. Wiping the bathroom sink can be done before watching Netflix. Studying one page in a text book could be followed by allowing yourself time on social media.
What I am trying to say here – apart from testing if this two minute rule thing works by writing this blog – is this: Most people want too much too soon and only focus on their goal. I have written a whole blog about smart goal setting here. Especially when it comes to health and fitness people are very goal driven. Most often people are looking for a certain number on the scale, a certain dress they want they want to fit in for a high school reunion, the best shape for their wedding day. But looking after your health and keeping (or getting) fit has got very little to do with motivation and everything to do with habits. Motivation is fleeting, inconsistent, unreliable. That’s why New Years’ resolutions never work. When it gets tough and boring, it’s the habit that keeps you going. Once you have successfully dieted down to your happy weight, it’s the habits that keep you slim.
How many times have I heard people say it’s time to make a change to get fit and healthy. To lose their gut and move more. So they plan to start going to the gym four times a week, eat healthily, cut out sugar and fast food, quit drinking alcohol and do 10,000 steps a day. They may be motivated and follow through with their plan for a week, maybe two. And then one after the other the plan falls apart. Skip the gym. Have pizza for dinner and then give up on the healthy eating altogether and eat a tub of ice cream as well. Give up on the 10,000 steps because of the bad weather.
I have certainly done that. When I was younger I had all these plans to save money. I planned to save a 100$ every week, and maybe I managed for a month. But then something came up, I had a big weekend and I didn’t have the 100$ for savings. So I figured the plan wasn’t working and I may as well spend what I had saved so far. Of course, what I should have done is accept the fact that nobody (not even me) is perfect, that stuff happens, but that it’s no reason to give up. On the contrary, get right back into it and continue. This is a great rule for any habit you try to establish: Never skip it TWICE.
Let me explain ‘never skip it twice’: When I started doing daily yoga a few months ago I found it incredibly satisfying to see a streak build up on my yoga app. Marking Xs on a calendar, putting pebbles in a jar or keeping daily logs can be very powerful tools in forming a new habit. Some days I may not have felt like doing yoga at all – feeling tired or unmotivated or busy. But keeping the streak going made me roll out the mat. And yes, your heart may not always be in it – but you show up. And showing up consistently is what forms the habit. The habit is stronger than any motivation.
Eventually you will break the streak. We all do. And as I have mentioned above, we then feel tempted to let it go altogether and give up. We think that breaking the streak makes us imperfect, a failure, weak willed. A missed gym session that turns into months of no exercise. A weekend of pizza and hamburgers that turns into weeks of binge eating and giving up on a healthy eating plan. Skipping an hour of studying and then not picking up the books again for a whole week. Instead of letting that break of the streak derail you, and annihilate all the progress you have made during the streak, start a new streak straight away. Never skip TWICE. Accept the pizza, the skipped gym class, the missed study session as what it is – and let it go. Continue building your desired habit by starting a new streak straight away.
I have been using the two minute rule for a few days now and it’s obviously working as I’ve posted this blog! Maybe you have used a strategy yourself to build a new habit? Maybe from the same book? It would be great if you could share if you have, I always love to hear from my readers.
Talk to you soon – keeping this streak going.