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Major Keys: The Power of Habit

I recently finished reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and I enjoyed it so much that I felt compelled to write about it. This book helped me better understand not only my own habits, but those of peers, businesses, and society as a whole.

The Power of Habit takes a deep dive into the science behind habits, and explains thoroughly why people and companies do what they do. Here are 5 key takeaways from the book that really resonated with me.

 

Your brain wants to do less.

“Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. This effort-saving instinct is a huge advantage...An efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors, such as walking and choosing what to eat, so we can devote mental energy to inventing spears, irrigation systems, and, eventually airplanes and video games.”

People often believe that committing to many habits causes a stressful and demanding life. They think that having a full schedule and a busy lifestyle results in clutter and chaos. On the contrary, habits create freedom.

When big chunks of your day are driven by habits, your brain is able go on cruise control. You don’t have to spend time and energy making decisions or figuring things out. You just go. By doing so, you have infinitely more energy to tackle the tasks that aren’t routine.

Takeaway: For more time and energy, make your life more routine.

 

Habits can never be forgotten.

“We know that a habit cannot be eradicated-it must, instead, be replaced. And we know that habits are most malleable when the Golden Rule of habit change is applied: If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted.”

Habits are never erased. Even if they’re pushed back into the deep recesses of the brain, they’re still there. It’s why you often hear alcoholics or drug addicts say that they never truly “beat” the disease. That they have to fight the urge to fall back into their habits every day.

The brain can’t tell the difference between a good habit and a bad one.

To the brain, simplicity is simplicity, whether that routine is destructive or not. A bad habit can never be forgotten, it can only be masked by a good one. That’s why life-long smokers become avid runners. They replace the temporary satisfaction and relaxation of a cigarette with the endorphin “high” that comes from exercise.

Takeaway: If you have a bad habit, replace it with a good one that gives you the same feeling of fulfillment.

 

Some habits matter more than others.

“...Keystone habits can influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transform everything.”
“Keystone habits offer what is known within academic literature as ‘small wins.’ They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious.”

This is definitely something I can attest to. Sometimes, creating one keystone habit can generate enough momentum to change your entire life.

My keystone habit is waking up early. Waking up at 4 AM enables me to workout, read, listen to podcasts, work on my business, and spend time with my family. It has massively improved all areas of my life.

Small, daily wins are something I put a huge emphasis on. I’m constantly asking myself, “Am I one step closer or one step further away from accomplishing my goals today?” I know that if I stick to my habits and keep making progress, no matter how minor, my small wins will soon compound into large victories.

Takeaway: Develop a keystone habit that, no matter what, you will stick to every single day.

 

WILLPOWER is the key.

“Dozens of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success.”
“Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”

As my man Eric Thomas says, “Average skill, phenomenal will.” There will always be someone out there stronger, smarter, faster, or more gifted than you. But that’s not under your control. What you can control, however, is your effort.

Talent will only take you so far. Numerous studies have looked at the habits of successful people, and above all else, the trait that they have in common is WILLPOWER.

Willpower wears down throughout the day. The more decisions you make, the more depleted your willpower becomes.

This is exactly why I set up my entire day the previous night before I go to sleep. Before I go to bed each night, I prep my meals, lay out my workout clothes, pack my things for work, and check my calendar. That way, when I wake up I literally have zero decisions to make. I just go. My willpower is still at 100%.

This is also why I workout first thing in the morning. A full day of decision-making and deep-thinking at work has the potential to completely drain willpower and make it that much harder to decide to go to the gym.

This is also why people typically binge eat or drink at night. After making tough decisions all day, it’s easier to just grab a beer and a bag of chips and lay on the couch than prepare a healthy meal.

Takeaway: Prepare your day in advance (everything from what you eat to what you wear) to save your willpower for the things that truly matter.

 

Habits begin with a choice.

“If you believe you can change-if you make it a habit- the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are whatever you choose them to be. Once that choice occurs-and becomes automatic-it’s not only real, it starts to seem inevitable, the thing...that bears ‘us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.’”

You control your habits.

You have the power to create them, change them, and capitalize on them.

The more healthy and productive habits you develop, the more positive momentum you’ll generate.

Takeaway: BELIEVE in yourself and TRUST in your habits.

Setting Goals

We all have goals, but often they are lost in the clutter of daily life and pushed into the back of our minds while we casually go through the motions.

I want to challenge you to change that narrative.

Goals are the driving force in our lives. They are what keep us progressing in the gym, in the office, and in our relationships. They give us direction and purpose. Don’t wait until the new year to make a resolution. Instead, start now by setting SMART goals, writing them down, and reverse engineering the process to accomplish them.

 

SMART Goals

SMART is an acronym used to set goals. A SMART goal is:

Specific

  • Define the goal as vividly and in-depth as possible

  • Answer the 5 W’s

    • Who is involved?What do I want to accomplish?

    • Where will it be done?

    • Why am I doing this?

    • Which constraints and/or requirements do I have?

Measureable

  • Make sure you are able to evaluate the extent to which your goal has been met

  • How much, how many, how will I know when my goal is accomplished?

Attainable

  • Make sure the goal is challenging but within your ability to reach

  • Is the goal reasonable enough to be accomplished?

Relevant

  • Make sure the goal fits with your other short and long term objectives

  • Is the goal worthwhile and will it meet my needs?

Time-Bound

  • Make sure the goal has a deadline or target date

  • When exactly should this goal be accomplished?

I start my goal-setting process with this acronym because it provides a specific criteria by which all objectives can be defined. It ensures that my goals are well thought out and have purpose. Clearly, “get in better shape” isn’t going to cut it.

I don’t put a limit on how many I set, but I think it’s good practice to focus on 5-10 short-term goals (1-2 years) that may ultimately lead to 1 or 2 long-term (10+ years). I also think it’s important to set goals in a variety of areas in your life (health, business, finances, relationships, personal development, etc.). This will prevent you from going “all-in” on one subject while neglecting the others.

Don’t rush this process. Take some time to really define your goals. Ask yourself why you want to accomplish these things, and how they will impact your life. If you already have some goals, run them through this system and see if they check out. And if you don’t have any, then now is a perfect time to start.

 

Write Down Your Goals

After you’ve thought of a few SMART goals, the next step is to write them down. It may sound trivial, but I can’t speak enough to how important this is. I adopted this practice after reading The Mindset Manual by Cory Gregory, in which he discusses his dozens of notebooks full of crazy dreams throughout the years.

Writing down your goals makes them real.

It gives them weight.

Putting pen to paper is powerful, and it’s an exercise that’s becoming increasingly rare in today’s society. When you write down your goals, they aren’t easily forgotten. Even if your interests adjust and your goals change over time, you’re able to look back and know exactly where you were at that point in your life and what you were striving for.

Don’t just write your goals down once and throw them in the back of the closet, surround yourself with them.

Carry your notebook with you. Keep it in your car or by your bathroom sink or anywhere you’ll see it every day. Save your goals as a note on your phone. Make it so that you can’t hide from them. It’ll keep you honest and give you that extra push to go out and conquer your dreams. So grab a pen, grab a notebook, and get to writing.

 

Reverse Engineer

Reverse engineering is a process I picked up from Gary Vaynerchuk. Essentially, it’s beginning with the end in mind. It’s starting with your end goal and working backward, step by step, to formulate a path to accomplish it.

Often times, people set such lofty goals that they get overwhelmed right off the bat and quit. They initially don’t see the results they want or progress is slower than expected and they give up. The key to making sure that doesn’t happen to you is reverse engineering.

The deadline on your big goal may be a year in the future so you think you have plenty of time to accomplish it, but don’t be that kid who waits til the night before a term paper is due to start writing. Set milestones for yourself along the way (and write them down). Monthly, weekly, and daily mini-goals will keep you on track.

That’s right, check yourself daily. Every day, ask yourself: Am I one step closer or one step further away from accomplishing my goal? The key is in those daily victories. Those small steps seem insignificant, but they compound over time. Before you know it, you’ll be taking huge strides toward achieving your dreams.

Intentional Time

Intentional time is having a purpose for everything you do, when you do it.

It’s giving your full attention to the task at hand.

It’s putting first things first.

Whether at the gym, at work, or at home, it’s important that your actions reflect your goals and add value. It’s so easy to get comfortable with daily life, mindlessly going through the motions. Sometimes we all need to take a step back, look at how we’re spending our time, and re-evaluate.

 

Schedule: How are you spending your time?

The most common excuse in today’s society is, “I don’t have time.”

Are you working out today? “I don’t have time.” How’s that book you wanted to read? “I don’t have time.” Want to get dinner tonight? “I don’t have time.”

Most people do live pretty busy lives, and time is certainly a precious commodity. However, most people are also unknowingly wasting so much of it.

Let’s assume you work 8 hours a day and sleep 8 hours a day (any more than that is too much). How are you spending the remaining 8 hours? Do you have a schedule? Or are you aimlessly wandering through each day with no direction or structure?

Step one in creating intentional time is to develop a routine. Form a schedule that is reasonable and repeatable.

Spend a few days taking note of what you’re doing at all times from when you wake up to when you go to sleep. Deconstruct a typical day and find chunks where your time could be better spent. Even if you have work hours that vary, try to make each day as predictable as possible.

Set aside some time every night to prepare for the next day. Lay out your clothes, pack your food, and check the weather and your calendar.

Don’t take out leisure activities all together, but schedule them just as you would anything else. If there’s a specific show you want to watch on TV, plan for it. But if you’re sitting in front of the TV every night scrolling through channels until you settle with Iron Man on FX for the umpteenth time, you can do better.

 

Prioritize: Is the way you’re spending your time reflective of your goals?

The second step in developing intentional time is prioritizing your life.

First ask yourself, what is most important to me? What are my goals? If you don’t have any clearly defined goals, make some. Write them down and study them every day.

Now look at the daily routine you’ve created for yourself. Are the things you’re doing every day indicative of what’s important to you? Are your habits moving you closer toward achieving your goals? If not, then you may need to re-evaluate how you’re spending your time.

Put first things first. The activities that bring value to your life should be the foundation of your day. Everything else is just filler.

For example, if you said that your health is important to you and your goal is to lose 5 pounds this month, then working out and preparing/eating healthy meals needs to be ingrained in your daily routine. If there is a happy hour at the same time as your workout class, then logic indicates you should go to the workout class because that’s the activity that directly aligns with your goal.

But maybe that’s not your only option. Could you wake up early and workout before work? During your lunch break? After the happy hour? (Strongly advise against the last one.) The point I’m trying to make is that if your goal is truly important to you, then make the time.

 

Optimize: Are you making the most of how you’re spending your time?

Here’s the important one. The final step in becoming more intentional with your time is focusing on making the most of it.

At this point, you’ve developed a solid routine revolved around activities that add value to your life and reflect what’s important to you. Now, it’s all about investing your undivided attention in those individual activities. Giving 100% of your effort to whatever you’re doing, when you’re doing it.

I’ll use a personal example. My number one priority is my family, and one of my goals is to be a more engaged father and husband. That means addressing all of my other priorities (work, working out, personal training, blog, etc.) before coming home every night so that I can give my wife and daughter my full attention.

But that’s easier said than done.

It’s hard to avoid checking social media, updating my blog, and jotting down training notes. I even have to fight the urge to get in a second workout. I still struggle with these things, but I’m trying to eliminate the distractions because I recognize that they only move me further from my goal of being a more involved father and husband. I constantly remind myself to live in the moment.

I’ll go back to the weight loss example. When you step into the gym, the only thing you should be thinking about is your workout. Not your family or your job or your finances. If those things are important, then you’ve already set aside time to focus on them at some other part of your day.

At that moment, you’re at the gym to work toward achieving one specific goal. Focus wholly on the immediate task and nothing else.

 

Intentional time is a powerful concept. Too often, people are unknowingly wasting hours of their day by lazily going through the motions. I know I was.

Snap out of it.

Develop a specific routine. Prioritize activities that add value. And whatever you’re doing, do it with purpose.

Why You Should Wake Up Earlier

My alarm goes off every weekday at 4:00 AM. I don’t hit the snooze or roll over in bed hoping the generic iPhone ring will stop. I get up and go to the gym.

And I love it.

Waking up early to workout has totally changed all aspects of my life and has enabled me to be more productive, effective, and focused throughout the day. Two years ago, I couldn’t fathom getting up at the crack of dawn. Now, I look forward to it.

I know most people shudder at the idea of setting their alarm any earlier than they already do, but let me explain some of the benefits I’ve experienced and maybe I can convince you to join me.

 

More Time for Family and Friends

I initially made the decision to start waking up early to workout so I could spend more time with my daughter. My normal routine was to work til about 5 PM, workout til about 7 PM, and then pick her up. With traffic, I wasn’t getting home til around 8 PM. By that time, Aubrey was already asleep. I was missing out on quality time with her, and that wasn’t ok. However, missing a workout wasn’t ok either.

The only way to do both was to move my workout to the morning. It was rough for the first couple weeks, but my body quickly adjusted, and now I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I’m able to leave work knowing that I’ve already accomplished my fitness goal for the day, so I can enjoy the rest of the night uninterrupted with my family.

The same concept works for those who want to spend more time with friends. By working out first thing in the morning, you can maintain an active social life in the evening guilt-free without sacrificing your fitness goals. It truly allows you to have the best of both worlds.

 

Fewer Distractions and Excuses

Here is a list of things that don’t happen at 5 AM: traffic, crowded gyms, staying late at work to make a deadline, happy hour, anniversary dinners, your child’s tee-ball game, Monday Night Football… Need I go on? All of these excuses, many of which I’ve taken from personal experience, can sabotage an evening workout. But those excuses don’t exist in the morning.

It’s no secret that the gym is a wasteland at 5 AM, so take advantage of it. You can move freely from station to station without having to wait for a machine. You can take your time with the equipment because there isn’t someone breathing down your neck to use it next. You can perform your routine exactly as programmed without rushing to finish. Your gym productivity will skyrocket.

Morning workouts also eliminate the possibility of any work, family, or social distractions getting in the way. Throughout the day, good or bad, things will happen. Those things often turn into “I can’t workout today because…” or “I don’t feel like it today because…”. Morning gym-goers don’t open themselves up to those excuses. Get your workout in first thing every day, when the rest of the world is still quiet and when you can give your full attention to the task at hand.

 

Personal Development

Rising early also gives you uninterrupted time to work on yourself outside of the gym. By waking up before you have to tend to work and family obligations, you create an opportunity to focus on personal growth. I can’t stress enough how important this is, and how much of an impact it’s had on my life.

Later in the day it’s hard to get even 15 minutes alone, and if you do it’s probably spent on social media or watching TV. I like to start every day by listening to audiobooks and podcasts. On my way to the gym and even during my warm-up, I try to dedicate my full attention to learning. There is nobody texting or emailing or tweeting me. I can really dive in and absorb what I’m listening to.

I’ve tried to listen to audiobooks during work or in the evenings, but I always end up missing huge chunks of information because I’m distracted with other things. I was never much of a reader, but audiobooks and podcasts have become a huge resource for me and have helped me implement some extremely valuable habits. I highly suggest giving them a shot if you haven’t already.

Your personal development may come from a different source. Whether it’s meditation or prayer or even working on a side business, I highly encourage setting aside some time alone to work on yourself every morning. Even if it’s just 10-15 minutes, it really sets the tone for the rest of your day.

 

How To Wake Up Early

Waking up early is easier than most people think, and it can reap enormous benefits. Start by establishing a routine. Successful people don’t just wake up and wing it every day, they have a schedule that keeps them constantly productive from the time they wake to the time they sleep. Plan a realistic time to wake up and stick to it.

Don’t snooze the alarm.

Start with just an hour earlier than normal. It may be tough for the first few days, but your body will adapt. Soon you’ll realize that you aren’t any more tired from 7 hours of sleep than you were with 8.

If you aren’t willing to sacrifice something as minor as an hour of sleep to achieve your goals, then chances are you just don’t care enough. Think about the value of that single hour compounded over time. In just one month, you’ll have an additional 30 hours to work on your mind and body. That’s enough time to make some serious progress.

Just as with waking up, set a time to go to sleep and stick to it. That third (or fourth or fifth) episode of House of Cards will be there tomorrow. Before you go to sleep, have your clothes for the next day laid out and your food prepped. Check the weather and your calendar to avoid any surprises. That way, when you wake up you don’t have to think. You just grab and go.

Before you know it, you’ll be a morning person too.

The First Post: Why Now?

My 8-Week Transformation: Post Surgery (04/20/2016) vs. Now (06/16/2016)

My 8-Week Transformation: Post Surgery (04/20/2016) vs. Now (06/16/2016)

I have a busy life. I’m a husband to my beautiful wife, a father to my amazing daughter, and a loyal employee to my company. I also like to workout. A lot.

If I’m not at home with my family or at work, chances are I’m at the gym. Fitness has always been a big part of my life so why, now, am I starting a blog dedicated to it? Simply put, fitness is not just something I enjoy, it is my passion.

In January of this year, I had surgery to repair the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and torn cartilage in my knee. By all means, I had been lucky until that point. I’ve had my fair share of sprains and fractures, but nothing too serious.

My friends used to joke that it was only a matter of time before a major incident ended my sports “career”. A couple of them were even laughing so hard when my initial knee injury occurred that they were in literal tears. I promise they’re good people. And in their defense, hearing me let out a scream after stepping in a sprinkler hole on the lawn of the Texas State Capitol building in Austin while chasing down a frisbee was probably pretty funny.

Prior to surgery, I was what most people would consider very active, healthy, and athletic. I worked out almost every day, ate well, and practiced good habits. By all means, I was working hard.

But I was never actually working toward anything.

I wasn’t preparing for an event or competing in a sport or even trying to reach a new bench press personal record. More or less, I was just fit for the sake of being fit. Post surgery, however, my goals became clear.

For two weeks after surgery, I couldn’t travel further than my bed to the couch. I had to strap into a machine that extended and contracted my leg for 8 hours a day while I laid around binge watching every notable show on TV.

During that period, I also had a lot of time to listen to podcasts and audiobooks. I listened to everything from sports and fitness to personal development and parenting. Although the sources and subjects of the material varied, one message was abundantly clear: do what you love.

It’s something we’ve heard our entire lives, but for one reason or another we’ve been conditioned to believe it’s not possible. Money, practicality, and (most of all) fear almost always seem to derail the pursuit of our dreams. But the more I heard from entrepreneurs who made it happen for themselves, the more I desired go after something that I truly value.

Fitness is what I love. It's what I do and who I am. It has always been my passion, but in the past I was too blinded by doubt to consider it a viable career option. No longer. I made a decision to no longer be bound by the fear that had previously restrained me. So during those two weeks I wrote down all of the possible ways I could enter the fitness industry and began to form a plan of action.

Initially, the plan was simple; get back range of motion in my leg, build up some strength, and learn how to walk again. After that, I intended to regain the 15 pounds of muscle I lost while dormant. I was back in the gym before I could even walk, hobbling around on crutches from machine to machine. I avoided free weights completely, afraid that someone would trip over me trying to re-rack their dumbbells.

Although it wasn’t pretty, I was making progress. I was in the gym every morning by 6 AM grinding for results. It felt great to have a specific goal in mind and to be motivated to accomplish it.

What felt even better was hearing from others how much I was motivating them. I had countless people approach me and tell me that my dedication to not only come to the gym, but to work my ass off, was driving them to push harder. They told me they appreciated what I was doing, and if the guy with one leg wasn’t taking a day off then neither could they.

It was a truly humbling experience. It was then that a new part of my plan began to take form. Not only did I want to get more involved in fitness and achieve my lofty physical goals, I wanted to help others do the same.

Hence, this blog was born.

I want to do this for many reasons. First and foremost, it’s to help others live healthier. Most of those reading this have a full time job and a busy schedule and don’t want to spend time scouring the internet looking for valid workout and nutrition advice. With all of the Instagram models and fake salesmen flooding timelines with detox systems and magic pills, it gets hard to see through the bullshit.

I want to be the voice of reason.

I want to speak from personal experience and share what has worked for me so that I can help others become more effective. Over the past ten or so years, I’ve learned a lot about fitness and I believe I have some valuable information worth sharing. I plan on writing about topics that are relevant to my audience, and giving actionable advice that will create sustainable, healthy habits. 

Secondly, I want to do this because it holds me accountable. I want to lead by example and show others that it’s possible to make fitness a priority while maintaining a career, a family, and a social life. By making my goals public, I want to push myself to be more than just mediocre. I want to share my successes and my failures because, ultimately, it will help me grow and strive for more.

Finally, I want do this because it’s my passion. I wake up at 4:30 every morning with the fire to challenge myself in the gym. In my spare time, I read article after article about training and nutrition because I’m so hungry for more knowledge.

I hope people will learn something about fitness by visiting this blog, but I also hope that they gain the courage to pursue whatever it is that makes them happy. I recently came across a quote that read, “Don’t just do something you love. Do something that’s valuable, and something that serves others.” I believe that fitness is my outlet to accomplish all three.

What’s yours?