Situation: 30 pounds overweight, working 60 hours/week, 1 income and job in jeopardy, 2 kids under 2, barely “making ends meet”, stress extremely high, “too busy” to work out and often feeling overwhelmed.
Situation sound familiar? What if changing ONE HABIT could alter your life forever… in a good way? What if by changing one habit you could trigger a series of other small life changing events, which in and of themselves seem frivolous, yet collectively they enable you to achieve previously unattainable goals? What if you learned over 40% of your day was comprised of HABITS, performing thoughtless actions, daily rituals?
According to a 2006 Duke University paper nearly half of our day is consumed with actions requiring no decision making whatsoever, just a series of habits that occur like clockwork – completely autonomous. These habits involve everything from eating breakfast to brushing your teeth to exercising to taking coffee breaks at work. We all agree we’re inclined to be creatures of habit… but rarely do we take the time to evaluate these habits and decide which ones should be modified to improve our quality of life. Make a list of your daily habits and decide which ONE HABIT, just one, if modified, could set off a series of smaller life impacting actions.
In 2008 I decided to change ONE HABIT
I was 34, happily married with 2 small kids but just couldn’t seem to get ahead. I didn’t like the physical shape I had regressed to and my constant making of excuses of “I’m too busy” or “some things came up at work today” was wearing on my psyche.
That’s just what they were…excuses that in turn morphed into self-fulfilling prophesies. As I looked around, I saw daily reminders others had figured out the age old mystery of time management and GSD – getting shi*@ done. I knew there had to be a better way than battling the clock every morning… scrambling to eat breakfast, saying good morning to the kids, getting a shower, rushing to work… I knew something had to change and it had to involve getting up earlier.
My commitment to changing ONE HABIT began with a gradual progression to getting up at 4am, 2 hours earlier than what I had been doing for the past 5 years of marriage. I understood more than most the key to making lifestyle changes is to be narrowly focused – the brain can’t handle too many changes at once.
I also knew this transition couldn’t take place overnight if I wanted it to become sustainable. Additionally, I soon learned getting up super early and being productive would require a series of other actions, lifestyle trade-offs, to enable me to have balance and a sense of accomplishment.
The smaller actions are essential as they can eat up big blocks of time: going to bed earlier, laying out work clothes the night before, eating dinner before 6:30pm, committing to a predefined workout plan and making sure I knew what commitments I had for the upcoming week.
I spent the first 2 months getting up at 5am and going to bed 1 hour earlier (previously 11pm or later, depending on when I felt I was caught up on emails). With the extra hour in the morning, I committed to using the time for exercise and enrolled in a fitness bootcamp class. Little did I know the instructor, Henry Forrest, was one of the original Ironmen from 1978 and a former Marine drill instructor who would fuel my passion for triathlons. Over the next 3 months I proved it was possible to get up at 5am and not be completely drained by mid-afternoon. To the contrary, I felt energized and had a little extra spring in my step. I walked into the office every morning at 8am ready to take on the world. I had a sense of purpose and was mentally mapping out everything I had to get done to deem the day a success.
As 3 months morphed into 6 months, I weaned myself down to getting up at 4am. On the flip side, I had also mastered going to bed by 9pm, relinquishing unread emails to the following morning or work day. I decided to use the gift of an additional hour in the morning as “me time.” 4am-5am consisted of drinking coffee and reading with 15 minutes set aside to pound out a few emails. The beauty of sending emails at 4am is no one is going to respond and eat up your time. When they walk into their office at 8am you’re the 1st email in their inbox. If they do respond, then consider yourself lucky as you have their undivided attention.
The 1 hour of “me time” allows me to mentally prepare for the day but more importantly it allows me to start the day under my terms.
I’m setting the tone for how my day will go. I am reading something inspirational, drinking great coffee and training my brain I am more than capable of handling whatever the day will bring.
How does this compare to how you start your day?
Most hit the snooze button on the alarm clock, race out of bed to the shower, drink their coffee as they drive to work, etc… How can a day go smoothly if it starts off with pure madness? The tempo of starting a day by racing the clock programs our brain for hurriedness and leaves us feeling “too busy.” If you notice, those who have figured out GSD rarely appear hurried or frantic yet they always seem to have a sense of purpose– it’s as if everything is a calculated movement.
The impact of changing ONE HABIT
8 months into changing my ONE HABIT, getting up at 4am, I was 25 pounds lighter, getting 10 hours of work done in 7 hours and able to walk away from the office at 5pm-5:30pm, allowing me to get home in time to have dinner with my family. It’s amazing how little things like having dinner with the family every night can have a big impact on your life. I also began using my lunch break for a 2nd workout session and the rest is history. 7 years later I am now 40 pounds lighter, competed in over 50 triathlons in 4 countries – 4 Ironmans, 20+ Ironman 70.3s, tripled my income and the proud father of 5 kids under 9. It’s a good thing I was “too busy” when I started this journey or things would seem crazy.
Who in their wildest dreams would have thought changing ONE HABIT could impact my life so greatly?
What ONE HABIT are you going to CHANGE? Do it now and you’ll never look back.
Shay is an All American and World ranked triathlete, burn survivor with scars over 65% of his body and is a sought out national motivational speaker. Despite being told he’d never compete in sports again at the age of 8, Shay is living testament to “Anything is Possible”: 4x Ironman, 4x member of Team USA, ranked top 1% of Ironmen worldwide and has competed in 9 triathlon world championships, including the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. His mantra has always been to not merely be a “finisher” but to be a “competitor.” If you enjoyed this article, I encourage you to check out my other posts.