While I’m working on simplifying our family’s life to make room for the things we value most, one thing that has been difficult for me is to be consistent with my gym routine. Reading Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear last month has helped me put a plan in place to aim for that consistency and it starts with having a smoother morning routine with the kids on weekdays.
Taking care of your health seems to be one of those things early retirees mention often, either as a regret for not having done so as they pursued FIRE, or as a thing that has now taken on a new meaning in early retirement.
In his article Valuable Lessons from my First Year of Freedom, Brandon the Mad Fientist mentions :
“ Lesson #7: When you realize how good life can be after FI, you’ll want to make sure you have as many healthy years left as possible so you start to see fitness in an entirely new light.’’
He’s mentioned a few times on his podcast that it was one of his regrets not to hit the gym consistently while he was on the journey to FIRE.
These types of thoughts gave me some motivation to make my health a priority right now instead of “when I will have more time”. I’ve done lots of progress after my pregnancies to put some priority on my health. Back in 2018 while I was training more consistently, I also tried various menus and found a lot of satisfaction in eating a mostly Paleo diet. After a bit of a hectic Fall in 2018 with some home renovations and life changes, I’d fallen off the consistency of training 3 x per week.
I told myself that once I would settle in my new working from home routine during Winter, I would get back to training at a local gym near my home. My plan was therefore to replace my morning commute with hitting the gym for close to an hour 3x times per week. However, having two little kids doesn’t exactly make this easy. While the plan sounded great, sleep and a slow morning routine appeared to be actually more enticing over the cold winter months and continued throughout the spring.
After a few different failed attempts of hitting the gym consistently this Spring, I realized I needed a bit of help with my consistency so I turned to the book Atomic Habits
While I was initially aiming to concentrate on creating habits specific to the gym, by creating a list of my daily habits as suggested in the fourth chapter of Atomic Habits, I started to realize that I was missing some habits quite a few steps before.
Despite all my best efforts, I was always bringing the kids to daycare later than any of us would have liked. The kids love to have a good 45 minutes before their morning snack at daycare to have some free play with their little buddies while I could use that time to hit the gym. Just knowing this was not enough to consistently have a quick routine with the whole breakfast, teeth brushing, getting dressed and in the car for our 4 and 3 year old. I needed to plan ahead.
The book led me to think about some habits that could help make things smoother in my mornings by paying attention to what were some of our problem areas. The things that I noticed were:
- Difficulty for the preschoolers to pick out clothes for the day.
- Extra time added by trying to decide what I should choose and prepare for my own breakfast.
- Getting caught up in my phone notifications which delayed breakfast preparation.
With a special aim that went along the lines of the 4th Law to Create a Good Habit: Make it Easy, I decided that the best ways to decrease the number of steps between me and my good habits, would be to prime the environment and make those future actions easier. I also made good use of the habit stacking tool which essentially is to aim to do a new habit right after having completed a current habit.
I decided that the evening before every weekday I would:
- Pick out the kids’ clothes for the next day, as we were choosing their pyjamas for the night.
- Put their breakfast bowls, preferred spoons and vitamins out on the counter, as I prepared my nightly snack or tea.
I also decided that I would make a big omelet for myself on Monday morning and separate it in breakfast portions that I could simply reheat the rest of the week. That gave me only one morning where I would need to make a choice about what to put in the omelet and do some cooking and cleaning.
Drop the phone
As for the phone notifications issue, this had more to do with breaking a bad habit. I’d actually been paying a bit more attention to this after Champagne & Capital Gains posted the following on twitter in March :
Update: I didn’t scroll on my phone when I woke up and that helped a lot. Got up at 8:09 instead of 8:45+ & got more accomplished before work. Maybe that’s the ticket?? https://t.co/2IB4rrm3nE— Champagne & Capital Gains (@champgains) March 26, 2019
I tried to avoid scrolling my phone upon waking up a few times on the days I really needed to have an early start and it was really helpful so while looking at my daily habits this was an obvious one that needed to go if I wanted that extra 45 minutes per day.
To make it a bit more difficult to turn to this bad habit as well as making any potential cues invisible, I decided that once I turned off my wake-up alarm on my phone, I would immediately bring the phone to where I normally eat breakfast and only allow myself to check the notifications once both kids and myself were eating our breakfasts. It also had the effect of avoiding that oh so tempting snoozing of my phone alarm and got me more awake as I walked to put my phone in our kitchen.
These were the main changes but I also:
- Set my wake-up alarm gradually earlier than it had been.
- Put out my workout clothes beside my bed on the nights prior to my workout days.
- Made plans for problem scenarios (kids get sick, have an urgent work file, etc).
First three weeks of success:
As of writing this, I’m in my third week of implementing these changes and I has been successful to sticking to my schedule despite coming down with a cold in the second week!
Knowing that being sick is one of the main things that throws off my consistency, when I started coming down with the cold I did a bit of research on the subject on the website of James Clear and got some good information on lowering the scope.
In his article entitled How to Stick to Your Goals When Life Gets Crazy , James Clear mentions:
“ On any given day it is more important to stick to your schedule than it is to meet your expectations. ’’
Therefore despite being sick, I decided the best way to lower the scope (and not get everyone else at the gym sick) would be to follow the same exact habits and routine I would when going to the gym but instead I would complete my workout at home and using mostly only my body weight.
I had to get a bit creative to find similar exercises without the gym machines but discovered that once I got started, I was able to achieve a lot more than I thought I could in this condition. When I returned to the gym the following session when feeling better, I still felt like I had made some progress during that easier last workout.
Right now I’m super motivated to stick to hitting the gym 3x per week and I’m hoping the changes I’ve made with my habits help me keep it up when life gets more chaotic and my motivation is less present.
What about you? Any tips for sticking with a gym schedule or for having a smooth morning routine with preschoolers?