This time of the year there’s a lot of attention put on goals, resolutions, getting motivated, and having the best year ever. I think there’s every more hype about it this year because we’re starting a new decade.
The title of this episode is based on a book I read recently called How to Have a Good Day-Harness the Power of Behavioral Science To Transform Your Working Life by Caroline Webb.
I have to admit that when I’m reading a book I often apply the principles to long distance running. Because we all know that training for a marathon holds a lot of parallels to life. Caroline Webb says,
“One of the traps that people fall into is not just trying to do everything in one day, but also feeling that being an ambitious person means pushing yourself super, super hard. What we know about human motivation is that you do want to set purposeful, inspiring goals, but we make more progress by setting tiny interim goals that allow us to feel like we’re making progress, step by step, day by day.”
How to Have a Good Decade
In order to have a great decade behavioral science gives us some clues as to what will help us accomplish this.
1. Be intentional
Don’t let the day simply happen to you (or year for that matter). Set intentions and priorities for the day because it is these priorities and assumptions that set the tone for the day. Your mind is always busy sorting through endless amounts of information (it’s even processing when we sleep).
Caroline Webb says,“The things that get through the filters are strongly influenced by the priorities and assumptions that we take into the day.” The three ways to be intentional are aim, attitude, and attention
Plan out the most important things in your day. Make a list of your priorities. This will be things that really matter most to make this day successful. Even though I’ve been in the regular habit of exercise for years I still schedule time each day for my workouts. That way it’s top of mind and I’m intentionally making time to do it. Schedule a block of time to achieve your 1-2 most important priorities.
In order to get more done and stay focused it’s important to reduce multi-tasking and interruptions. Science tells us that we really can’t multi-task effectively. This will mean that you turn off notifications on your phone during productive periods, be more intentional about when you check email, and help others respect your priorities.
According to behavioral science your intentions for the day should be:
- Positive– Think about what you’ll do instead of what not to do. For example, I will eat 100 grams of protein vs. I won’t snack between meals. Or I will strength train on Tuesday and Thursday this week vs. I won’t skip strength training.
- Personally meaningful– If you’re going to work hard toward a goal it’s important that it be meaningful to you. You must find your personal why. It’s great if your best friend is fired up about doing a 50k but unless that goal fires you up then you’ll probably hate the process of training.
- Feasible– Keep in mind that you have limited time and energy each day so don’t over-schedule yourself. For example, don’t schedule your long run on a day when you’ll be attending kid’s sporting events from dawn to dusk. It’s just not feasible if you plan on watching their games. Another example is not to schedule your long run immediately after coming off a string of night shifts when your energy levels will typically be low.
- Situation specific– Approach goals are better than avoidance goals (not doing something) which depresses performance. A positive approach goal for training for a marathon would be to feel strong and healthy. An avoidance goal would be to not feel fat and lazy. An approach goal could also be to prioritize cross training to stay healthy and injury free. An avoidance goal would be to stop dealing with plantar fasciitis.
Practice gratitude. Much of how we experience life comes down to our attitude. To work on having a successful attitude use mental contrasting to increase the odds of having a successful day. Mental contrasting is all about looking at realities and obstacles and then making a plan to achieve your goals. It’s not that we never admit that there are unpleasant things in our life or obstacles that we face. But it is about coming up with a plan to overcome these obstacles and be successful anyway.
Former POW James Stockdale said this,
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end…with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.”
Don’t be afraid to be realistic about where you’re currently at but at the same time be sure to project hope for the future. Caroline Webb says,
“People are far more likely to achieve their goals if they think hard about both the outcome they want and the obstacles they’re facing, and plan for both.”
For example, if you find that you’re rarely able to get up and run in the morning (you use the snooze button without even realizing it), set your alarm away from your bed so that you have to get up to turn it off. If you’re truly not a morning person you may want to consider working out over your lunch break or in the evening. There’s no one-size-fits-all routine that works for everyone. But if you’re really intentional you’ll find a solution that works for you.
We need to prime our brain with the images or words that we want to focus on. I mentioned earlier that the brain is always sorting through so much information. It’s vital that we be intentional about where we want our attention to go.
For example, if you’re thinking about buying a certain type of shoes it’s on your mind and you’ll start seeing them everywhere. If you’re a runner then you’ll start noticing all the people who are out running or be looking for new running routes.
Prime your brain with images of your goals and intentions for the day and you’ll find opportunities to advance the goals and come up with creative solutions. Ways to prime your brain to achieve your goals are to put sticky notes with your written goals where you’ll see them (bathroom mirror, refrigerator, computer, etc). You may choose to display your running medals, wear your race shirts, or have exercise equipment around the house to cue your brain.
2. Find a personal why
It’s clear that intrinsic motivation leads to higher performance as opposed to extrinsic motivation. If you’re doing it for yourself then you’re more likely to succeed. Some motivations to run your first marathon are more meaningful than others. If you’re training for a race because someone else is excited about it or pressuring you or you’re trying to impress other people it will be tough to keep going when things get hard.
Other more helpful whys include focusing on who you want to become and how you’re going to start living into that identity. If you start seeing yourself as a runner and as a marathoner then your daily actions will reflect that identity and it will change the choices that you make. A marathoner runs regularly. They take care of their bodies in ways that will keep them strong and healthy. They’re smart about their training in order to avoid injury.
3. Think big but start small
I 100% love it when people have big goals. But sometimes people never get past the big goals to see the smaller actions that they need to be taking. Daily goals should be focused and achievable.
The book Atomic Habits by James Clear addresses this topic so well. An atomic habit is a small routine or practice that’s easy to do and something that creates compound growth. We often get stuck in bad habits not because we don’t want to change but because we often don’t have the right system in place to achieve change.
Maybe your goal is to stop snacking after dinner. But if you eat sporadically through the day, don’t prioritize eating protein with dinner, and keep snacks in sight you’ll probably find yourself on a feeding frenzy late in the evening. Or maybe your goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon (or BQ in runner lingo). It can be a big goal that takes time to achieve. Progress toward this goal is achieved through the training you do day in and day out. You build strength and speed over time.
We often underestimate how much little changes can result in big growth over time. James Clear talks about the 4 Laws of Behavior Change in his book. They are: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying. He says,
“Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations….Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change.”
We can often look at someone’s breakthrough moment and feel a little envious. We think, “why isn’t that happening for me?” But what we don’t often see is all the tiny steps and all the hard work and effort that led to that breakthrough.
Breakthroughs don’t usually happen by accident and sometimes we can’t predict when they’ll happen for us. For example, I ran 25 marathons before I qualified for Boston for the first time.
4. Identify Keystone Habits
Keystone habits are changes or habits that unintentionally carry over into other areas of life. Charles Duhigg talked about keystone habits in his book The Power of Habit.
Keystone habits are things that positively or negatively affect other areas of your life. They include positive habits like sleep, exercise, mindfulness, and healthy eating, etc. When you look at keystone habits it’s important to identify the things that bring you energy and also try to identify the energy vampires in your life.
Here are some examples of each:
- Energy givers– sleep, alone time, meditation, exercise, reading, eating balanced meals, time in nature, massages, etc…
- Energy vampires– Here are some of my energy vampires: getting less than 7 hours of sleep, too much screen time (watching TV, spending excess time on social media), not setting priorities for the day, too much sugar, going long periods between meals, not exercising, not drinking enough water, caffeine, and drinking alcohol.
This will vary from person to person depending on whether you’re an introvert or extrovert and a morning or night person. Many people find that certain music can bring an energy boost so it can be helpful to keep a playlist of songs that you can turn to when you need a power up. You may also notice that certain people in your life are energy givers while some are energy vampires.
5. Harness the power of environment.
We want to recognize that it can be tough to make changes and stick to goals on your own. That’s why tapping into the power of environment can fast track you to achieving goals. James Clear says,
“We tend to imitate the habits of three social groups: the close (family and friends), the many (the tribe), and the powerful (those with status and prestige.)”
This is why I’m careful about who I follow on social media. You may find that certain people give you a kick in the pants and are motivating while others just make you unhappy with your life. You have limited time so make sure that your environment is working for you. James Clear goes on to say,
“One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where (1) your desired behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.”
That’s one of the reasons why we created MTA and more specifically the Academy. We know how important it is to be surrounded by supportive and encouraging people who are achieving the things you are (or want to achieve).
If you find that the majority of people in your life respond to your running goals with “that’s crazy (and not the good kind of crazy)” then it may be time to add in some people who think you’re a badass.
One of the things I love about long distance running is that all you have control over is the work you put in and your attitude. You can go out each day with the mindset to “always do your best” (that doesn’t mean go hard every day and run yourself into the ground).
Anyone who’s run for any length of time knows that you can show up to a workout or race and have the best day of your life or the worst day of your life or maybe something in between. You really can’t control all the variables. All you can control is your preparation and attitude. Let’s make this new decade one where we approach it with the right preparation and attitude.
Books I Enjoyed in 2019
My 2019 reading round-up:
- 268 Total Books
- 133 Fiction
- 135 Non-fiction
- 31 (Number During Top Month of January)
Here are the 16 Running Related Books I Read:
- Hanson’s Marathon Method by Luke Humphrey
- Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins
- A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio
- Run the Mile You’re In by Ryan Hall (podcast interview)
- 26 Marathons by Meb Keflezighi (podcast interview)
- To be a Runner by Martin Dugard (podcast interview)
- The Long Run by Matt Long
- You (Only Faster) by Greg McMillan
- The Running Man by Orville Rogers
- Run or Die by Kilian Jornet
- Running- A Love Story by Jen A. Miller
- 14 Minutes by Alberto Salazar
- Running Outside Your Comfort Zone by Susan Lacke (podcast interview)
- Running to the Edge by Matthew Futterman (podcast interview)
- Rebound: Train Your Mind to Bounce Back Stronger From Sports Injuries by Cindy Kuzma and Carrie Jackson Cheadle
- Kicksology by Brian Metzler (podcast interview)
Here are my 28 Favorite Non-Fiction Books of 2019
- How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb
- How to be Here by Rob Bell
- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
- Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- Tribe by Sebastian Junger
- Judgment Detox by Gabrielle Bernstein
- Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
- Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis
- The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
- American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee
- Maid by Stephanie Land
- Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Half the Sky by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn
- Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris
- Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
- Cozy Minimalistic Home by Myquillyn Smith
- Make Your Bed and Sea Stories by Admiral William H Mcraven
- Running the Books by Avi Steinberg
- The Vietnam War by Geoffrey C Ward
- Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss
- Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel
- Strays by Britt Collins
- Endurance by Scott Kelly
- The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates
- The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk
- Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo
Here are my 13 Favorite Fiction Picks
- Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell
- The Circle by Dave Eggers
- The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
- Dark Matter & Recursion by Blake Crouch
- Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
- The Bonesetters Daughter by Amy Tan
- The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
- Revenger & Shadow Captain by Alastair Reynolds
- The Revenant by Michael Punke
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens