SLT071: The Power of Habit

Never underestimate the power of habit. In mid-April of 2014, I decided that I needed to make some positive changes to my morning ritual. I’ve talked about my morning ritual a few times on the Simple Life Together podcast, and we discussed the power of habit, routines and rituals back in Episode 30 and also in one of our most popular episodes, The 7 Habits for Highly Effective Simplicity in Episode 55. But recently I read a book on habits (well, actually I listened to the audio version) by Charles Duhigg, titled The Power of Habit.

But let me back up just a bit and talk about my positive changes to how I spend my early morning. Following a visit to the doctor and the results of some medical testing, I decided that I need to get more active. Of course, my wife Vanessa had been encouraging me to do this for years…but you know how sometimes when the “advice” comes from a spouse or other close family member you occasionally ignore it? Well, yeah…that. Moving on…

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Topic:  The Power of Habit

I had always intended to start walking, but I never seemed to be able to fit it into my day. But as I’ve explained in the past my morning ritual consisted of me waking up about 2 hours earlier than the rest of the family, making a delicious cup of coffee with my Aeropress, and sitting down for some “me” time behind my Macbook Pro. I knew that had to change and I intended to not only establish a new walking habit, but to eventually turn that into a ritual as well.

Vanessa and I have defined “ritual” as a mindful act or actions that have an overarching benefit. Think of a ritual as the sweet spot; something that probably needs to be done, that you actually enjoy doing. So as I started off to develop my new habit of walking, The Power of Habit was playing in my earbuds on Day One. As I listened and walked, Mr Duhigg explained what he calls his Habit Loop which consists of Cue, Routine, and Reward. He also highlights what he calls “Keystone Habits;” small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that carry over into other aspects of their lives. Duhigg contends that Keystone Habits have a ripple effect into other parts of your life, creating positive change unexpectedly. He used examples of exercise and eating together as a family as Keystone Habits, and I’d use our family time around the fire while camping (that “fire circle” I’ve mentioned before) as a prime example, too. Well, thats exactly what I was hoping to develop with my walk, a firm Keystone Habit. So I started off deliberately to ensure I did all I could do to make this work.

Knowing there are many ways to interrupt developing a new habit, here are a few things I did to help ensure success:

    • I prepared the night before by setting out my walking shorts, shirt, my RHA noise canceling aluminum ear buds, and Vibram Five Fingers. Yes, I wear (and LOVE) those funky toe shoes!
    • I set my alarm to ensure I walk at the same time every day.
    • When the alarm goes off in the morning, I turn it off, and say to myself “Get up, get out!” Some days are just tough and it’s easy to make excuses. But I know that once I’m out there on my walk I feel better. So I say every morning…Get up, get out!
    • So once I’m up I go make my coffee. My ritual includes my beloved Aeropress and Cafe Bustelo Espresso.
    • Armed with my coffee and my iPhone loaded with an audiobook or good supply of podcasts, I head out for between 1-1.5 hours and cover 4+ miles each and every day. And I LOVE it!

Sure enough, this walking habit has matured from a simple habit, to a routine, and is now a ritual that I enjoy. It has also become what Mr. Duhigg would refer to as a Keystone Habit, as well, spreading other goodness into various areas of my life. I’ve made great strides with my eating habits and other facets of my life by adopting the principles laid out by Mark Sisson in his Primal Blueprint. You can find out lots more about that at his website called Mark’s Daily Apple. He has so much terrific (and free) information there, but I admit I devoured the audio versions of his books The Primal Connection and The Primal Blueprint. To date, following Mark’s program, I’ve lost over 30 pounds, eliminated most of my prescription medicines (and cut the final one to half dosage), transitioned my complete diet to natural food sources, and I feel better than I have in years. Truly an amazing transformation, all stemming from one new habit: my daily walk.

Wrap Up:

So, if you’ve been waiting for a time to start tapping into the power of habits, maybe now is perfect for you. Be sure to check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I’m sure we could all use some more Keystone Habits in our lives to help us live more fully, more simply, and more purposefully. Habits don’t start without action, so if you didn’t start yesterday, then today is your next best option.

Question:

So what are your Keystone Habits? What habits have you developed in the past that you’re following today to shape your tomorrow? Are they positive habits that support the pillars of your Life Plan? Or are they habits that aren’t really congruent with how you want to live your simple life? We’d love to know. Share your successes and struggles in the comments below. 

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Photo Credit Audrey Low

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8 thoughts on “SLT071: The Power of Habit

  1. Hey, Dan and Vanessa! I hear you on the value of listening to books when you walk. I’m a runner with bad hips and knees and was getting discouraged with the pain of my morning jaunts. I decided to start walking (adding mileage because I’m anal and apparently walking the same distance “isn’t the same” 😉 ) and downloaded books on Audible. I pick a theme and then read a few books within it. It has been so fun! This summer we’ve traveled a lot in our Twinkie and I have found so many interesting places to walk and enjoy my books. I’ve discovered that it is so much more enjoyable than suffering through a run with music blaring in my ears and as a result I actually get out there and do it every day.
    Good for you for making a habit and improving your health to such an extent, Dan! Well done. Habits are the way to do it—now if I could only form a habit of flossing, my dentist trips wouldn’t be so awful!

    Best to your family in the beginning of this “new year” (I, too, feel September is the beginning of it all–especially as a teacher!).
    Keep those tips comin’—you guys are the BEST!
    Lara

    • Lara! I was just thinking of you this morning and thinking that this must be a very busy time for you. So happy you got in some good travel time this summer, too. We’re ready for some off-season camping now…without all the crowds.

      Good for you on giving your joints a break. I can do some occasional sprints but after about 1/4 mile my compartment syndrome kicks in and it’s just way too painful to run. So, walking is it for me…and I love it!

      Best to you and yours, too!

  2. This is awesome, Dan! Better health is something that can really have a profound effect on the rest of your life.

    I have been primal/paleo/low-carb for over 2 years now and I have lost over 100 lbs. This “keystone habit” of simply changing my eating has not only extended my life, but it has given me more energy for my family time, career, and has just made me a happier person.

    It was awesome to hear that you are on the same eating plan, and that you are having such good results. Thanks to both of you for sharing this!

    • Thanks, Stephen! Wow…that’s awesome!!! Good for you, man! It has really made so much difference for me too. It’s the one “diet” (I don’t even like to call it that but “lifestyle” seems so over used) I feel like I can be really, really happy with for the rest of my life. You’ve probably already heard of it, but do you listen to the Latest in Paleo podcast? Awesome!!!! My new fav, hands down.

      Thanks for writing in, Stephen…it’s great to be in touch with you. OK…I’m off to check out your site, too!

  3. Hi Dan and Vanessa,

    I tried sending out a comment the other day, but must have forgotten to press send! And it was a long one too! 🙂 Let me shorten it and see if it works!

    I loved your show about habits this week and wanted to ask a question about one habit I’ve been having a hard time dealing with. I just started with a new nature blog recently and am having a hard time developing routines with it that keeps my life simple. I feel like I need to be ON all the time and it does not lead to a simple way of living. I love that you took some time off with your family recently and put that priority first… Do you have tips and tricks for a new blogger on how to simplify things there? What worked for you? Maybe that’s a show idea!

    I love love love your show! Keep it up!

    Isabelle

    • Hi Isabelle!

      Thanks so much for checking in with us. Regarding development of new habits for blogging, I know exactly what you mean by feeling like you need to be “on” all the time! All this social media stuff…and all the so-called “experts” telling you what you “should” be doing as a blogger…it makes my head spin! What has worked for us is doing things at our own pace, taking some time to comment on the blogs of others that deal with our topic, and finding where our audience is and being present there. We’ve always wanted to do a “show calendar” so we’d know what each show was going to be about weeks or months in advance. That just never worked for us. We want to talk about our journey and we DON’T KNOW what we’ll be doing in 3 weeks, let alone 3 months from now. So it may find some time to find your sweet spot, but more than likely your sweet spot will find you! I hope this helps in some small way. But really, I don’t think there’s a magic solution out there. Some people just love that constant “on switch” and spend tons of time on their blogs/podcasts. That’s just not us.

      So glad you’re enjoying the show! We’re lucky to have you listening in!

  4. Hi Vanessa and Dan!

    I just recently found your podcast and really love it. Thanks for your dedicated work and for keeping the podcasts available even if you are posting much less lately.

    I simply had to comment this episode as about 4 months ago I decided to start walking to and from work instead of riding the bus. I was out of town a lot so renewing my bus card made little sense and would have been waste of money. Besides the walk takes about 30 minutes which is pretty much what it would take by bus!

    The positive impact this had on my every day life was something I was unable to imagine! No to dealing with bus timetables, traffic jams, stressed out people on buses. Yes to listening to music, podcasts, audio books and enjoying strolling through the town at my own pace. The walks are a great way to transition from home to work mode and vice versa. I am much happier, stress is easier to handle, I sleep well and as a couch potato it is good to get at least some regular movement.

    Dan, I am glad you have found happiness in walking, I can absolutely relate to that.

    Have a lovely day, both of you, wherever you are! All the best from France!

    • Thank you so much, Henriikka! Walking has made such a huge difference in my life and I look forward to it every single day! Sometimes I even “do a quick lap” during the day just for a break from sitting and working on the computer.

      Take care and if we ever make our way to France, we can all go for a walk!