This year I'm focusing on habits to help me build new skills and look after my health. One of these habits is to do push-ups every morning. I went from not doing push-ups at all, to doing them every single morning. As I write this, I'm on a streak of 45 days in a row. From zero to more than a month without stopping, here's how I did it.
Since releasing my course, Productive Habits, I've been focusing on building more new habits. One of the techniques that I focus on is starting small. I'm a huge proponent of this method, as are other experts in habit building and lifestyle change, like BJ Fogg, creator of Tiny Habits, and Leo Babauta, creator of Zen Habits.
The essence of starting small comes in two parts: making your habit so easy to do that you can't say no, and focusing on consistency.
Let's start with making it easy. Every morning I do five push-ups. That's not many at all. It's not what I'd call a full workout. It's not enough to break a sweat. But that doesn't matter, because it's more than zero.
When you're starting out with a new habit, you want to find the smallest possible amount of that habit you can do, and still feel something. I could have started with one push-up, but I don't feel anything after one, or two. Five push-ups is just enough to feel a little struggle, but not enough that it feels too hard to get started. It's trivial to get down on the floor and do five push-ups, which is exactly what you want when you're starting out: something so trivial, you can't say no.
The second part of starting small is to focus on consistency. You want to aim for quantity, not quality. this isn't about being about to do 50 push-ups in a row, or losing weight, or having a six pack. It's about doing push-ups, no matter how many, every single day.
I recently started adding five squats after my push-ups. But after a few days I found I didn't feel like doing squats every day. Sometimes I was rushing to get my push-ups done, so I would skip the squats.
And that's ok. Because all I have to do to keep my streak going is five push-ups.
Only when I'm confident that I'll do five push-ups every morning, without a reminder, no matter what, will I focus on doing more push-ups, or adding more exercises that become part of my no-excuses daily habit.
Keep It in Focus
I always focus on building one new habit at a time. Any more than that and I forget some, or I struggle to keep them up every day because my attention is split.
To help me focus on the habit I'm currently building, I make a note of it in two places: my notebook and my task list.
I use a notebook to keep daily, weekly, and monthly to do lists. At the top of each daily list I write down the habit I'm working on. When I've completed my habit for the day, I cross it out. This is a helpful reminder throughout the day, whenever I look at my notebook, that I need to complete my habit if I haven't already.
The other place I make a note of my habit is my task list. When I do my monthly review and choose a habit to work on for the month ahead, I make a task for the new habit with a due date of the last day of the month. I make sure this task stays visible every day in my main task list (you can do this in different ways depending on the app you use — for instance, using filters or saved searches, adding a star, high priority status, or setting a start date for the first day of the month).
Apart from starting small, stacking habits is probably the most useful technique I've discovered for building brand new habits. Stacking habits means using an existing habit (even one you didn't purposely build, like waking up, having a shower, or brushing your teeth) to act as a trigger for your new habit.
For push-ups, I use turning on the shower as my trigger. Every morning I get set up for my shower, turn on the water, then drop and do five push-ups while the water heats up. I'll have to adjust this when I'm doing more push-ups so I don't waste water, but for now I'm just making better use of the time when I normally stand around avoiding the cold water.
This post originally appeared on Belle Beth Cooper's blog.