In the last few weeks we’ve seen many examples of ways to keep our single-focused habits going strong. But we still have those days where it’s a struggle, even with great tricks like using the root of a habit.
We still need some further skills to get around those down days, so this next one is another favorite I use quite a lot. I call it the skip-stone technique.
Let’s have an example to see how it works.
The root of my exercise habit has always been putting on my workout shoes. There’s something about the moment I have them on that tells me it’s okay to just go out to the garage gym and let the rest fall in place. Or, if it’s a run day, as soon as I lace up, I’m eager to get out the door and see what happens.
Exercise is one of those habits I find often mentally tough to do. It’s not the exertion I find hard. It’s the fact that, if I’m really busy, exercise feels like something I should be skipping. Who has time to exercise when there are deadlines and you’re behind on all of them?
This kind of mental fog only gets thicker if I try to convince myself otherwise.
So, I’ve learned to just put my workout shoes on.
This always leads me to leave the house and at least “start” my workout. When I start, I don’t just dive in. I try to think of the simplest 2-5 minute thing I have to do. If it’s a weight day, I look at what set is up next on my rotation. If it’s a run day, I start a warm-up walk.
Something happens when I take this step. That brain fog that seemed hopeless starts to clear enough for me to at least see the next thing to do. One set done, I look at the list and decide, okay, I can do 1 more. A short warm-up walk helps me decide, at the worst, I could just run a block or two then turn home.
Like skipping stones, one small step leads a bit further.
Sometimes it takes a few sets of weights, or half a mile of running, before the real magic happens.
The fog clears altogether and I realize, Okay, I’m here now, doing my workout!
Instead of looking ahead just to the next steps, I start to see the milestone that will define my workout for the day. With weights, it’s the combined sets for the muscle group I’m training. With a run, it’s the distance I plan to run once I’m no longer thinking about going home early.
These skipping stones eventually lead to that clear milestone.
What’s important about this though is that every day this milestone is free to be whatever makes sense. If I’m squeezing in a workout around a packed day, just the fact that I went to the garage and got in 1 set is progress. If it’s a freer day, I might shoot for the hour-long runs I like to get in now and then — but often I do this at the cost of making progress on “easier” things like extra reading or extra writing.
Each day, the milestone becomes clear after letting those skipping-stone actions lead me, one at a time.
It’s worth saying that, because the root of my habit is putting on my workout shoes, my attitude helps a lot. “Let’s see what happens when I go out the door,” is a little trick to get me away from the home office environment where I will be thinking about work.
Once you see the surroundings that you associate with the habit you want to engage in, the little stepping stones are there, even if faintly visible through the fog. If you can find the root of your habit, then that’s the first skipping stone, and it leads you to the next one — but what’s most important here is to notice how the root of your habit also gets you into the environment of your habit.
As we saw last week, over time, the root of a habit gets etched in memory. If putting my shoes on and seeing what happens led to torture workout sessions, I’d probably throw my shoes out and never exercise again!
Instead, every time, I know I’m free to do whatever I’m able, free to draw the line each time, and discover, for today, what is the milestone I want to record in my Multihabit log?
I hope you’re enjoying this newsletter. Stay tuned for next Tuesday, when we’ll explore yet more methods built around the Multihabit system.
p.s. if you enjoy this newsletter and have suggestions for future articles, please hit “reply” and let me know.