Incorporate new habits (such as physical fitness) into the program

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As we try to start new habits from scratch, we can often get stuck in the weeds of exactly how to think about doing a task, schedule the time to do it, and then actually get it done. Today’s discussion of the Think-Plan-Execute model was inspired by this week’s Ask Stew question:

Stew, I was reading one of your last articles on the Fitness section of Military.com about tailoring things (like fitness) to your day. Does that mean you make a huge to-do list and put everything on the calendar, so that it exists? I ask because I know one of your favorite quotes is “If it’s not on the schedule, it doesn’t exist.”

Help me if I’m wrong, but from this quote it looks like you put everything you do on your calendar as well. I’m just curious which method you use to plan your day … the to-do list method or the calendar method? Thank you for your time, Renée

Renée, thank you for your thoughtful questions. We often tend to overthink when our schedules are busy, which makes it difficult to add new habits. When planning something new, it should be written on your schedule, set as a reminder alarm, and scheduled so that you don’t have to think too much about when it’s time to do it.

However, I am not putting my current habits on the program, as they are already part of my life – even without writing them down.

I wake up at 5 a.m. pretty much every day without even trying. At 6 a.m., I work out until 7-8 a.m. and follow it up with a shower, a breakfast and start my working day at 8-9 a.m., depending on the day. The only thing I would have “in the program” is my training plan for that specific day. I don’t write a “wake up, snack, workout, clean up, breakfast and start work” list in my schedule. These are already habits.

However, if I have an event that is not normal in my day, like an important business phone call, a quarterly run, or an appointment, then I put it on my desk calendar and telephone. For the past 20+ years, my morning schedule has been my habit without much change, so I don’t need to make it part of my to-do list for the day.

However, the details of the exercise routine and events at work (article writing, podcast, interview and administrative matters) should be part of the program, but I consider this to be more of a to-do list. than a program.

Recently, I wanted to add more swimming to my routine, so I made a habit of swimming for the first half of my lunch break before lunch. When you add a new recurring event to your regular schedule, a helpful alarm on your watch or phone can help trigger the reminder and make it a habit.

So far, so good. However, the pool just closed for maintenance next week so I will probably have to get back into the habit of starting over. Yes, that will be part of the program and the to-do list because I think habit building requires it.

Hope this helps you figure out how much you should be putting on the to-do list each day. We are all a little different and many prefer to have the full to-do list as part of the process.

There are too many people who don’t write anything down and often forget about appointments, dates, times and events, even if they are part of a normal schedule. Again, there is a middle group that focuses on maintaining habits as part of the calendar, but adds new events to the to-do list as needed.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and Fitness Author Certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit her Fitness e-book store if you are looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to [email protected]

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