What’s your *one thing* which will move you forward in 2020?
Recently I witnessed a class at our climbing gym. It was about which strength training exercises you can do for antagonist muscles which are neglected in climbing. But those are not what I want to talk to you about. After having witnessed 10 minutes of this class while streching out after my climbing session, the trainer had already enumerated about 15 different exercises. I coulnd’t even recall them all. And all I wanted to do was yell over to him: “Can you please proceed to show us the *one thing* which will have an actual effect?” This will be a post about effective mini-habits, new year’s resolutions and some strenght training geekery.
Keep it simple
I find that many self-improvement measures, be it in the climbing gym or office productivity, tend to be too complicated and too much. But complicated and excessive things will not get done on a daily basis, especially as those things (such as strength training for antagonist muscles) are things you have to do aside from and in addition to your actual work. If these self-improvement routines are too complicated, too hard or too time-consuming, you will not keep them up very long. Like I have preached many times now: If you want to make it sustainable, do less than you could. Leave one in the bar, so it remains fun (or as fun as possible). Don’t ask yourself to do something which is maybe even harder than your main work. Keep the mini habits mini.
It is my experience that if you look close enough (sometimes you’ll need tons of reserach), you can always find the mini-habit which has a tremendous effect. For years, my ballet teacher screamed at me because my arabesque supposedly wasn’t good (=high) enough. But she also persistently failed to show me the *one* exercise which actually works. I found that only years afterwards on YouTube. (If you’re interested: The point is that lifting your leg higher than 90 degrees up requires a different muscle group than up to 90 degrees, but that muscle group is hardly ever used and difficult to even ‘find’ or activate when you haven’t really used it before. The trick is to do a développé-based strength training: You lift the leg to the knee and from there, lift not from the foot but from the hip – it’s just a tiny, hardly visible movement but gets hard after a few reps already – then you slowly open into the développé but only a bit, not even until the leg is (half-)streched because the stretched leg tends to evoke the wrong muscle group again. Do that only once you built that strength).
“What’s the *one* thing I can do?”
It’s not like I am the only and first person to realize this. Famous self-help gurus such as Tim Ferriss have made this the key piece of their philosophy. Tim Ferriss call it the ‘minimum effective dose’. For getting fit, he suggests you train with a 20-24kg kettle bell two times a week and do 75 kettle bell swings each time (work yourself up to 75 in sets while you can’t do them all at once). 10-20 minutes total training time. That’s all. He has proven that you can have amazing, replicable results with this technique. Or, if you don’t want to work out, try his “30 in 30”, that means having 30g of protein (such as in a shake) within 30 minutes of waking up. This charges up your metabolism and he was also able to show than you can achieve dramatic changes in your weight if you do just this morning routine, even if you change nothing about your other habits at all.
Simple is sustainable
Many people think running is a good way to get fit. But really, if you genuinely don’t really like it and you’re only doing it to keep yourself fit, it’s incredibly ineffective. The cost in time (and suffering for someone who doesn’t like it) is high and the results will stop coming in once you’re body has adapted to it a little bit, so you’ll have to do more and more. Human beings are very effective runners, so especially endurance running is probably your worst bet ever for getting in shape: rather try High Intensity Training (HIIT). Also mostly, I think running is just too complicated. You need to change – whereas you can kettlebell in you pyjamas. You need ‘equipment’ – at least I totally tend to go overboard with making running complicated because I used to train quite ambitiously in my youth.
So to get back to the trainer from the beginning: After ten minutes, so many techniques had been enumerated that I couldn’t even remember them all. The Tim Ferriss stuff has become so popular because it’s simple. And simple is sustainable. If you have trouble even remembering what exactly you have to do only five minutes in, it’s not “habit material”.
So what can you do? From what I’ve gathered from Youtube videos, especially “Grundkurs Bouldern”‘s Ralf Winkler offers the supplementary training trias of push-ups, pull-ups and squats. I think that sounds good. They are well-known, no-bullshit exercises pretty much everybody knows how to do and they plain work.
Also, you always need to remember that training is highly specific. Often trainers will enumerate tons of exercises but the only thing an exercise really does is train exactly this movement, so it might not even be transferable to the skill you actually wanted to learn (!). That’s why push-ups are good. They train your whole body. People of different skill and fitness levels benefit from them, but they also don’t “pretend” to train bouldering – they only give you some additional fitness. They train you to do push-ups, not much else. Most “bouldering exercises” don’t actually do much for your bouldering. That’s why Louis Parkinson from Catalyst Climbing (London) suggests you do your boulder strength training directly on the wall.
The one thing and the Pareto principle (80/20)
Most of you probably have already heard about the Pareto principle. It’s probably already a bit dated by now, but the idea behind it is still universally good: 20% of your work will give you 80% of the results. The other 80% of work only give you the additional 20% of perfecting your output. Whether a PhD student can afford to just ditch the last 20% is another question, but the principle is still worth using at least with annoying everyday tasks. Often you just need to hand in *somehing* and perfection will give you no additional reward whatsoever. So dare to keep it simple and effective.
Make better new year’s resolutions this year
When you make new year’s resolutions this Christmas, please think of my post and come up with a way of simplifying what you were planning to do in the next year. Even if you think your resolution was already quite simplicistic – cut it in half and it will be perfect. Always be very concrete in forming your goals, have cues to trigger the activities (see the review on Atomic Habits, to follow) because unconcrete goals (like “Learn French”) don’t work. Come up with something concrete such as “Learn 20 items of vocabulary per day” or “Sit down to learn French, in a timer-timed timebox of 20min every day”.
So if you want to do something for new year’s resolutions, don’t just pick some classic line everybody else uses. Take time to reflect on your goals, what exactly it is that you want and especially take the time to research what the single most effective, super-simple mini-habit to achieving that goal is.
I’ll follow up with some more new year’s resolution themed posts to go with the holiday season over the next weeks.
Have a nice pre-Christmas panic attack at work and be sure to eat some cookies while you do 😉