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Recently one of my mates was telling me he has a daily habit he wants to lock in – meditating each night. For whatever reason, he keeps finding himself avoiding it… despite really wanting to build this habit. It’s like there’s some resistance there.
We talked for a bit and I explained to him, “The resistance is just because you haven’t made meditation into a habit yet. You just need to train it into a habit – do it enough times that it becomes easy and no longer takes any willpower.“
And this is a topic that comes up a hell of a lot with guys in my audience, guys on the forums, my coaching clients. It’s all variations on the same theme: “How do I make myself do something I seemingly don’t want to do?” It applies to going to the gym (lord knows I felt a hell of a lot of resistance there when I first started going).
It applies to going outside and talking to girls – how many of you want to start hitting on chicks, but for some reason or another, you just… “can’t”?
It applies to losing weight, cutting your calories and not stuffing your face. You hear this all the time – “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t stop eating as much.“
A quick-and-easy answer is to reframe the thing you want to do (the habit), and not be so negative about it. Instead of saying “The gym is hard” or “I can’t lose weight” or “Talking to girls is difficult”, you reframe it and tell yourself it’s going to be easy. “I can talk to girls, that’s not hard.” Or make it positive: “Going to the gym is going to be fun”. And then find ways of making the habit fun. So with the gym, listen to some awesome music to get yourself amped up. With girls, go out with a wingman so it’s 100x more fun (and easier). With cutting calories, remind yourself of how much fucking fun it’s going to be to hit your goal weight.
Another trick that works is slowing down; ie “relaxing into it”. So with the gym, you’d slow down on each rep/set, take your time and be present in the moment, tell yourself “I’ll be at the gym for a couple hours instead of trying to rush through it and hate every moment. I’ll slow down and actually enjoy this thing, I’ll take my time with it.“
By slowing down, you’re more present, you stop trying to rush through it or “just get it over with”. Instead, you’re forced to slow down and relax and actually find ways to enjoy it… instead of trying to hurry it up.
But you want to know the biggest trick you can use to train yourself to enjoy your habits? Use rewards, so you’re training yourself like Pavlov’s Dog.
For those who don’t know the context: “Pavlov’s dog” is an experiment where a guy – Ivan Pavlov – trained his dog to associate outside stimulus with that of food. In other words – he’d blow a whistle and make a sound, and then immediately feed the dog. Over time, the dogs came to associate the sound of a whistle, with food – with a reward. Eventually he could blow the whistle and the dog would start salivating, even with no food present – the dog knew “whistle = food”.
You can do the same thing with yourself, with habits you’re currently struggling to build. In the case of not wanting to go to the gym, you can take a snack to the gym (a small donut, a protein bar, a sugary drink). Or get some music you really really really love. Then, every time you go to the gym, eat that snack or listen to that song you love. Or you can use the reward afterwards – eg playing video games for 30 minutes after your gym workout. The reward itself doesn’t matter; just try to pick one that is relatively healthy (eg don’t pick “I’ll shoot heroin straight into my dick after each gym workout” or “I’ll play video games for 4 hours”).
Over time, your brain will start to associate the gym with that snack you like, or that song you love, and you’ll start to look forward to the gym – because your brain knows you will get the reward (the snack, or the video game, or the song).
Your mission is then to go the gym, or go outside and talk to girls, or cut those calories (or whatever habit you’re trying to build) – and to do it for an entire month. Just make it your absolute mission to keep the habit up for a month, using your Pavlov reward, and never break that streak for a month.
What you’ll find is after a month it’s way easier to keep that habit up, without having to force yourself anymore. Now you can start to reduce and eventually eliminate that snack/song/video game/etc reward – you won’t need the reward anymore. Just doing the habit itself becomes the reward; you’ll find it’ll feel weird not to do the habit, because you’ve been so consistent with it over the last month. The habit will become so easy it’ll be like brushing your teeth.
Congrats! You’ve trained yourself like Pavlov’s dog.
This is exactly how I built the habit of going to the gym, even when I really didn’t want to at first. It’s how I built the habit of talking to 1 girl a day. It’s how I built the habit of meditating each night. It’s how I built the habit of walking 12k steps a day. All of this was done by using a reward to train myself for the first month, then gently removing the reward when I no longer needed it and the habit was self-sustaining.
Again, your only mission is to keep up the habit you’re trying to build for a month until it’s completely ingrained in you, and it becomes easy. Don’t beat yourself up if the habit is hard during the first few weeks; every new habit is hard at the start. That’s what your reward is for; to get you through the difficult patch in the beginning. Just keep conditioning yourself with that reward, keep up the habit, and eventually it’ll become easy as 1-2-3.
You got this.