We rarely give conscious thought to our daily habits. So much of our day is driven by them. For example, brushing your teeth in the morning, buckling your seatbelt, checking your phone, getting home from work at the end of the day and turning on the TV, etc.
Habits are actions that have been repeated so often that they become automatic. We have habits that support our goals and values, but we may also have habits that are at odds with what we we want to accomplish in our lives. What if I told you that one small habit can set the stage for your future behaviors, and ultimately determine whether or not you’re moving toward your goals or away from them. Would you believe that one tiny moment in your day can have this big of an impact on your life?
These tiny daily moments are known as decisive moments. These moments are essentially forks in your path of travel that lead to optimal or less than optimal behaviors in regards to your goals. If you choose an optimal behavior, you will make more optimal choices available to you the rest of the day, and the opposite can be said about choosing a less than optimal behavior. I’ll stay within the context of health and fitness when considering what these behaviors might be. Let’s consider a hypothetical example.
Imagine you come home after a long day of work and you’re exhausted and all you want to do is plop down on the couch and watch TV the rest of the evening. Here are two hypothetical paths of how this might play out based on your initial behavior after you open up the door to your home (i.e. the decisive moment).
- Take your shoes off and leave your gym bag by the door
- You go straight to the living room and turn on the TV
- Some show has your attention now while you put some food in the microwave in the kitchen
- You are now more captivated by the TV show as you wait for your food to heat up
- Your food is now ready and you want to eat it while it’s hot and the TV show has your attention, so you make your way to the couch
- You then sink into your couch, eat your food, and watch your show
- After you finish eating you don’t feel like getting up because you’re so comfortable
- Before you know it, you need to get to bed in 15 minutes if you want to get up in the morning for the gym without feeling like garbage
- You then realize you still have a bunch of dishes to do, you need to prepare for tomorrow, and you need to shower and brush your teeth
- All of a sudden you’re stressed, thinking about the limited time you have to do this and how miserable your morning is going to be
- You get ready for bed and realize you’re only going to get a solid 5 or 6 hours of sleep
- It takes you a while of tossing and turning before you’re tired enough to fall asleep (thanks to all that blue light from the TV)
- You wake up feeling like garbage, snooze a couple times, and miss the gym
- Take your shoes off and immediately go to your bedroom with your gym bag
- You put your gym bag on your bed and think you may as well throw your dirty clothes into the laundry basket while you’re there
- Well, now since you’re in your room with an empty gym bag and your dresser is right by you, you grab a set of clean gym clothes and pack your bag
- You’re hungry, so you want to get yourself some food in the kitchen
- You pass by your front door on the way to the kitchen and drop off your ready-to-go gym bag
- You think to yourself, “damn that was really smart and I feel more at ease now that I don’t have to worry about packing up later. I may as well prep my food for tomorrow while I make dinner since the food will be in plain sight on the kitchen counter”
- You prep your lunch and snacks for tomorrow while your dinner is in the microwave and you haven’t even thought about watching TV. The show has started already so there’s no point in turning it on anyway
- You take your phone out and turn on a podcast you’ve wanted to listen to for a while instead
- You finish your dinner and feel so motivated and empowered by the new knowledge you gained from listening to the podcast
- You’re feeling very productive and decide to wash your dishes right after eating while you finish listening to the podcast
- You start to get a bit sleepy after a long day and your melatonin levels are up because you didn’t disrupt them by watching extremely bright TV after dark
- You have plenty of time to shower up, brush your teeth, and curl up in bed with a nice book before calling it a night
- You fall asleep quickly and wake up feeling super fresh and ready for your next decisive moment
Where was the decisive moment in these two scenarios? Although there were many sprinkled into the entire evening, the primary moment was right after the shoes came off. What would you have done with your gym bag at that point? You can see that in Option 1, if you had chosen to leave your gym bag at the door and go straight to the living room, the behavioral options available to you at that point would have been less than optimal (i.e. either couch or TV). Once you start down this less than optimal path, it is that much harder to get out of it (i.e. turning off the TV and going back to the front door to pick up your gym bag and taking it to the bedroom, when your interest is already on the TV). If you had chosen Option 2, however, the behavioral options available to you in your bedroom with your gym bag would have been far more beneficial, and ultimately would have led to a domino effect towards your health and fitness goals. All you had to do in that situation was take the bag to your bedroom. That’s it! One small choice like that is all you have to think about, then you’re setting yourself up for better choices.
The point I’m trying to make here is that instead of thinking about all the things you need to do to reach your goals, focus more on the one thing that will start you on the path towards your goals. Make things easier on yourself by accomplishing the one small task that you need to do to set yourself up for a successful day, week, month, or year. This could be just visiting the website of a gym you’re interested in instead of checking up on social media. This could be stepping foot into the produce section instead of the aisles upon entering the grocery store. This could be setting your running shoes by your bathroom door the night before so you see them immediately upon exiting your bathroom in the morning. This could be turning on a relaxing music station instead of the TV on Saturday morning after you wake up. Don’t think too far ahead, just focus on what you’re doing in the moment.
All these are decisive moments. We often don’t think about how huge an impact they can make in our lives. But if we start to recognize and bring more conscious awareness to these moments, we will open ourselves up to even greater opportunities.
Clear, James. (2018). Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Penguin Random House LLC.