Habits over Life Hacks
Why it pays to do small things with great consistency
There’s no shortage of advice on the internet, and the life hacks we see shared on social media can be super intriguing. If you travel far enough down the life hack rabbit hole, you’ll encounter strategies for sleeping just two hours at a time so that you can spend more hours awake and productive. Down in the depths of life hackery, there’s a guy who promises that working out for just one minute each day will deliver incredible results, and a study that recommends swearing out loud to help you push through pain during your workouts. Intriguing, right?
We’re all for seeking out new experiences in pursuit of our best selves. But the truth is, not every lifestyle change needs to be flashy in order to have a lasting impact on your health. You’ve already come a long way in understanding that the things you value most—like your health and your relationships—need care in order to flourish. You’ve graduated from an all ramen diet (most days!) because you know that what you eat matters. You know that the more you move, the better you feel. And you understand that your brain and body need to spend extended time in a state of deep sleep in order to function optimally.
Life fills up. Demands on our time, from every direction, come between us and our best intentions. Before we realize it, there seems to be no time left to take a quick run, or to steam broccoli, or even to sleep. Self-care gets replaced by chronic stress, and our health and fertility decline. Lucky for us, there’s already an entire field of research devoted to the science of habit formation, with strategies for building (and, more importantly, maintaining) new habits. Think of habit-building as life-hacking, but for grownups.
Stack your habits
For researchers, a habit is any action that is automatically triggered by a cue in our environment. For example, we wash our hands (action!) after going to the bathroom (cue!), without consciously meaning to. This action-cue relationship is key to adding a successful new habit to your routine.
When you’re ready to create a new habit, you need to find a reliable cue to link it with. Here’s an example: your plans for your future family are coming into focus. You’re looking to optimize your fertility, and you’ve sourced a high-quality men’s prenatal vitamin. To make a habit of taking your vitamin each morning, you’ll need to find a cue in your existing routine. Maybe that means you store the vitamin bottle next to the protein powder you mix each morning, or in the vanity drawer next to your toothbrush. By stacking your new habit with an existing habit you like, you increase the odds of making it stick. Brush your teeth (cue), take your vitamin (action). Habitual self-care, handled!
Our brains are wired to love the cognitive efficiency of habits. Linking repeated behaviors to the cues that turn up over and over in our environments frees up our brains to think about other stuff. But there’s a limit to the load of behaviors that our brains can put on autopilot. Habits need to be small enough to run almost on their own.
You have big goals: you want to be in optimal health as you prepare to become a dad. You want to boost your sperm count, increase your sperm motility, and give yourself and your partner the best possible chance of a healthy pregnancy and child. By giving your goals expression in microsteps, even on the busiest days, you’ll set yourself up for success.
It’s OK to stumble.
Just don’t stop! Health habits are a long-term game. It can take some trial and error to figure out the right cue for your new habit. When you notice your new habit making a positive impact on your goals, it’s important to celebrate. In fact, taking note of small wins has been linked to increased creativity and productivity. Plus, all that positive cheerleading is going to make you a great dad.