August 25 2015

How to Create a String of Success

By Mark Sisson
24 Comments

It’s always interesting to be in this business and read the health headlines. So often, they seek to hook us with the promise of ultimate clarity: “Rehabing Health: Diet or Fitness First?” or “Should I Sleep or Exercise?” The underlying assumption is that there’s a conclusive rule to this – that we all conform to the same pattern, a universal law that will remake the game for everyone.

Sure, I believe our physiology conforms to some pretty standard principles. The Primal Blueprint is based on them. As such, I incorporate these direct-route, often multi-functional strategies whenever and wherever I can. But my work and life experience have taught me something important about these laws and “hacks”. The mental versions of these, when properly and personally applied, tend to have the biggest and broadest impact.

It’s not that we can’t maximize physical gains with certain tactical approaches, but our most dramatic improvements will always come from living out the Primal basics. These aren’t hard in and of themselves but do require a degree of motivation to put in place. Hence, the most significant ploys will always be those that work on the distance between intention and action.

A few months ago I wrote a post about fitness related non-negotiables – the choices we make daily (or at least regularly) that we consider least common denominators for our well-being. For whatever reason, we’ve assigned to them “required” status. Maybe we consider them easy wins. Or maybe we just have some random mental or social association tied to them – conscious or unconscious. Regardless of our specific reasoning, we view them as standards for our daily overall health commitment. No matter what else falls apart that day, we’re going to follow through on the non-negotiable point – to know we accomplished something, to stay on track with one element of progress. This is good.

What I want to talk about today, however, is something more discerning – and focus more on the how-to element. I’ll call them hinge habits, and they will vary considerably from person to person. They’re choices we make that – for our individual mentality – set the board for the rest of our day. The relative success and sanity of the day literally hinge on these simple practices. When we do them, the rest of the day seems to fall into place. We at least have an easier time staying on a solid, healthy path. Skip them, however, and everything else feels “off.” We flounder. Some days we can nonetheless steady ourselves, but it requires more effort.

Identifying our hinge habit necessitates knowing ourselves pretty well (and being able to be honest about our tendencies). It might even entail a bit of self-experimentation. If you’re unsure what habit has the most pre-emptive impact, try out some ideas – particularly toward the beginning of your day.

Maybe if you can just avoid the carb dump at breakfast, you stay on a good track. Maybe it’s getting up early (or going to bed early). Maybe time doesn’t matter but having a solid eight hours does. It might be working out before you head to the office or before the kids wake up. Perhaps it’s a meditation practice or a walk in the middle of the day. Perhaps it’s taking a nap mid afternoon.

Journal about your practices and what effects they seem to have. Make different choices and see how you respond. What decisions seem to play a fulcrum-style role, tipping your day one way or the other?

Alternatively, you might believe a new practice would be a better game changer. How about 50 burpees each day? Maybe a walk after dinner instead of television. Perhaps it’s a big a$$ salad for lunch every day instead of what you usually have. Whatever experience has taught you or intuition tells you will make a substantial difference – that’s what you can latch onto.

Got it? Hone it or define it a little if need be.

So, here’s the next step. Ask yourself if you’re willing to commit to that hinge habit for the next ten days. Forget signing onto a whole plan for ten days. Just imagine applying yourself to one habit each day – your hinge habit. There’s no need to worry about the rest.

The idea here is to establish a string of successes – accomplishing one single, strategic task each day for ten full days. I’ll even post a handy PDF here that you can print off and stick on the fridge. (But you can always use a notebook or make a quick Excel spreadsheet.) Each day all you have to do is literally check off whether you performed that one task.

Consider the list an easy way you can keep yourself accountable and motivated. Sure, it’s not groundbreaking, but sometimes the simplest things just work. Who’s with me on that?

We’re going for only task here. Push yourself to make that goal every day but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. That said, take the string concept to heart. Aim for perfection on this choice as much as you reasonably can. See how much your life and choices change in this ten day period. What do you think will shift? Are you willing to be surprised?

Thanks for reading, everyone. I’m curious to know: what’s your hinge habit? Share your commitment on the board and your support for others’ string of success.

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24 thoughts on “How to Create a String of Success”

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  1. Many of you have been emailing me asking what’s up with MDA. Unfortunately, we’ve had some serious technical issues we’ve been battling in the last 24 hours or so. It appears we have at least a temporary fix and MDA is back up and running again. Thanks for your patience and Grok on!

    1. Well, nice to know it was just internal technical issues, not a DOS attack from the carbophiliacs, or a take down by the FDA. Maybe it’s better not to use your own servers. Ask Hillary.

  2. I figured as much, glad to see the problem has been resolved. I was panicking earlier but then my innate adaptability kicked in and I survived .

  3. My most successful hinge habit has been the same for years. I practice tai chi every afternoon. It has revolutionized my life. It took me months to learn how to do 24 simple moves that only take about 4-5minutes to perform in sequence. Recently I’ve given myself permission to do these moves to different kinds of music–not just mild Chinese music, but rock and roll, salsa, waltz, folk. It has been liberating to expand my horizons. My balance has improved. I do this practice no matter what most days. Now I want to day by day cut down the amount of television I watch and be more discerning. This challenge will help with that. So glad Marks Daily Apple hasn’t fallen off the tree. I count on reading it daily. It is a HINGE for me.

  4. This is a great idea and I’ve had good luck doing small movements towards better health. Initially giving up all added sugar was the hardest thing I ever did. It led me to realize I can eat whole unprocessed food and give up dairy, grains and sugar. It seemed impossible before. Then I started exercising every day One good habit at a time.

    I have concentrated on eating and exercising. I need to move into the mental/ spiritual phase. I would like to challenge myself to no negatives thoughts for 10 days. That may be a bigger task than sugar!

  5. My frist and primary hinge habit is walking to work (a little over 2 miles). On the days I can’t, nothing seems to come together… I added making (and eating) a high fat/high protein breakfast a few months ago, and that also made a big difference to my day. I’m not hungry first thing, so I prep and pack breakfast, walk to work, and eat there before my workday begins. Today around 11am I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling laggy and like I needed coffee…and then I realised I forgot to eat the breakfast I bring to work with me (slap head).

  6. I love that this has a name! I never thought of this idea in these terms, and it absolutely applies to me.

    For me, the trick is having the hinge habit not be too big of a thing, (like, a really hard morning run) because if I missed it, it seemed to give me license to eat anything and everything, while sitting, too!

  7. Glad to see MDA is up and running again…..since it’s one of my hinge habits! See what I did there?

    I try everyday to take a moment and be thankful for the good things in my life. It’s easy to to get swept up some days with the feeling of wanting more. I’m no minimalist by any means. I have a few expensive vices. But I try and remember that somewhere in the world is a person that dreams of having my life in Canada.

    Anyways,
    Keep the blue side up.
    Joe

  8. Excellent post, Mark. This is the kind leadership style that separates your site from the basic fitness blogging community, and originally drew me to start paying attention.

    Thanks again,

    Memo Stephens

  9. Since it was the last day to submit for scholarship, are you going to add another day? I tried all day to submit!
    Either way I’m good still love the website.

  10. Glad to hear the website wasn’t attacked again!
    My hinge habit seems to be my morning apple cider and vinegar drink. As long as I get that in me first thing, I can face the day.
    I plan to add eating a big salad everyday, staring next week. I had that habit for years, but lately I’ve wandered away from it. I feel better when i get a giant bowl of veggies on the regular.

  11. I begin my day saying something positive and supportive of others around me. Positive energy sets the stage for every activity that follows throughout the day.

  12. Love this post, Mark, and the term “hinge habit.” It’ll be an excellent one to share with clients working on changing their eating (and lifestyle) patterns.

    Just the simple act of considering “what is my hinge habit?” or “what could I make a hinge habit?” is powerful in and of itself. That decision to pause–to say “what’s really going on here?”–already expands awareness of self…and awareness of our choices.

    Then, taking the next step of picking one thing–one doable action–and committing to do it creates movement….and momentum.

    For me? Daily yoga practice–at the start and end of each day–affects everything.

  13. Hey Mark,
    My hinge habit is first thing to jump on my rebounder for five minutes . It really get me moving. Then coffee with one heaping teaspoon of coconut oil in it. I then walk for at least thirty minutes , it really starts my day.

  14. Hi Mark (and everyone)

    I have two major hinge habits. The first is to do some writing first thing in the morning once I get up. I keep a daily journal / mental dump / gratitude list that helps to clear my mind, refocus and get in the right mindframe each morning. The second is that I always prepare my next day’s lunch in the evening after I’ve done my workout / yoga, before I shower and make supper. That way I never forget and have to slap together something quick and crappy the next morning. In both cases I’m just thinking of setting myself up to be as successful as I can for the coming day. Cheers!

  15. I started a couple of morning habits 3 months ago: journaling and dog walking. I’m usually up early to feed the dogs, so while they are eating, I am updating my PB 90-day journal. Then, the dogs and I head out for a 45 minute walk. We live in a very active community; there are plenty walkers, runners, and cyclists out and about. There’s something about that energy of the community (and my dogs) that always gets my day off to a good start.

  16. Our dog determines the hinge habits in this household! She calls out the walks and roll-around-play-time… and thank goodness, as she reminds me that it’s time to move. Like right now – down to the river we go!

  17. @Admin

    Happy to see MDA is up and running once more… ..since it’s one of my pivot propensity .I start my day saying something positive and strong of others around me. Positive vitality sets the stage for each movement that takes after for the duration of the day.

    Regards
    Priyanka

  18. I began several morning propensities 3 months prior: journaling and puppy strolling. I’m for the most part up right on time to sustain the pooches, so while they are eating, I am upgrading my PB 90-day diary. At that point, the puppies and I take off for a 45 minute walk. We live in an exceptionally dynamic group; there are bounty walkers, runners, and cyclists all over the place. There’s something about that vitality of the group (and my mutts) that dependably gets my three day weekend to a decent begin.

  19. Hello! I tried the link to the “string of successes – accomplishing one single, strategic task each day for ten full days. I’ll even post a handy PDF here that you can print off and stick on the fridge.” but when I clicked on the PDF, there was nothing. Can you email me the sheet?