7 min read

Saturday Blueprint on Habits and Routines

How simple, daily habits transformed my life and at nearly 40 I look and feel better than I did a decade ago.
Saturday Blueprint on Habits and Routines
Photo by Igor Kasalovic / Unsplash

Hi 👋. Here is this week's Saturday Blueprint.

🤔 Quote I’m thinking about

People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures. — F.M. Alexander
Everything is habit-forming, so make sure what you do is what you want to be doing. — Wilt Chamberlain
Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.

These quotes on habits introduce the main theme for this week, so dive in below for my thoughts on habits and routines.

🛟 Habits saved me

Let me tell you a story. My story. A story of positive change and transformation. A story where the hero isn’t a person, the hero is habits. Where habits saved me.

I’ve just turned 30 when my first child is born. He quickly falls into a routine and is a great sleeper. Having one child and two parents made this huge new step up the life ladder a wholly enjoyable time. Turns out parenting is easy; I’m not sure what the fuss is all about.

Two years later, child number two arrives. This event changes everything.

She is a fractious child - she cries a lot and she does not sleep well at all. She wakes all the time all through the night and screams and screams. It’s all we can do just to hold her in the dark as she cries. She has repeated ear infections which drive up the intensity of the screaming. One year she had antibiotics 4 or 5 times. These ear infections lead to more screaming, more fitful sleeping and by now parenting is not easy. It’s brutal. It’s relentless.

I struggled to cope with the uncertainty of what the next night would bring. I can barely focus at work. I try to cover up my suffering with food - I eat sweets by the bagful. Oh, and caffeine. But the caffeine jitters. Now that is something. Inexplicably the very nectar I need to stay awake in the day is now giving me problems sleeping at night.

The stress, the lack of sleep, the poor diet, the lack of exercise. My health crashed. My weight skyrocketed.

But somehow I was thrown a buoyancy aid.

The very act of internal anger and anguish against myself - “why, when everyone around me has kids, am I loosing it. Why can’t I do it. What’s wrong with me. What’s wrong with my child…”. I desperately asked this of Google.

And with that act I came upon the genre of personal development books. Self help.
My time to read became 5am when it was my shift with my screaming daughter. I take her in my arms, as she arches her back, flails her arms. I position her in such a way so I can also hold my kindle. If I’m lucky I can sit down and she snatches some sleep on my chest.

But with this, I have the time to read. And I spend that hour or so a day reading self help books. And slowly my mindset changes. I’m not a victim, I can still choose what action to take.

And so it is that this simple, daily habit, a habit of reading, slowly turns the tide.
I read books on habits and discover that simple actions can and do compound.
My reading habit is the first habit. After that comes press ups. Then a gratitude journal.

These slowly build and my brain rewires to make it less friction to do the habit than to not do it.

And so it comes to be that habits saved me. I gained perspective, acceptance, patience, physical and mental strength. I lost weight, stress and anxiety.

In finding the power of habits I found my health and vitality. I found the body of the 20 year old me and the mind of the calm, wise (I hope!) old me.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a comparison on the physical front.

Comparison from 83kg on 14 November 2015 (age 32) [left] to 72kg on 9th May 2022 (age 39) [right]

On the mental front, it’s perhaps harder to quantify but I am calmer. I am more focused and less stressed. I shout at the kids less. I take work struggles less personally. Heck, I even have time to write this blog!

I may have nearly a decade on the 30 year old me but now I feel (and look?) younger, am calmer, stronger, more resilient. And not with some snake oil salesman solution, but with a foundation of very simple, very doable habits.

Look, I have three kids, my wife and I both work full time, I’m a chief engineer with a stressful job, I need something simple, small, and sustainable. I can’t workout for hours a day. Or pamper myself at a wellness retreat. Or recruit a life coach.

This then is why I will cling to the buoyancy aid of habits. Because small actions are mighty.

🌱 Habit tips

If you want to make a start too, then start now, just start. Secondly, read Atomic Habits by James Clear - he can articulate this subject far, far better than I ever can.

Thirdly, if all else fails, here are some tips from me.

Make it daily

  • It’s about discipline - that’s why doing habits daily is better than three times a week or some other frequency.
  • By having daily habits there is no debate on which days you do them - it’s every day, so you’d better get on with it.

Make it easy

  • To start a new habit, tie it to something you already do. For example, while you are waiting for the kettle to boil, do 20 press ups.
  • Have the barrier to entry so low it's impossible not to do it. Just 1 minute of yoga is infinitely more than nothing.

Make it personal

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. — James Clear
  • Habits affirm and then reaffirm that you are the sort of person that does 50 press ups a day (say; choose your own habit).
  • Your habits are what you do. And what you do is who you are. In this way your character is a direct result of your habits.

Make is measurable

  • Track or measure the habit for consistency. In this regard it’s not about the quality but just that you did it. For example, if your habit is going running, then it’s a tick whether you run for 5 minutes or 55 minutes.
  • Where you do want to measure the quality though is in the metrics that are the end result of the habit. That could be resting heart rate (a great measure of fitness), waist size, mood, that sort of thing.

Make it forever

  • A habit isn’t a quick hack, it’s something you adopt forever. Use this to set the effort level so that’s it’s achievable on your worst day.
  • Imagine your trajectory and future if you keep this habit. If your habit is 50 press ups a day just think what that’ll mean as a 50, 60 or 70 year old.

Make it bold

  • Not all habits are equal - brushing your teeth is hardly going to change your life. So pick something that will move the needle.

Make it balanced

  • Choose your habits to cover all of the ‘accounts’ of your life - spiritual, mental, physical, parental, social, marital,  vocational, recreational, financial.

Tools

I use a simple spreadsheet for tracking habits (screenshot in the section below) plus logseq for journalling. That's it.

🙋‍♂️ My current morning and evening routines

The beauty of habits is that they can, and should, evolve. I always start small and scale from there.

I started with simply a daily reading habit - reading those self-help books, those stoicism books, downloading the wisdom of others into my self. I then organically scaled, with a bunch of trial and error, to where I have settled now. So whilst the routine checklist below might seem extensive, it’s slowly and organically grown to where it is now.

Morning routine

My morning routine is my favourite time. I wake up an hour before the kids, setting my alarm every day of the week, even weekends. In around 30 minutes I go through the checklist and I’m then ready to seize the day.

Morning Checklist:

  • [ ] Gratitude - I write down 3 things I'm grateful for
  • [ ] Reading - 5 or 10 minutes from a book on Stoicism or Personal Development
  • [ ] Writing - 5 minutes writing this blog, the book I'm working on, or any other writing
  • [ ] HRV (heart rate variability) measurement (a great measure for stress) - I use the Elite HRV app
  • [ ] Meditation - 10 minutes unguided meditation  - I use the Insight Timer app, and a meditation cushion
  • [ ] Hydration - I drink a pint of water
  • [ ] Foam Rolling - I use a cork massage ball to roll under my feet or anywhere else I'm sore

Evening routine

There is less in this list, mainly because it can be variable how much time or energy I have at the end of the day. The reflection / journalling is non-negotiable though - I always make five minutes just to note how I feel and key points from the day.

Evening Checklist

  • [ ] Metrics spreadsheet - I fill in my tracker / metrics spreadsheet (which I use for my weekly and monthly reviews)
  • [ ] Reflection on the day - journalling
  • [ ] Writing - a bit more writing for my blog or book
  • [ ] Cold shower - I usually have a cold shower after a hot bath - the contrast is divine
  • [ ] Press ups - have I at least done a few sets of press ups today, as a bare minimum
  • [ ] Music - have I spent a few minutes at the piano or on the guitar today?
  • [ ] Duolingo - have I done at least one lesson from the language-learning app Duolingo

Yearly review

I’ve been doing some variation of this for a while now, and whilst I’ve sometimes either fallen off the bandwagon or just didn’t bother recording it, I can see real evidence of putting in the reps.

The screenshot below shows my habit tracking spreadsheet, aggregated by week going back over a year. So a weekly score of ‘7’ means I completed the habit every day that week.

Having this is great for doing weekly, monthly and yearly reviews since the trending can really show what area perhaps needs a refocus.

The last 50+ weeks on my habits, aggregated by week

💍 Cool finds

A quick list of things I've read or found this week that I want to share.

  • logseq - a fantastic text-based note taking app and the one I use for all my journalling and notes and writing.

It’s a pleasure writing to you. Have a great week. 😊
Nick


About the Saturday Blueprint

The Saturday Blueprint is a weekly newsletter every Saturday on health, vitality and philosophy by Nick Stevens.

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