When a new year starts, it’s always a good time to reflect and take stock of where you are, and to also think about where you want to focus your efforts for the year ahead.
I used the time towards the end of last year to think about where I was with the eight foundational health habits I’ve been building for the last couple of years – and where I want to focus my efforts in 2024.
This initially started with me thinking, I’m in a pretty good place with these eight health habits. I’ve built to a decent level of consistency with them, whilst also increasing the targets incrementally over time too. So, I started to get excited thinking about what new things can I focus on this year.
As I was thinking about these new habits, something didn’t feel quite right in the back of my mind. That’s because, if I’m super honest with myself, there is some unfinished work with these existing eight foundational health habits. Whilst that’s true, I shouldn’t be thinking about anything else until all eight of these are completely nailed and default behavior. I want them all to be easy – SUPER EASY.
And the reality is, I’m not quite there yet. So, why am I not quite there yet?
Well, for a start, there are two habits in particular that I slip just below 80% consistency on fairly regularly. And then there’s another couple of habits, that whilst I am pretty much there with them – there are some weak spots. I often end up hitting low 80% consistency on these – and behind the scenes, it’s touch and go even getting to that low 80%. And then the other 4 habits – yeah, they are feeling pretty easy now. They’re definitely in the bank.
So, I have four habits that need some work and four that are completely nailed. And it just so happens that the four that need some work, they are the most foundational – sleep, steps, water, and fasting.
If I take a step back, that doesn’t exactly feel like a place that I should be trying to build on top of. In fact, it feels more like a place that needs some extra attention and work to finish properly laying the foundations.
Therefore, 2024 isn’t about anything new for me when it comes to foundational health habits. Instead, it’s about tripling down on the eight foundational habits I already have – and completely nailing them .
The reason I’m hell bent on this, is that I often talk about these eight habits as the base of the pyramid for me. This feels the easiest and most elegant way to describe them. With them in place, I’ve found it actually quite easy to operate at a very high level with my training and nutrition. I can reach a level that I never thought would be possible for me – a level that I thought was reserved for athletes. Before these habits were in place, I struggled to piece together any type of consistency with my training and nutrition – or in fact, most other areas of my life. I was simply trying to do things on a very shaky foundation.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
If I go back a couple of years, I had no real rhythm or consistency to my training.. Some weeks, I would do four workouts. Other weeks, I would only manage a couple, or perhaps even go a whole week without getting round to any – despite starting the week with really good intentions. I remember vividly, I would plan my weeks with what I wanted to do, and it almost felt random whether it would get done or not. I did this over, and over, and over for many years. I just couldn’t seem to get into the flow of things, and stick to it. It’s not surprising that I didn’t see many results at all – my physique and strength stayed about the same.
Fast forward to today and I’m consistently training five times per week (mix of weights and cardio) and I have a really solid rhythm going on now. I hit 10,000 steps per day as an average. As a result, I’m now making decent progress on my strength and fitness. It all feels pretty easy to keep up now.
Here’s another example. Even just a year ago, there was lots of yo yo’ing going on with my nutrition. I went through periods of being super on, and then super off. I’d be all in on paleo one minute (and not really enjoying it), and then bingeing on bad foods the next minute (enjoying it at first and then feeling disgusted with myself afterwards). As a result, I didn’t feel good about myself at all. I had low energy, felt uncomfortable, was overweight, and I wasn’t setting myself up to be successful with my training.
Fast forward to today, and I count and stick to calories. I eat 180 grams of protein per day. I stick to a set of macros, and eat lots of whole foods. As a result, I feel SO much better, I’ve dropped 20 lbs and completely changed my body shape and physique.
The big difference between these before and after’s with my training and nutrition – is that before, I didn’t have these foundational habits down, and now I mostly do. Because I have built that base of the pyramid, it means I now have the right foundations in place – the right capability, the right energy, and the right discipline. And this means, I can now tackle and be successful with the types of training programs and nutrition strategies I hopelessly failed at before.
It’s so clear that building these eight foundational health habits has been transformative for me – physically and mentally. I therefore don’t want to short cut things and move onto new habits whilst there’s still a final bit of work to do in building the last couple of blocks of the base of the pyramid. And like I said, the four habits I’m a bit stuck on, they are actually the most foundational – so I know there is likely a further transformation round the corner from nailing them.
On that note, I’ll give you a peek into how I’m thinking about working on the four habits that I’m struggling with.
I’ll take them in order of difficulty, starting with the most difficult.
Sleep is not only the most difficult for me, it’s also the most important.
I only realized this after giving up alcohol. One of the things that led to me giving up alcohol was the dreaded hangover. As I got into my forties, my hangovers were getting worse, and longer – and that was despite me cutting down my drinking.
About a month into giving up drinking, I remember waking one morning and feeling super crappy and hungover. I went to have a really bad day. I was tired and anxious. I didn’t feel like training, I didn’t stick to my diet etc.
I had to literally double check myself – did I have a drink yesterday? And then it clicked. A really poor night’s sleep made me feel like I was hungover. And actually, it might have been less the alcohol, and simply a poor nights sleep caused by the alcohol that was making me feel terrible.
So, sleep is super important for me. It is also the habit that needs the most work. Six of the last seven months have been under 80% consistency.
My goal is six and a half hours sleep per night. With all my habits, I’m aiming for 80% consistency over the month – meaning I can afford six misses per month.
This means total time asleep, not just time in bed. Most of us usually lose an hour each night either getting to sleep, or with various night time interruptions. So, to hit six and a half hours of sleep, I usually need to be in bed for seven and a half hours.
I track my sleep with my whoop band, so I’m confident I have an accurate measurement to track against.
In terms of improving my sleep, there’s no fancy gimmicks needed. The big thing is to be intentional about when I’m going to bed and when I’m waking up. Yes, I know that sounds really simple and obvious. But, most of the time I miss my goal of six and a half hours, is when I know I need to rise early, and then I end up getting to bed late. I just don’t give myself enough time to get six and a half hours in – which as I said, usually requires seven and a half hours in bed.
So, the big thing for me is that as the evening gets under way, I need to think ahead about what tomorrow looks like, and hit the sack accordingly. If I can be disciplined with that, I should be able to get to 80% consistency for sleep going forward.
I’m really pleased to say that I’ve started 2024 with a bang. I got 84% consistency!
Steps is in a pretty similar place to sleep – six out of the last seven months have been under 80% consistency. So, again, quite a bit of work to do!
My target is 10,000 steps a day.
The first thing to say is, I don’t count the steps I do as part of my running workouts, or any other type of training. It has to be purely ‘walking’ steps.
That makes 10,000 steps actually pretty tough going because it’s about 90 mins of walking.
Now, there’s nothing terribly complicated about going for a walk. And there’s also nothing terribly complicated about fitting in 90 mins of walking each day.
What that means, is the way to improve my steps is very similar to my sleep – I need to be more intentional. I need to think and plan ahead for when I want to get them done.
For example, if I just jump into the day and leave it to think about later – it’s really easy to reach mid afternoon without getting many steps in at all. By then, it’s over. It’s really hard to recover from. I’ll almost always fail to reach 10,000 steps.
The other thing for me to think about, is to make sure I get a decent lump of them as early as I can. If I can get 3000 – 4000 done early in the day, I tend to find that between another walking session, a dog walk and general day to day life, I get to the 10,000 mark fairly easily.
So, with steps – it’s about being intentional. Think and plan ahead. And when I’m able to – get them in early.
Alright. That’s the first two hardest habits covered . Things should get a bit easier from here
My goal with fasting used to be the same as all my other habits – 80% consistency for the month.
However, since I’ve become more focused on building muscle, I now don’t fast on weight training days. This is because I usually train around lunch time, and I like to get some food in before a weight training session.
I weight train three days a week. So, my goal is to be 80% consistent for the eighteen or so days left in the month outside of that.
I’m in a much stronger place compared to sleep and steps. I’ve hit well over 80% consistency for fasting in the last three months. But, I had a rocky period adjusting to the mix of fasting and not fasting throughout the week. That caused me to dip below 80% for three consecutive months.
So, even though I’ve done well in the last three months – I don’t quite feel out of the woods yet.
I don’t really have a specific focus to improve my fasting – other than to just keep an eye on it. I can only afford three misses when it comes to the total days being eighteen-ish. That’s a slightly thinner margin that I just need to stay on top of.
My goal is to drink three litres of water a day. No surprises here, I’m aiming at 80% consistency again (I’ll cover why I aim at 80% consistency in a future post or podcast).
If you look at my track record, you would question why I’m worried about this habit. I’ve had nearly two straight years of achieving over 80% consistency.
However, if you go below the surface, there’s another story.
Even though I pretty much always make three liters a day – it’s often a rush in the second half of the day. Consuming the bulk of your water towards the end of the day is always a bad idea – because it involves a lot of pee-ing at night. That doesn’t help with the sleep goal!
Even though I’m doing great with my consistency, I want to make it a little smoother how I get there.
And the strategy I plan to use is simple, and I know it works.
I call it the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 strategy. Yes, I know it’s a rubbish name for a strategy – I’ll think on that!
I need to drink a third of my total water intake in the first thirty minutes of waking. It’s not the most comfortable thing to do. I mean who really likes drinking cold water upon waking? But, getting that early win in the bank sets it into my awareness straight away. It also gets me an early win and momentum.
I then need to drink a third of my total water intake throughout the morning – before midday. That’s usually pretty easy given I’ve just done that in thirty minutes. It’s a super low bar.
That leaves me the rest of the afternoon to get through the last third – again, usually pretty easy given I have momentum and can now see the finish line.
That’s my focus for my water habit. Follow that strategy, and try to reach the goal a little more smoothly .
There you have it. 2024 is about really dialing in the four habits that need a bit of extra work – sleep, steps, fasting and water.
I’ll cover my progress with these four habits in future posts and episodes, and I will also share strategies and tips that can help you build foundational health habits for yourself.
But, for the time being, I wish you a healthy 2024!
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