All Questions Answered with Leo Babauta – December

By Leo Babauta

It’s time for another edition of All Questions Answered. And we have three great questions this week — thanks everyone!

1. What do you do if you have several habits you want to form right away — it seems too hard to wait three months to form three small habits?

Leo: It’s best to think of habits in the long term — you’re not trying to form a bunch of habits right now, but over a lifetime. So think about a year from now, or three years — where do you want to be? If you really want to have some solid habits that have been firmly ingrained, it’s worth it to do it right. So that would be one habit at a time, for about a month each — though you can’t just forget about the habit after a month. You’ll still have to give it some attention, just not as much.

That said, I know it can be hard to wait. So if you think you won’t be able to wait, pick two or three very, very small habits. Wake just 5 minutes earlier, and do just 5 minutes of exercise, and make one small diet change for a week or two. Then increase just a little the 2nd week. This method works but takes more concentration to keep all three habits going.

Lastly, if you want to do three big changes at a time, go for it — just know that it’s probably less effective. It’s still possible to make all three stick, but if you falter in one or more habits, take note of why and adjust your method to be more effective.

2. I’m new to strength training and one of my goals this month is to do more planks and push-ups. Are there other exercises I should be doing first to protect the shoulder? I do stop before I feel too much strain. Maybe I shouldn’t do them every day?

Leo: I would definitely not do them every day. Give yourself a day of rest. And progress slowly, especially if you’ve had shoulder issues in the past. A slow progression, with rest, should be fine for most people. And as you already noted, don’t overextend the shoulder — don’t go too low if you have a weak shoulder. It could cause strain or a tear.

I would also recommend doing other exercises to strengthen the shoulder — shoulder presses (with dumbbells or a barbell, but not too heavy at first), some kind of rows (for the back), pullups. All of these should be started slowly with little weight, not too much strain, and progress slowly to strengthen the muscles around your shoulders and back.

3. I see a bit of conflict between working out (at least the strength training part) and habit forming. In the sense that, to form a habit you should ideally do it every day, but in strength training it is commonly known that you need to alter workout days with rest days. So: how to combine both? And: is the rest day equally necessary if you “limit” yourself to bodyweight exercises? In other words: should I do my push-ups every day? Or every other day?

Leo: This is an excellent point. Habits are best if they’re done every day, but exercise is best with a day of rest in between. There are a few different approaches to handle this dilemma.

The first approach is to do different exercises on different days. So pushups and walking, or pushups and lunges (or bodyweight squats), on alternating days. If you do this approach, don’t go too long or intense each day, or you could overtax your body. Remember, this is for the long term, and you’re not trying to get immediate results. You want habits that will stick and make a big difference over a lifetime. Also realize that you’re forming two different but related habits — it’s nearly as good as doing one habit every day, but not exactly as good.

The second approach is to skip days (have rest days), which is a good idea if you’re new to exercise. The habit you’re forming will take longer to form, and this is less ideal from a habit standpoint. I recommend the first approach over this if you’re concerned about habit formation.

Lastly, you could just do pushups every day. I would do a small amount of them (if you can do 15, just do 5), because you really don’t want to overtax your body. Overtaxing leads to injury and burnout, which will kill the habit. Know that this method (doing them every day) is less than ideal from your body’s standpoint but best from a habit standpoint.

None of these approaches is perfect, but it shows that when you’re forming habits, you’re often trying to balance two or more competing factors, and you just have to find the balance that works for you. You might try one approach, and if it’s not working, try another. It’s an experiment of one.