Your success, in the gym and in life, hinges on habits and your ability to create them. By using a simple 5-minute timer, you can literally push “start” on new habits and maximize your progress each and every day.
It’s been said life is the sum of your habits.
I wouldn’t go *quite* that far.
After all, the whims of life that you can’t control (when, where, and how you were born and raised) can play a substantial role in how the rest of life shapes up.
BUT, as adults on the path to betterment, we have a responsibility to make changes where we can.
As a coach, it’s my job to help you align your mindset and lifestyle to make those changes happen.
All the best advice in the world won’t do any good if you don’t translate what’s on paper into real-life action.
I like to view the process in this way:
It’s all about practicing what strong/lean/athletic (fill in your goal) people do…
Not “I need to lose 10 pounds in a week.”
The latter is a pass/fail attempt – you don’t succeed until arbitrary numbers on the scale and calendar match up.
The former (the practice approach) is accessible every day by making small progress at the source – your behavior.
I work with real people.
Some are snarling beasts that you can’t keep out of the gym for more than a day…
Some are only just beginning to experience the magic of training…
But they’re all busy squeezing every minute out of life between work, family, and (gasp) other hobbies that don’t include lifting weights.
Everyone’s situation is unique.
But they all have little pockets of time that can be used to supercharge results – whether that’s fat loss, building muscle, gaining strength, or learning new skills.
What’s a habit (and why should you care)?
According to Charles Duhigg, a habit is an action that starts as a choice and eventually becomes a nearly unconscious behavior pattern. Science suggests that ~40% of our daily actions are directed by habit.
It makes sense, too.
Our brains love efficiency and predictability.
But the “path of least resistance” isn’t necessarily the easy road – just the one we’ve been down before. The one we know best. The predictable one.
Humans do what they’ve always done.
We see this in everything from relationship dynamics to how you eat fast food – burger or fries first?
Now, I’m not saying people can’t change.
Of course they can. Otherwise, I’d have no job and humanity would have no hope.
But I am saying, barring a life-altering satori moment, it takes a number of “wins” and a certain momentum in a particular direction for lasting change to sink in.
The cool thing is we can change our scripts with just a bit of work.
In a way, we are both the almighty creative computer programmer AND the hard drive.
We’re not complete automatons, yet.
Momentum > Motivation
Here’s an essential coaching truth:
Momentum always beats motivation.
We see this every year. Just peek inside a gym in January… then come back in October.
The difference is the “fuel” these folks are running on. One group is burning through the sugar-high of a new year’s resolution. The other is cruising on the slow-burn of habit.
Peeling yourself off the couch is the crucial first step. Anything that breaks the hold of inertia is ok in my book – be it a resolution, a motivational video, or a nasty breakup.
A quirk of human psychology is that we’ll move mountains to avoid pain but barely lift a finger to gain pleasure. The “stick” often gets things moving faster than the “carrot.”
But I’m not here to twist the knife.
I just want to be sure once you start moving, you KEEP moving… long after the initial jolt of energy has worn off.
Because consistency counts.
One salad won’t melt off stubborn body fat.
And one arm workout, no matter how intense, won’t rip those schmedium shirt sleeves.
Consistent action compounds over weeks and months before the magic sneaks up on you.
Runners know this – the endorphins take a while to start pumping, usually after pushing through the urge to quit. But when they kick in, an extra mile or two is no problem.
You’re already rolling, so why stop? The extra mile is never crowded, as the saying goes.
Everyone else is crowding the starting line debating the best shoe or warm-up routine while you’re setting new personal records.
Ask anyone who’s maintained a fit lifestyle for more than 10 years and they’ll tell you the same thing – it’s actually easier to workout than not.
Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion.
Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.Jim Rohn
Time, once again, to steal from Dan John.
If we had to reduce the path of success down into 2 steps, it would be hard to beat these:
1) Show up
2) Keep going
The key is to make “showing up” as easy as possible, at least at first.
When I worked in a commercial gym, missed sessions (no-shows) were an everyday occurrence. Hundreds of my on-the-clock hours were wasted in the early days before I served a stable client base.
I’d spend half the day fielding last-minute texts explaining bad traffic, various seasonal ailments, and other pressing demands on time.
Sometimes a client or prospect would ghost, never to be seen in the gym again. It was maddening.
These days, I train clients in the comfort of their own home.
In past 3 years, I can count the total number of missed workouts on one hand.
My in-home clientele just have to roll out of bed. Literally.
Gone are the annoyances of hair care, makeup, and shoes, much less an extra commute.
This “strategic laziness” saves precious willpower and all but guarantees adherence.
For most people, cramming a gym habit into an over-stuffed schedule proves to be unsustainable… even when a not-so-cheap personal trainer is expecting you to show up.
The lesson here?
That sounds patronizing, but there’s great truth to it.
Jung said people don’t see God because they look too high.
Most answers are right under your nose and are probably more simple than you imagine.
Let’s lower the barrier to “showing up” with a simple trigger – something that tells you “Ok, it’s time to do this NOW.”
The works of Charles Duhigg (Power of Habits) and James Clear (Atomic Habits) detail the habit cycle like so – trigger, action, reward.
Many habit triggers remain hidden from our awareness, but we can literally press our own buttons to get going with whatever we need to do.
The tactic I’ll suggest will be a game-changer no matter your fitness/skill level or goal.
Progress With The Push Of A Button
You might be a beast in the weight room…
But there’s always something to improve. Maybe your shoulder bugs you, or you have tight hips, or you skip abs.
On the other hand, maybe you’re just starting out and looking to get a grasp on a fit and healthy lifestyle.
No matter where you are right now, you can use the simplicity of pushing a button to make real progress and gain momentum towards your goals.
Amazon, Netflix, and Uber Eats stay on our home screens because they deliver the goods fast and easy.
We are easily hooked on the quick turn-around time between the click and the reward.
Let’s use this to our advantage in our quest to look and feel our best.
“I know what I should do, but I just can’t get myself to do it!”
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. In fact, just take a nibble.
Let’s shrink the process down into easily digestible steps – potato chips, not T-bone steaks.
Step 1 – Grab a simple kitchen timer and set it to 5 minutes. I like one with a magnet to keep on the fridge.
Step 2 – Each day, you’re going to pick a simple action to perform. Something that lines up with your goal or training focus (lots of ideas in the next section).
Step 3 – Tap start and commit to performing the action with complete focus for the next 5 minutes.
Step 4 – The timer beeps. Bask in the feeling of accomplishment and know you’re a little bit better than you were 5 minutes ago.
Notice the habit cycle at play:
The trigger – click the button.
The action – do the thing.
The reward – feeling better with the beep.
There’s just one piece missing – the cue. What will prompt us to click the habit button?
This is the first domino that sets off the entire process.
Our cue can come in various forms.
It could be a time on the clock, a physical location, or a pre-existing habit like brushing your teeth.
Being bored, stressed, and tired are very powerful cues. Be aware of what you’re doing in those times.
Eventually, pushing the habit button will edge-out mindless behaviors like social media scrolling, munching on junk snacks, and binging Netflix.
Listen, I love a good Jocko or Goggins or GaryVee mashup about pushing through pain, hustling till 3a.m. or making valiant efforts of self-sacrifice.
But, honestly, can I do any of that right now?
As a coach, my goal is to stack wins for you.
Tried a new exercise? That’s a win. Lifted more rep than last week? Win. Just showed up? WIN.
This isn’t coddling.
I’m not suggesting we over-inflate egos or praise mediocre effort. This is about recognizing every step in the right direction for what it is – a step! String enough of them together, and we really get somewhere.
Now ask yourself – what could I be doing more of that would really move the needle?
Stretch? Hydrate? Take a deep breath? Text an old friend?
Click and get down to it.
Why 5 minutes? Most any excuse evaporates with a such a shallow commitment.
And yet, let me tell you – 5 minutes goes a lot farther in real life than it seems on paper.
In fact, my buddy Max Shank built an entire program and training community around simple 5-minute movement flows. This coming from a guy who can perform mind-blowing feats of strength. Yet, he found, like so many savvy coaches, that it’s the LITTLE stuff, not the fancy stuff, that makes a huge difference for real people.
When the timer runs to zero, you’ll feel amazing as those beeps chime out. That feeling is the reward.
You’ve accomplished something, taken a step, kept a promise to yourself, and it took practically no time at all.
Here’s an inspiring truth – and in case your momma didn’t tell you – you can get better at anything with enough practice…
You probably won’t be the best in the world, and maybe not even in the top 20% as is the promise of so many “hack” gurus. But what’s the point in comparison, anyway? We’re in the pursuit of better, and that can happen DAILY, if not multiple times per day, if you measure progress the right way.
The 5-Minute Flow Buffet of Options
What do you do when the clock starts running?
Anything your body needs! And that probably means whatever you’re not already doing on a regular basis.
Here are a few of my go-to ideas:
Hands & Feet – Make fists with the fingers and toes, then spread them out. Draw circles and figure 8s with the ankles and wrists. Do calf raises and wrist push-ups.
Shoulders – Make big arm circles and swings (think of a swimmer getting warmed-up). Try the Egyptian twist and the tea cup rotation.
Core – Any plank or crawl variation.
Legs – Any lunge or squat variation.
Of course, you can string moves together into a yoga-inspired flow. Our bodies crave novel movement.
The kettlebell is an obvious choice for getting in lots of work in a short amount of time. Try the Humane Burpee or this lunge flow (you can find many more quick kettlebell workouts in the Facebook group).
And when I don’t want to think too much, I’ll just walk around with a kettlebell (suitcase carry) and focus on my breathing.
Let’s say you’re focusing on a specific lift in your training and want to dedicate all your energy to improving it. This is the perfect opportunity to shore up any areas that will support your efforts.
For example, if the back squat is your priority, dedicate your 5-minute blocks to hip mobility and core engagement – goblet squats and hip rocks are a great place to start.
One quick point…
This bite-sized approach to habit building does not negate or take the place of deep work performed in long, uninterrupted blocks of time.
Mastery of any craft depends on lots of time in a flow state.
There’s no skirting around the mandatory hours at the writing desk, the canvas, or under the bar required to be world-class.
But, we can get a long way towards maximizing our day (and our potential) by taking small, consistent action.
Big doors swing on little hinges. And we know that consistency, all else equal, is THE difference maker.
The problem with 12-week programs is that success is 3 months away. It’s hard to suffer the stick so long before getting the carrot.
What we need is to shorten the reward cycle. A lot. 5 minutes seems like the sweet spot.
Keeping promises to yourself is a most powerful habit.
Drinking a glass of water can have just as big of an impact as doing “no carbs in October” if you have the right mindset.
But with the wrong mindset, even if you make it all the way to Halloween before succumbing to your sweet tooth, you’ll chalk that up as one giant loss as opposed to 30 little wins. The difference is night and day.
Years back, I invested a few hundred dollars and dozens of study hours into a certain gold-standard nutrition certification.
I studied the ins-and-outs of digestion and metabolism. (Honestly, all stuff I’d read in 10th grade biology class but never cared to really learn… Otherwise, I might have reconsidered the all the sketchy cafeteria pizza and orange Fanta.)
Nutritional science is important, but the cert’s coaching system really centers on simple habits…
You know, stuff that your grandma (who never counted a macro in her life) probably told you… Drink your water and eat your vegetables. Cake is for birthdays, not breakfast. Chew your food and be grateful.
If the brightest minds in science and coaching hang their hat on habit formation, it’s worth taking a serious look at.
So, nudge yourself forward, nurture momentum and you’ll be surprised at how far you can get 5 minutes at a time.