If you want to improve your health and fitness, get a better physique, lose weight or improve any other aspect of your life, then the single most important factor to focus on is consistency.
The best workout in the world is not going to make any kind of positive change to your physique if you only go a few times before giving up.
Likewise, even a poorly designed training routine will still have some positive benefit for you if you can keep it up consistently and go to the gym every couple of days.
And this applies to learning languages, taking up meditation and making pretty much any other kind of positive change too. So before you focus on training your body, or improving your mindset; first you need to focus on your ability to stick at your goals.
And there is a relatively simple way to do this…
For many of us, the idea of a routine is something that we shrug off as being boring or repetitive. A routine suggests that we’re doing the same thing day in and day out with very little variation and that’s not something that is highly appealing on the face of it.
And it’s also not particularly good for our brain, our focus, our happiness or anything else. The brain loves novelty and it’s only by pushing ourselves in new ways that we can keep growing and developing.
But with all that said, routine still has a lot of powerful benefits – and especially when you use it as a kind of ‘scaffolding’ upon which to hang all of your other interesting activities. You can still see new things, take on new challenges and explore the world, but then you’ll just return to your routine after each adventure.
Meanwhile, having a routine – a set time that you wake up, a set time that you go to the gym, a set meal that you eat at lunchtime – can help make it much easier to stick to any new plan.
Humans are ‘creatures of habits’. We are most comfortable when we have fallen into a routine and we are sticking with that. Habits are hard to form but they are even harder to break – which is why you will face a lot of opposition when you try and break a habit like biting your nails or raiding the fridge in the latter part of the afternoon.
We naturally tend to return to a routine or a rhythm of some sort once whenever we can and even when you visit a new town or country for a holiday, it’s normally only a matter of time before you’ve found your regular place for breakfast and found some kind of structure to your days.
Instead of fighting this structure then, the trick is to embrace it and to leverage it for your own gain – so that you can start building more muscle, losing more weight or becoming more productive.
The challenge then is finding this ideal routine that you can then hang your habits and goals around. The objective is not to create some idealized routine or perfect plan for how you’re going to lose X amount of weight and get much more work done at the same time; rather it is to look at your existing routine and slightly tweak it.
You’ve probably gotten into your current rhythm because it is convenient and because it works with your own biological rhythms and the demands placed on you. By just tweaking it slightly, you can add new activities around your existing habits, thereby making them much easier to take up.
So instead of coming up with a training program independently from the rest of your routine, think about it in context. When precisely do you intend on working out? How much time do you have at that point during the day? Where will you be?
And therefore, what will be the easiest way to fit that in?
Likewise, don’t just think about the diet you want to stick to but instead think about how you’re going to make that work around your schedule. Are you making yourself packed lunches in the morning? How long will it take you to make those meals? And do you really have the time you need to do that?
This is something that I feel strongly about from my own experience. Every time I have been in my best shape, it has been because I managed to come up with a routine that worked for me and a schedule that I could fit my training into.
When I lived and worked in Leeds, I found a gym that was right by my workplace and I trained there straight after my working day finished. This convenience and geographical proximity made it very easy to stick to, even when I was tired. And because I was already there, I wasn’t taking extra time to travel in and out. I could just take a change of gym clothes with me in the morning and workout before I came home. If I was very tired, I’d just have a quick session before heading back. And I fitted my extra protein in very nicely at this time too, by eating a massive sandwich every morning before I started and by having two protein shakes a day.
Likewise, while I was in London last year, I managed to get very toned by fitting in a morning run and eating a salad from Morison’s every lunchtime. I worked in coffee shops on my laptop and at 12pm, I would head out for an hour, grab a salad for £3 and eat it on the grass.
Right now, I am in my best shape because I walk my wife to and from the station every morning and evening and head straight to the gym after I drop her off at the start of the day. This provides me with the perfect structure to fit my training and my work around as it makes sure I’m up early (I’m in the gym by 7.30am and back at home for work at 8.30am) and it means I’m walking 4 miles daily too!
Take a look at your routine then and find the best way to implement the changes you want to. Don’t be worried if you don’t get this right straight away though: it can take a little time to find the perfect balance. If you fail to stick at your training, then perhaps it was too much or perhaps you were training at the wrong time of day. Tweak it a little and try again!