Optimal Living Advice was launched earlier this year. It's the podcast where we take real questions sent in that address the many struggles of life!
We answer your questions here on the show so all of our listeners can benefit, whether it's because they or someone they love is facing similar struggles, or they just like to look into others people’s business — I know I do.
And what a transition because the person answering these questions is me. My name is Greg Audino, and I’m a certified life coach. I also create videos and articles on my website that offer what I like to think are new and non-preachy, non-flowery perspectives on many of life’s common problems. The site is entirely donation based, and 10% of all proceeds go to the World Wildlife Fund because I love animals, and you should too.
That’s my first piece of advice — you’re welcome. 🙌
So the guys at Optimal Living Daily have been kind enough to read a lot of my material on their show, and through that, a friendship and partnership was born and this podcast was produced.
We have a lot of powerful questions lined up for you that have been coming in already, and to kick off our adventure together, let’s go with this one:
“What would you suggest for how to sustain new actions and routines related to wellness? Exercise, waking up the same time each day, food prep, etc.. Key word being SUSTAINING these activities.”
Ah yes — it's a question that I know is on a lot of people’s minds these days with all the emphasis on wellness and personal growth, and other things like that that keep me employed.
For me, it’s a two part answer because when it comes to habit formation, I have two chunks that I want to bestow upon you. One is based on my own coaching clients AND personal execution, and another is something I’ve found in my reading so you’ll also get a book recommendation out of this.
Let's start there.
Tips from ‘Atomic Habits' by James Clear
There’s a wonderful book about the science of habit formation called Atomic Habits by James Clear that utilizes some really interesting philosophies. In summary, James basically talks about four approaches one can take that combine to make a habit virtually unbreakable, so we’ll go over those pillars and then create an example for each one:
1. First, you want to make your habit obvious. This means creating an environment that supports the new habit with very clear and deliberate triggers, whether it be post-it notes everywhere or even pairing the habit with something you’ll be doing anyway. As an example, if you wanted to start doing more push-ups, you could make it obvious by writing that down, stating aloud that you’ll do them at a certain time and place each day, and leaving triggers there. This could be doing 50 push-ups in your office at 5 PM before leaving work. The environment is clear, it’s stacked with another habit of leaving work, and you’ve probably got a trillion post-it notes in your office anyway, so what’s one more?
2. Make your habit attractive. Do this by maybe joining a group that performs the same habit whether it’s a couple of friends or a formal group you find on the internet somewhere. This plays on the pack mentality and the ease of doing things when others are doing them. For example, if you wanted to start playing soccer again, go ahead and put some money down to join a rec league team and join a culture that focuses on soccer and ensures you’ll be playing it once a week.
3. Make your habit easy. This means minimizing the difficulty of each habit as best you can by maybe decreasing the number of steps you need to take, preparing the environment in advance that makes it easy to repeat the habit when the time comes, or using technology to help you perform the habit through phone reminders. Maybe you want to start calling your parents more. Within the context of this rule, that would mean putting them on speed dial or incorporating bluetooth so you don’t have to type the number in yourself or spend time scrolling through your contacts. You might also set an alarm in your phone when it’s time to call them.
4. Last but not least, the habit must be made satisfying. Reinforce your habit with rewards on the other side of it and keep track of how much you perform the habit so you can see all the progress you’ve made. You want to make sure the habit is aligned with who you want to become. So if you’re trying to diet and your diet goes well for a week, reward yourself by treating yourself to a spa day rather than eating all of grandma’s sugar loaded cookies.
Is Willpower Overrated?
What I find really interesting is that James’ rules are all based on environment alteration as opposed to sheer willpower. James is right — willpower is overrated, you guys.
Though it’s fashionable to want to just push push push, we’re tailored to seek out easy ways to do things. We have enough we’re trying to balance that trying to muscle through everything with pure mental strength is just not as practical as using your surroundings for help. If you use your surrounding for help and see great results, you’ll then have something to believe in and renewed confidence that will actually only help your willpower, if that makes sense. It’s a weird cycle.
That fourth rule of James’ bleeds into the findings I’ve come across. James is great for sustaining habits, but James’ methodology is likely to only last so long if it’s not a habit that you believe in intrinsically or get joy out of outside of that reward in the fourth rule. So part of sustaining a habit, is making sure that it’s the right habit for you.
When it comes to being who we want to be and making changes for ourselves, there’s this weird thing in that the two most common approaches are in direct contrast to one another.
There’s “Do I stick to a certain regimen?” or “Do I just live more freely and follow my heart from moment to moment?”
Two different things that can yield great, similar results for different people. But it can be hard to know what approach is better for us individually and what degree of that approach specifically is most useful, so I ask you people: “Why can’t we have both?”
How to Find the Right Habit
Here’s how to have both and find the right habit.
First, it’s imperative to get clear about who we want to be and what habits support that vision.
In the context of this question that was sent in, sure we want a sense of wellness, but what does that look like? Can we create a detailed picture like that?
A track athlete might say, “I want to be good at track.” Well, what about throwing, jumping or running? If they say “running,” I might ask what about sprinting, medium distance or long distance? They might say “sprinting,” so I'd ask if it's a 40 yard dash, 100 yards or 200 yards?
The more detailed of a picture we can create, the more our means of getting there will change and be used optimally.
Let's say “wellness” to you looks like mindfulness specifically. The habits you might want to integrate are meditation, nature walks, and journaling. Start by setting a goal for how much you want to perform these habits and keep track of much you do them.
Typically you want to steadily increase rather than completely flip your schedule upside down. So if you don’t meditate at all right now, don’t jump into it 7 days a week, but instead maybe start 2 days the first week, then 3 the second, then 4 the third and so on. Keep track of how many times you perform this habit for a month — that’s the regimented part.
After each month when you’re checking in with yourself, you might find that you’re either not performing the habit as much as you want. Or if you are, you’re hating your life while doing so. We don’t want that — all of the podcasts in the Optimal Living Daily universe are helping us to not hate our lives, so sticking with a habit that’s not serving us just won’t do.
For the mindfulness example, you might find that it’s journaling. I know I’ve found this. I’ve worked on a lot on mindfulness and journaling is just never one of those things that stuck for me. Works for a lot of people, and that’s great, but yuh boy just isn’t one of them. So if meditation and nature walks are fine but journaling isn’t, and you’ve really tried your best, you can follow your heart AND your regimen at the same time by substituting it with another habit that supports mindfulness. For month 2, you might stick with meditation and nature walks as they’re clearly serving you, but you might subbing out journaling for yoga classes, another habit that can be great for mindfulness.
The more you check in with yourself and filter out habits that just don’t suit you, the closer you’ll get to finding the right habits that do.
So find a habit that serves who you want to be as directly as possible, be clear about when, where and how often you want to do it, and use your environment to support you. Give it your best shot, and if doesn’t work out, substitute it with a similar habit and start all over.
If you liked what you just read and you’d like to submit one of your own questions, we’d be more than happy to help you out and answer them here on the pod, so please don’t be shy! You can submit your own questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking forward to hearing what you have to say, everyone. Take care.