Vitez Engineering Blog
Get Back On The Horse, At Dawn We Ride
Creating and sticking to a new habit is one of the most difficult yet most important skills one can learn in life. It's a prerequisite to eating healthy, routine exercise, getting quality sleep, starting meditation practice, journaling, or any other positive change you want to make in your life. I want to discuss the philosophies and techniques I use to maximize the sticking power and long term efficacy of my habits.

Let's start with motivation. Many people think of motivation as Shia LaBeouf yelling at you to "Just do it". While this is an effective form of motivation for a small period of time, it's the shallowest and most short lived form. Shallow motivation is a lightning strike which produces tremendous energy but wears off in an hour or two and never ignites real change. However this energy can certainly be harnessed to create a forest fire in the woods of self improvement. When lighting strikes one has the option to put in place systems to make habit sticking easier. Do whatever you can to make the habit as easy as possible to follow. Seize the opportunity to lower the activation energy the next time. You can download an app which blocks the social media sites you want to avoid. You can block out time in your calendar which you will use to meditate. You can donate your junk food to a shelter and then vow to only grocery shop when you aren't hungry or craving unhealthy food. You can buy a gym membership and ask an accountability partner to question if you stuck to your goal.

Strategies defined when shallow motivation strikes are necessary, but not necessarily sufficient to enact positive change in your life. After shallow motivation fades away it's not hard to delete the app you installed. It's not hard to skip your calendar because you feel lazy that day. It's not hard to go out to eat and feast on something unhealthy. It's not hard to tell your accountability partner that "exercise just isn't for me". So what gives?

What gives better results is "deep" motivation. Deep motivation is asking why I want to achieve this goal in the first place. Why do I want to go to the gym? To get in shape. Why do I want to get in shape? Because I don't want heart disease. Why don't I want heart disease? Because I want to live a fruitful and fulfilling life with my family. When we dig to the core it becomes clear that saying "living a fruitful and fulfilling life isn't for me" is a much harder sell on a hard day than saying "exercising just isn't for me". Any goal that doesn't have a deep motivation isn't worth pursuing to begin with.

Now there will still be hard days. The next strategy is to just show up. Taking exercise as an example, how would you feel if you showed up to the gym, did a single rep and then went home? Your initial reaction might be "well one rep won't make me that much stronger". That is true, but hear me out. When I really don't want to lift I tell myself I will do a single rep and then allow myself to quit. Inevitably I end up doing a set instead of one rep just because I'm already holding the weight. Then one set quickly becomes two because I'm already at the gym. Then soon enough I end up completing my whole workout. Of the days I feel unmotivated and employ this trick, I'd say 95% of the time I do my full workout. What this implies is the overwhelmingly most difficult part of an exercise routine is the very first rep. Just show up and do the first rep.

A small tangent, but it is important to note that just showing up applies to non-habits as well. In college when I wouldn't want to do homework I would open up the textbook, a sheet of paper, and just write out the first question. Inevitably I'd end up completing the assignment. When I don't want to clean I pull out the vacuum and clean a single square foot of the floor. Inevitably I clean the room. If and only if you take the first step on a path there is every reason to believe that you will reach the end, regardless of the length of the path. That is true both on the timescale of one task and on the timescale of your entire life.

There will be days when you don't even show up, no matter how determined you are now. It is inevitable to fall off the horse. The important thing is to get back on the horse. Don't binge because you broke your diet for one meal, just get back on the horse. Even if you do binge, get back on the horse. Even if you don't get back on the horse, get back on the horse the next time you can. You will find once the initial habit becomes routine it's easier to get back on the horse. As long as you get back on the horse you will be successful. Giddy up.

Harness shallow motivation when it strikes. Lower the activation energy to positive change. Note the deepest motivations for a new goal. Just show up. Get back on your horse. At dawn we ride for the rest of our lives.