With the new year upon us I’d like to share four favorite new habits I started in this past year. More importantly, I’ll share four habit-building strategies that were extremely helpful in maintaining those habits. The habits themselves may or may not be for you, but the strategies can be applied to any habits you pursue.
The Habit: Foam Roller
Strategy: Set Cues for New Habits (aka Habit Stacking)
I’ve used foam rollers off and on over the years, usually after workouts at the gym, but this past year I made it a habit to do a short foam rolling session at home most mornings. It’s a simple 5-10 minute habit that’s especially beneficial if you feel a bit stiff in the morning or after long bouts of desk work.
This habit has been super easy to maintain because I have an easy to remember cue for when to do it – after I brush my teeth in the morning, I hit the foam roller. Choosing a cue – an existing routine or habit that you’ll do you new habit before or after, is one of the most effective strategies for building a new habit. For starters it simply makes it easier to remember to do the habit in the first place. But beyond that, by doing a new habit before or especially after something already automatic to you, it inherits some of that automatic quality. It just feels more natural to do it.
Quick tip: If you’re using a habit tracker, consider putting the cue in the habit’s title when you’re first starting a new habit. So for example: “Foam roller (after brush teeth)”. If you’re using Motidayt you can optionally use the habit’s details field instead, which makes it easy to show or hide your cue as needed.
The Habit: Light Cardio
Strategy: Start Small, with a Consistently Achievable Goal
Although strength training has been a part of my routine for years, I’d never been able to maintain the same consistency with cardio. That’s why I’m especially pleased that this past year I made regular cardio a part of my weekly routine. I started with a simple four exercise circuit – jumping jacks, jump squats, side steps, and jumping lunges – done for three sets. Including rests it all takes less than ten minutes.
The reasons I was finally able to make cardio a regular habit are 1) I started tracking it and 2) I started small. If I’d started with a goal of doing 30 minutes of cardio a day it almost certainly wouldn’t have lasted. But three sets of four exercises for less than ten minutes is something I could stick to even on busy or low motivation days.
Starting small applies to your weekly goals for habits as well. Don’t set a weekly goal of seven days a week for a new habit! Set a goal that is high enough to reap rewards, but low enough to achieve on a weekly basis, even when unexpected things come up (which they will).
I started with a goal of three times a week, which is enough for cardio to bring substantial benefits. It’s also far better than the zero it might be if I had set an excessive goal and quit. (After a couple months of consistent success I bumped my goal up to four times a week and am still hitting it consistently.)
The Habit: ATG Split Squat
Strategy: Improve Incrementally
I learned about the ATG split squat from watching Ben Patrick, aka Knees Over Toes Guy, who in turn I learned about through Huberman Lab. Since then I’ve added a few reps of it to my morning mobility routine, and several more reps to my bodyweight strength training routine soon after. It was awkward and difficult to do at first, but now I love the muscular activation and stretch I get in both legs from this one movement. (Quick disclaimer: I’m not an exercise physiologist or anything of the sort so do your own research before implementing it.)
The strategy here piggybacks on the last one: Start small with an effective, consistently achievable “dose” of a new habit, then gradually build or improve upon it. In this case, a few ATG split squats each morning might not seem like a big deal, but that added to some side lunges, deep squats, shoulder rotations, downward dogs, hip rotations, side planks and mountain climbers as part of a morning mobility routine built over time when you previously weren’t doing anything at all – that’s a pretty big deal.
The Habit: Tongue Scraping
Strategy: Try Something New
I first read about tongue scraping in some random article and thought it sounded silly. Then I saw it mentioned again in some other random article and thought, “What the hell, why not.” Ten dollars and a couple hundred tongue scrapings later this is my favorite small, “who’d have thunk it” habit from the past year. I really had no idea what a difference such a simple habit – one that I hadn’t even heard of until maybe a year before – could make.
The strategy here is more a mindset: Don’t let skepticism or a bit of laziness prevent you from trying a new habit. If you have the time to try something new and the investment isn’t too great (which it usually isn’t if you start small) then just give it a go! Life is too short and our own judgement too limited to rule out new things simply because of a bit of skepticism.
New Year, New Habits
Those are four habits I’m glad to have started in the past year, and more importantly four strategies that can make any potential habit a consistent part of your life. Using these strategies along with a good habit tracker to track progress can put you on the right foot to building habits and achieving goals in 2024 and beyond.