Working through my own struggles to stay on track with healthy practices, I’ve realized that there’s ONE thing more important than any other for long-term success, regardless of your goal.
I call it “moving the proverbial needle” — as in, Can you? Can you change things at need? Once you pick a goal, do you know how to actually start moving towards it? Until you can drop down on demand and start making goals a reality, the grandest goals in the universe are all just talk.
If you had to limit yourself to ONE nuclear-powered Swiss Army Knife to take you across the finish line for any of your health and fitness goals, what would it be?
I would argue, it should be a working understanding of habit science.
How to take any goal that requires consistent, regular effort, plug it into a simple formula, and create a lasting, automatic habit. Or its converse: identifying a bad habit that you’ve been unable to shake, deconstructing it, and making it disappear.
At a crossroads, beneficial health and fitness decisions can be one-offs: get this vaccination, proceed with that surgery, take these pills for a week. Working up to the decision can take time, but once you make the decision, the thing is done.
But most health and fitness matters require consistent action over a long period. Eating right and adjusting your nutrition as you learn more about your body. Exercising to build strength, flexibility, active muscle, and brain health. Meditating and breathing to neutralize stress and control your emotional reactions. Sleeping 8 hrs nightly to prevent dementia and sharpen your mind. Recognizing when you’re about to have the same argument again with a family member or friend, pausing to recognize why that is, and choosing a more constructive outcome.
These activities yield their most dramatic benefits over time, and you get better at them with repeated practice.
Being able to automate these activities into reliably repeating habits is akin to The Eighth Wonder Of The World. If you could take any health goal you could imagine and make it a reality within, say, 3 months, would that be valuable? Getting back to your college weight, weaning off chronic medications, making aches and pains disappear, sharpening your focus and energy…even if it took 12 months, being able to make any goal happen at will would pretty much be a superpower.
Habit science puts that within your reach.
James Clear explains why in his book, Atomic Habits: when you create a repeating habit, you are basically applying compound interest — The Eighth Wonder Of The World — to your improvement efforts. You perform a habit that improves yourself a tiny bit, and when you next repeat it, you’re improving the slightly better you so the resulting improved you is more better. Each and every cycle.
You may have heard about the “1% better every day” example. If you improve yourself by just 1% every day, at the end of a year, you won’t be 3.65 times farther along (365% farther), you’ll be 37.78 times farther along — over 1000% past where you started.
This is why students who regularly attend martial arts classes look about the same one month after starting, a little better 3 months later, almost unrecognizable a year later, and preparing for their black belts 4-5 years later (depending on the martial art, I know, but still).
If a goal can be achieved with consistency and time, habit science puts the formula for success within your reach. (This is even more true when success depends on competition with others: most others will not stay the course, making habit creation the deciding factor in simply outlasting most of the competition. Another topic for another day.)
There are many titles that clarify the process of habit creation: Clear’s Atomic Habits, Fogg’s Tiny Habits, and Duhigg and Chamberlain’s The Power Of Habit, among others. Pick a couple that resonate, and get the process down.
Then unleash heck.
Start improving a keystone area of your life — nutrition, exercise, investing, learning, inner work — and watch your improvements accelerate improvements.
Habit science isn’t the answer to all of society’s ills, or even your own. You still have to pick the goals that are right for you — to have your ladder up against the proverbial right building — and you still have to grind out the actual work.
But it’s about as meta as it gets. With this tool, your chosen goals become possible. Without it, they’re just talk.