Good morning, everybody Blake here. I'm hanging out in my office with my assistants, Walker and Ryder. So you're probably going to hear some jangling collars in the background, but I wanted to hop on this morning and talk a little bit about consistency because consistency and routine and creating patterns is something that I'm really passionate about, but not always the best at actually implementing in my own life.
I think that's probably true for a lot of us. It seems like everybody wants to be able to say that they have great routines and healthy habits in their life. But very few of us actually make those habits a priority. Instead, as is the nature of habits, we often function on autopilot and just assume that the way we're doing things is what makes the most sense for us. And we don't really question those assumptions too often. For example, how many of you, when you woke up this morning, grabbed your cell phone, and immediately went to social media.
I obviously cannot see you since this is a podcast, so I'm not going to say if you did that, raise your hand, but think about it. Did you roll over, turn off your alarm, go straight to Instagram or Facebook or Twitter? You probably did because that's what a lot of us do. It's how we've been conditioned to wake up in the morning. It's right there within reach.
We have our phone in hand, so, why not check-in, see what's going on for the day. And think about the other aspects of your life where you just kind of float on autopilot. For example, in my own life, I am notoriously bad about putting on music or a YouTube video while I'm getting in the shower. And you know, I’ll have my phone propped up where I can listen along while I'm showering.
The result is I often spend way too much time in the shower. And even though not wasting water and, you know, having a reduced carbon footprint is a priority of mine. I've gotten in this habit of wanting to be able to hear these podcasts or music, or, you know, Videos that explore some aspect of culture that I find interesting.
I've become so conditioned to having those on in the background that it's just a habit. When I get in the shower, it's like, okay, cool. This is a time for me to relax and listen. And as a result, it has some negative downstream consequences. Really habits are so fascinating. Like if you think about it, Habits are these, these actions that we do that we've conditioned ourselves to do– we're programmed to engage in behaviors– without really thinking about it. And they shape and have such an influence across so many areas of our lives. It's crazy.
You know, typically actions that we do without thinking, or like the autonomic responses of breathing or having your heart pump or having the muscles in your esophagus push food down into your stomach, we don't have to think about that. It just happens. It's productive. It keeps us alive.
Most of the habits that we form as we get older. And as we, create routines for ourselves, aren't quite as productive as our body's autonomic responses. But at the same time, because we have the capacity to examine our habits and to question them, we also have the capacity to formulate new habits.
So, to be able to identify some of these negative habits, it takes quite a bit of insight, or self-awareness, which is something I talk a lot about in Big Picture Living. The entire first, almost third of the book is all about developing insight and getting clear with yourself about what you're doing, and learning how to examine and question your own assumptions.
So one of the things I say in the book, and that I firmly believe in, is if it's within your budget or within your attainment to work with a coach, or in some cases, it might be better suited to work with a therapist… do so! Being able to have those reflective self-critical conversations and have someone reflect back to you what they're hearing you say is a really, really productive way to strengthen that sense of insight.
The lower-budget option is to journal on a consistent basis and, journaling is a very, very powerful tool. For developing your sense of insight. Being able to sit down, you know, either in the evenings or in the mornings and reflect on what you're feeling, why you're feeling that way, what your goals are for the day, why those are your goals... As you're, as you're journaling, always ask yourself, okay Why?
You know, anytime you put down information about yourself and what you want, what you're feeling, what you're doing. Ask why try and peel back those layers as much as possible that will really help you get to the root of what you're experiencing and develop that sense of insight and awareness so that as those emotions come up and as those sensations come up, you're able to say, okay, this is probably happening right now because of X, Y, Z.
And then it's easier for you to rewrite that narrative and. You know, engage in some radical ownership of your own actions and behaviors, but regardless, journaling is a really great way to develop those skills. Working with a coach or a therapist can be a bit better, primarily because it has baked in accountability.
You know, if you're paying quite a bit to be working with someone and you have them checking in with you on a regular basis. You're invested in making that change with journaling. It's, it's easy, unfortunately, to set the journal down and not come back to it for a couple of weeks and really only engage in your journaling when it feels convenient.
And that's not really a great way to develop that sense of insight or to cultivate a healthy new habit because... it's just not formulating a habit when you do something once, set it down and never come back to it. But if you're able to stick to it consistently, you're going to be able to develop that sense of insight into the habits that you currently have, what they're doing, and why you default to that behavior.
That can also help you rewrite that narrative. And mold that habit into something that's more productive being able to do that requires consistency and showing up on a regular basis, whatever form that takes coming back to it over and over and over and over again is going to give you the skills and awareness and strength that you need to create healthy habits that work towards building that life you want and deserve.
It's a lot like doing reps at the gym. I use a lot of workout metaphors because working out has been one of the most influential, life-altering habits I've developed. And I'm sure I will talk about it at length at some point, but when you're in the gym and you're trying to get stronger, you have to do consistent reps.
So a rep is like each completion of a given exercise. Let's use bicep curls as an example since those are quite common and most people understand what a bicep curl looks like. So with the bicep curl, you start with a weight in your hand– let's assume we're using a dumbbell– and you curl your arm up at the elbow, keeping your elbow in towards your side, hold it at the top for a second, and then you slowly and controlled lower your arm back down. That's one rep.
When you're doing reps for a given muscle group, the reason that they make you stronger over time isn't because that motion has some kind of magical property that pumps up your muscle fibers. Instead, what you're doing is introducing stress to those muscle fibers and causing them to strain against a source of resistance. And when you do this, the muscle fibers actually get microscopic damage to them. Actually, probably not even microscopic it would be visible, but it introduces damage and stress to those muscle fibers.
And as your body is wont to do, when that damage occurs. Your, your body goes about repairing itself, and as your body repairs, those muscle fibers, they become more resilient to similar stress. Meaning that doing that same motion again, isn't as likely to cause damage to those fibers. So over time, what happens is as your muscle fibers have this damage and repair themselves and heal, and, you know, you, you take plenty of rest between that damage so your body has time to heal. Those fibers get stronger. They also get larger. That's what leads to, you know, visible musculature when you're exercising.
The thing is, as you're going through this process of doing your reps, one of the things that really prevents people from being consistent about going to the gym is that as much as this process of damage and healing sounds straightforward, it's not exactly a fast process. And the improvements that you make to your muscles over time are pretty minuscule. So a lot of people don't really notice progress.
They go to the gym with the expectation that doing a specific set of activities and exercises is going to contribute to having a specific skillset or strength level or physique. And they don't see that happening quickly enough, and they feel defeated and they give up. But the thing is oftentimes because this progress is happening to us at a slow and gradual pace, we don't notice it while it's happening, but that doesn't mean it's not happening.
For example, I have really been wanting to make progress on strengthening my back. I spend so much time at my desk chair that my back and my hips and my sciatic nerve are totally just... in need of some love and attention.
I've made it a priority of mine in the gym to strengthen those surrounding muscles and use that as a way to ensure that whether I'm sitting at a desk chair or standing, I'm maintaining better posture and protecting those nerves, and preventing some of that hip pain.
As much as I have worked on my back, I've just felt for months like I'm going up in weight, I'm doing new exercises, I'm doing more reps and I don't see a physical difference. But then, but then a couple of days ago I went to put on one of my dress shirts that I haven't worn for a while. You know, we're at, we're in the middle of a pandemic. I'm not exactly going out to formal events right now.
Haven't really had a reason to put this shirt on for about six months, and I got it on and I started buttoning up and all I could think was, Oh my gosh, my lats feel so squeezed right now. So squeezed. And I, you know, pulled up my phone camera and turned my back to a mirror so that I could see what the shirt looked like through the back.
And I realized, Oh, my back's getting pretty broad. There's like noticeable muscle through this shirt. And this shirt is about at its max. You know, I'm going to have to rehome it to someone with a slightly smaller frame than mine. And it was kind of in that moment where I recognized, Oh yeah. I've been putting in a lot of work, even though I haven't seen the progress on a daily basis, you know, haven't consistently woken up and been like, Oh yeah, my back looks so good… which I suppose it would be weird if that's what I did. But regardless, you know, I, I wasn't really seeing the results. I was feeling a little bit defeated and then all at once something reframed that perspective and I went, Oh shit, I've come a long way.
This is, this is what progress looks like. This is what progress feels like. That's fantastic.
It's a really similar process showing up, being consistent is a similar process to investing. So if you're not a gym person, maybe you're more of a money person. You know, when you're investing, you're putting aside small amounts of money over time and distributing it into various investments so that over time that value builds.
You have this gradual growth that may skyrocket, depending upon whether or not the world implodes before the end of 2020, it's a possibility. But regardless, plus you're putting in a little bit over time being consistent about doing it with the expectation that as you put enough in, you're going to have solid returns in the end.
And. You know, I, I want to do a quick plug for the book, Atomic Habits by James Clear. It's one of my favorite reads from the last couple of years. And it's one of those books where I feel like I got so much out of it the first time that I read it, that I wanted to let it digest so I can come back to it again.
It's that good. It's very insightful, very practical. I'm not the type of person who enjoys personal development and self-help books that are very conceptual and feely and, you know, make you feel good, but don't really have any impact. I'm not about that life. I really want something that is insightful, rooted in science, rooted in psychology, and gives me actionable steps that I can take in my own life.
That's what Atomic Habits is. It's really actionable, really insightful. And I just want to read you a quick passage from it, from the introduction of the book, to help you kind of understand a bit more about what the books about. Since I want you to go out and buy it, I'll include a link to it in the show notes for this episode.
It will be an affiliate link because, you know, Money. So if you want to support this show, buying this book through my affiliate link would be a great way to do it. Or of course, you can always just purchase my book Big Picture Living: A Guide to Finding Fulfillment (Even When Everything Sucks) through my website at shop.selfhimprovement.com.
Cool. That's my self-promo for this episode, let's get into Atomic Habits.
What progress is really like
Imagine that you have an ice cube sitting on the table in front of you. The room is cold and you can see your breath. It is currently twenty-five degrees. Ever so slowly, the room begins to heat up.
The ice cube is still sitting on the table in front of you.
Still, nothing has happened.
Then, thirty-two degrees. The ice begins to melt. A one degree shift, seemingly no different from the temperature increases before it, has unlocked a huge change.
Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change. This pattern shows up everywhere. Cancer spends 80 percent of its life undetectable, then takes over the body in months. Bamboo can barely be seen for the first five years as it builds extensive root systems underground before exploding ninety feet into the air within six weeks.
Similarly habits often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold and unlock a new level of performance. In the early and middle stages of any quest, there's often a Valley of Disappointment. You expect to make progress in a linear fashion and it's frustrating how ineffective changes can seem during the first days, weeks, and even months, it doesn't feel like you are going anywhere. It's a hallmark of any compounding process: the most powerful outcomes are delayed.
This is one of the core reasons why it's so hard to build habits that last. People make a few small changes, fail to see a tangible result, and decide to stop. You think, "I've been running everyday for a month, so why can't I see any change in my body?" Once this kind of thinking takes over, it's easy to let good habits fall by the wayside. But in order to make a meaningful difference, habits need to persist long enough to break through this plateau ––what I call the Plateau of Latent Potential.
If you find yourself struggling to build a good habit or break a bad one, it is not because you have lost your ability to improve. It is often because you have not yet crossed the Plateau of Latent Potential. Complaining about not achieving success despite working hard is like complaining about an ice cube, not melting when you heated it from twenty-five to thirty-one degrees. Your work was not wasted; it is just being stored. All the action happens at thirty-two degrees.
So I could go on reading this book to you. This could just become an audiobook version of atomic habits– totally rip off that IP and make that my entire podcast. But I'll refrain.
I'll let you read it for yourself, but you know, that's, that's what I'm talking about when I talk about being consistent and showing up. It may not feel like you're making much progress at first, but there's this compounding effect. Whereas these actions build and grow over time. You're eventually going to reach that critical threshold where things just change.
To do that, I think the best advice that I could give would be to focus on your process and not your progress, you know?
In the gym, when I first started working out, I was really determined to exercise for a purpose, like a very specific aesthetic. And I was focused on the outcome and I ended up just hurting myself and damaging my body and not doing any good. Once I decided to start exercising for the sake of caring for my body, and noticing myself getting stronger over time, without any concern for aesthetics or, you know, meeting someone else's standards, anything like that– I saw tremendous progress.
(I got) so much more joy out of it, but that joy and that progress and those changes came from being focused on the process and challenging myself to, you know, raise the temperature one degree each time I was in the gym, to borrow from James Clears’ ice cube metaphor, and showing up, being consistent, focusing on doing exercises well, focusing on maintaining form and gradually challenging myself to improve over time has had such a huge payoff.
And that's true in so many areas of our lives. I would argue every area of our life. If we show up and push for that one degree, incremental change each and every time we're going to eventually hit a place of having a huge payoff and really being able to enjoy things at a deeper level.
You know, whether you're writing or wanting to start your own business or getting in shape or, you know, just wanting to read more, be happier, whatever it may be... when you make an effort to show up more consistently and integrate those habits into your daily life so that you're not, you know, making a concerted effort.
To achieve your core, values, and goals, and rather pursuing them as just a part of your daily life and habits as something that you do on autopilot, something that's integrated into your identity and who you are. That's really where superb rapid growth is going to come into play. So today I want to wrap up by challenging you to think through a couple of questions.
If you do journal or, you know, if you're having some journaling, goals for yourself to make that more of a habit, you know, think through these questions.
First, what is something you want to get better at over time? This can be a specific goal. It can be a skill, it can be something that you see as a core part of your identity. Just be specific. Think about what that thing is that you want to get better at over time.
Once you've identified that. Ask yourself, why? What is it about this and your values and your long-term goals that make this a valuable, you know, a valuable component of your life? Why is it that you want to focus on this?
And then third, what can you do today to introduce that one degree of change into your life? A word of advice on this third question. Oftentimes when we're thinking through specific goals and things we want to accomplish, when we look for action steps, we often want to just dive right in and do something huge.
You know, for example, as a writer, one thing I see a lot of is folks saying like, “Yeah, I want to devote more time to this book I've been wanting to write for so long. So I'm going to write 5,000 pages or... 5,000 pages? Whoa, that's absurd… 5,000 words every single night.” That's a huge task. 5,000 words is a lot.
And what happens is someone might jump in, set aside an hour or two, and they just write, write, write, write, write. And then the next night, you're not able to set aside that same time. And so you just write a little bit and you would go, “Oh, well, I didn't write 5,000 words” and you start to feel defeated and you set it aside.
So what tends could be more productive and more beneficial is to start by making a small change. So think about the habits that you already have in place and see how you can piggyback a healthier habit on top of that. So, for example, let's say that every night before bed, you brush your teeth, wash your face, get in bed, and spend 30 minutes scrolling through Facebook.
What if you– hear me out– what if rather than going at that exact routine, you plug your phone up at the opposite side of the room, far away from your bed, where you cannot reach it from your bed, and, instead, take a notebook with you and use that 30 minutes to just jot down ideas. So, you know, for using that writing a goal example, let's say that you, you just sit in bed for 30 minutes, thinking through plot points, thinking through conflict, thinking through, you know, possible sources of tension or conflict or resolution, whatever it may be, and just jot those ideas down.
You're keeping that same routine. You're not completely redoing everything in your schedule. You're just making a small shift. You're putting your phone at the other side of the room and reaching for a notebook. Instead, it's still going to be a challenge because it's a change in routine, but because it's kind of piggybacking off of a structure that's already in place, you're more likely to be able to maintain that behavior consistently.
So again, those are the three questions I would challenge you to think through and spend a little bit of time reflecting on today. You know, what is something you want to get better at over time? Why do you want to get better at that? And then what is something you can do today to introduce that one degree of change into your daily habits?
So. That's been our discussion of the power of consistency and showing up, hopefully, my writing, exercising, and investing metaphors made sense. If they did not, uf that's not your jam, feel free to reach out to me, as always, at email@example.com. Have a great day, everybody.
He/ Him/ His pronouns. Blake is a writer, gym addict, dog dad, researcher, and general life enthusiast. He's passionate about helping others reach their goals and live happier, more fulfilling lives.
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