4/7/22: Creating a new routine often comes down to...the mango
This week's Think Better Newsletter is about building simple, tangible rewards into your routines.
When I set out to get back into my morning sit-up routine, I wanted to give myself the best chance for success. So, I made a couple decisions.
First, I chose to lay out the yoga mat the night before so that it would be visible and frictionless to get started. I wanted to be reminded of the routine first thing in the morning.
Second, I committed myself to just one set of sit-ups, with the option to do more. I wasn't aiming for "fitness." I was aiming for consistency.
It worked pretty well, but I wasn't looking forward to it so much as "willing" myself to do it. So I made another tweak. I decided to give myself a reward.
Now, when I finish I eat a slice of dried mango. Just one. (Okay, often two or three.) I wanted something to look forward to but I didn't want it to be cumbersome, expensive, or time-consuming. And I wanted it to be low stakes should I not earn it or not have it available (so no coffee...too high stakes!).
I've been doing my sit-ups for a long time now and I don't really need to eat a dried mango to stick with the routine. But I still do because that's the thing I look forward to...the mango is my motivation!
On one hand, it seems silly that I need a slice (or two) of mango to make me do my sit-ups. I want to be healthy, and stronger, and feel good. Doing the sit-ups contributes to that. So shouldn't doing the sit-ups be reward enough?
If I'm honest, it's really not. While health and strength and feeling marginally better are rewards, they are too abstract. Abstract rewards don't move us. Sweet, tasty, tangible mangos do.
Rationally, I don't want to depend on rewards to do the right thing. I know what I have to do, so doing it should be reward enough. That's not how our brains work, though. Knowing we're getting long-term benefits is often nowhere near as motivating as a slice (or three) of mango.
So don't fight it. Build the mango into the process!
One of the most important aspects of developing a new habit or routine is associating a reward to it. The simple framework for all habits is (Preparation) --> Cue --> Routine --> Reward.
The cue serves as a reminder. A good cue will remind you not just to do it, but to do it at the best time. This sometimes requires preparation. Leaving a mat out overnight serves this purpose because I see it in the morning, when I want to do the sit-ups.
I previously made shaving my cue for doing push-ups. I did push-ups while the water was heating up. It actually worked both ways. My wife preferred when I shaved every day, so tying push-ups to shaving made it easier to do both! If you can build your cue into an existing routine, even better. No preparation needed!
The routine is whatever habit you want to create. If you're just getting started, it's ok to start small. You don't want to make the habit so hard that you can't stick with it. Consistency is the key. Don't do more until you're ready.
The reward should be tangible, low stakes, and something you genuinely look forward to. I chose mangos. I have a friend who wants to brush her teeth as soon as she wakes up. She uses brushing her teeth as her reward. Your reward can be weird as long as it works for you.
Cue --> Routine --> Reward
It may take some time to find the right cues, routines and rewards. If your first try doesn't work, don't be afraid to mix it up. Find the combination that works. When you do it will make your new routines more effective...and possibly tastier, too!
What's the one routine you want to get more consistent about doing? Do you know what your Cue, Routine, and Reward are?
Go Be More,
Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast
Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast
“This is the real power of habit. The insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.”
— Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit
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