In Part One, I talked about habit science, why consistency trumps all when it comes to making real change, and how showing up bypasses the problem of motivation. Today, I’ll outline concrete ways you can show up for yourself in a variety of habit efforts, how to layer other habit tips on top of these to truly solidify your efforts, and what your long-term goals should look like for ultimate habit success.
How to show up
Often, people overestimate what “showing up” looks like. If you think showing up means doing a 30-minute workout, reading 20 pages of a book, walking one mile, or meditating for five minutes, no wonder it feels intimidating. “Showing up” needs to be simple. It’s the bare minimum required to shift your body and brain into habit mode, cement the consistency needed to create a habit, and be able to high-five yourself for a job well done.
Want to start walking? Commit to standing in your driveway in your walking shoes and clothes, every single day at X time of day. The more consistent you can be here, the better; ideally it’s the same time of day (first thing in the morning, right after work, right after dinner), every day.
Want to start writing? Get your butt in your writing chair every single day at the same time. Sit down, have a beverage on hand, make sure your space is comfortable, open your writing program, and put your hands on the keyboard.
Want to read more? Sit down with a book, magazine, or newspaper every day, in the same chair at the same time of day—and open to a page.
Want to take cold showers? Get in the shower, then turn the nozzle to a colder temp.
Want to floss? Head to the bathroom every night at the same time, pick up your floss, unspool it, and rip off one piece.
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Make it tiny
I know what you’re thinking. “But that’s not enough. What if I unspool the floss, then put it back down? What if I sit down to write, then type nothing? What if I walk out to the driveway, then walk back inside?” First, the chances of that happening are slim, because you’ll feel dumb. You just walked outside in all of your outside clothes… are you really going to just come back in? You’re sitting in front of your computer, blank page in front of you, hands on the keyboard. Are you really going to press NOT ONE KEY?
There will come a day two weeks in where you think, “I’ve got this down! I’ve been showing up every day. Surely I can take a day or two off.” Resist.
Two, even if you do bail, even if you unspool the floss, rip off a piece, then put it back down and go to bed… I promise if you do that consistently, every single night, eventually you will floss. Because the act of STARTING—the hard part!—is done. And you’d be surprised how far that small first step will carry you.
Pro tip, however… you need to do this first part, the showing up consistently part, longer than you think you need to. There will come a day two weeks in where you think, “I’ve got this down! I’ve been showing up every day. Surely I can take a day or two off.” Resist. Once this is truly a habit, you’ll be able to be more flexible with your schedule or on-days because you’ll have the automatic pull to come back. I can take a month off from the gym entirely, then pick up and get right back into the habit any time I want now. But I couldn’t have done that after just two weeks.
Habit research says it takes anywhere from eight days to eight months to solidify a habit, depending on how emotionally taxing the habit is. (Quitting smoking is hard, flossing is less hard.) Assume you’ll need to show up for at least a month before it starts to feel automatic. But hey, that’s not hard! Because the bar for “showing up” is SUPER LOW. You can do it!
And please do high-five yourself along the way, because you deserve it.
Layer it on
As a bonus, if you subscribe to this “just show up” part, here’s where you can apply a ton of different habit tricks to further cement your new neural pathways.
Try “habit stacking,” where you layer the new habit over another existing habit to make it easier. (If you make coffee every morning, starting the pot could be your signal to sit down and meditate. As you brush your teeth every night, stack the flossing just before the brushing.)
Employ accountability with showing up. Meet your sister at the gym every morning—all you have to do is check in together! Send your friend what you wrote that day, even if it’s just “The quick brown fox yada yada yada.” Track your cold shower in your WHOOP app, even if you just stay under a cool spray for a few seconds.
Use my “habit priming” trick. Every night, I’d lay my gym clothes out in the spare room—down to my shoes, socks, and underwear. Everything I needed for my day was ready to roll, so when I woke up at 5:30 AM, I didn’t even have to think about what to do to make it to the gym. You can do this with any habit, like leaving your book and bookmark by your reading chair, making sure you always have an extra roll of floss in the bathroom drawer, or putting your walking shoes, jacket, and scarf right by the door.
Use B.J. Fogg’s “tiny habit” framework. Once the habit of showing up is established, assign yourself just 30 seconds of activity. Get into the gym and do five beautiful squats. Walk to the mailbox or neighbor’s house and back. Sit at your writing desk and type one paragraph. Commit to reading one paragraph. Stand in a cooler shower than usual and spin around once. You can always do more if you want to…. which is the genius of this system, because you’ll almost always want to continue on.
You can also revert back to your habit goal of “showing up” any time you want. Even if you start loving the gym and set some lifting or running goals, if you have a stressful week or are short on time, you can still consider yourself successful because you showed up. If you’re halfway through your novel, but everything you write one week is crap, you’re successful because you showed up. If you’ve been hitting your zen state regularly, but this week your brain is jumping around like a monkey on Pop Rocks, you’re successful because you showed up.
The power of showing up
I still use this metric today in my own training, twenty-plus years into this habit. I rarely have training goals, and even if I do, I don’t always meet them. But I am a healthy person with healthy habits, and a person who exercises because I continue to show up. Through the last half of my pregnancy, when I was exhausted and awkward and a “workout” would only last 5 minutes, I showed up. Through my concussion, when all I could do were my four simple PT exercises, I showed up. Through COVID lockdowns, when all I had was my cold, dirty garage and a few dumbbells, I showed up.
What if you’ve been thinking about habits all wrong? What if you just had to show up? Pick one thing you’ve been wanting to do, figure out how to show up, and do that without fail for a month straight. Then drop a note in the comments and let me know what’s changed for you.
I’m betting you’ll have a lot to say.
My goal habit is to wake up at 5:30. Should I stack that with doing something? Or just practice getting up at 5:30 and out of my bedroom for five min?
Hi Melissa. I wasn’t sure where best to post this question so landed here. I was curious if you would recommend your Whoop band for those who workout but aren’t monitoring something specific for their health, like your concussion symptoms? I workout 5ish times per week and as I’m about to hit my 51st birthday (how the heck am I in my 50s!?!?) I realize paying attention to recovery is getting as important as my actual workouts. Otherwise, I don’t have a specific goal or health needed to monitor. Is a Whoop worth the investment? Thanks!!