I have a confession to make; this week the majority of my productive habits have fallen completely by the wayside. I’m going to talk a little bit about why, and reflect on what I could have done better.
I vividly recall an episode of Mikes on mics where Michael Schechter talked about an annual trip to Vegas that would invariably result in him falling off the health and fitness bandwagon; this scenario where being taken out of your usual location and routine upsets your daily habits is what I’m calling the “Crapstorm” (which is a little hat tip to Michael’s term of “crap rationalising” bad decision-making).
A Crapstorm occurs where events conspire to take you out of your day-to-day routines, with the inevitable result that it’s harder to stick to your usual habits. For me, this took the form of having to travel away for work, which meant that my usual routine of gym and healthy eating, regular water consumption and nightly journaling was upset.
Distractions and diversions
What a Crapstorm usually introduces is a new set of circumstances – environmental or schedule-wise – that distract or divert you from your usual routine. This might be a simple as having to eat dinner at a restaurant instead of at home, improvising around a lack of your usual gym facilities, or having a chunk of your schedule eaten up by travelling (and the fatigue that typically accompanies the travel)
For the diligent and enterprising individual these Crapstorm factors aren’t insurmountable; it’s usually possible to find a healthy meal, an alternative form of exercise and/or time to stick to other productivity habits, but the distraction/diversion element shouldn’t be underestimated. In my case, I packed a gym kit fully intending to use my hotel facilities, but found myself diverted by opportunities/obligations to socialise with colleagues. The “muscle memory” of diving into the gym first thing in the morning after my commute was disrupted, and I failed to force myself into an impromptu routine of still going to the hotel gym after a later start.
Self-discipline and pre-planning can help
So if a Crapstorm is unavoidable, how do you avoid the total habit collapse that I experienced? I think the key element is planning. Anticipating the challenges the Crapstorm will bring, and devising strategies to avoid them (such as packing your gym kit and researching gym facilities) will give you a better chance of sticking to your habit without the accompanying “crap rationalisation” (“I can’t exercise because I haven’t got a gym kit)”.
However, as I demonstrated during my Crapstorm, a strategy can fall apart if you don’t have the discipline to follow through with it. I think there are two mitigants to this:
- schedule a commitment and agree it with your companions: let your companions know early that you intend to hit the gym before dinner, or that you’ll be skipping drinks. This will help both in terms of managing expectations and peer pressure, but also in establishing a tacit commitment to follow through. Depending on the company, you could also enlist the help of your companions by asking them to hold you to your commitment (“you said you were going to the gym – so go do it!”)
- anticipate the circumstances that will derail your strategy: if you know that you’re likely to be invited out for drinks (and that you’ll probably say yes), try to formulate your strategies in a way that take those things into account. Try not to be overly optimistic – are you really going to skip drinks and go to bed early? Find the opportunities that will be most conducive to sticking to your plan.
Get back on the wagon
Regardless of your best intentions and how successful your Crapstorm strategies have been, it’s important to get back into your usual routine when the Crapstorm has passed. Don’t underestimate the temptation to fall off the wagon completely – you may be tired, you may lack motivation; this is a real risk moment and you need to face into it.
In my case this meant going through my nightly packing preparation after a long day of driving (which I really didn’t feel like doing) and dragging myself out of bed the following morning to restart my gym routine. The sooner you do this, the more likely the “muscle memory” will kick in and your old habits will reassert themselves.
Prepare, pre-empt and recover
In summary, we all have the occasional Crapstorm and will succeed or fail to varying degrees in our attempts to deal with them. Give yourself the best chance of success by:
- anticipating the distractions and diversions and forming strategies to handle them
- being realistic in expectations about how successful those strategies will be and set expectations early about what you want to do
- get straight back into your usual routine after the Crapstorm to ensure a swift recovery back to your usual productive state