Habits like company

For the past few years, I have been a regular attendee of, and evangelist for, Orange Theory Fitness. The instructors are excellent and motivating, the routine worked well for my schedule, and it was nice to feel like part of a club of people who all struggled with burpees at the same time.

That all changed in March 2020, when the global pandemic made working out with others a nonstarter. And when the pandemic hit, I struggled. Hard.

I tried multiple things, like getting a rowing machine and trying to row every morning, jogging with my spouse and sister-in-law, and even strength training with MyFitnessPal. Nothing stuck.

Then, a couple of my friends all roughly simultaneously revealed their affinity for Peloton and suggested I try the Peloton app. I did, and I have been working out everyday since.

Now, for some people, the Peloton app may not work. But it worked for me for a very specific reason: I don’t like to exercise alone. And even though Peloton is still very much just me, working out downstairs, the fact that other people I know are taking these same classes is enough for me to stick with it.

And this, I think, helped me understand something deeper about habits. In general, we think of habits as personal choices, something that can be cultivated. But the more I read about habits and learn about systems generally, it seems increasingly obvious that habits are a product of the environment in which you operate. And if you make your habits part of that environment, they’re more likely to stick.

Relatedly, this month helped reinforce a separate insight into habits, which is the strategy of “pairing.” This strategy involves using an existing habit as the basis for cultivating new habits. The most common example is around combining guilty pleasures like TV shows or magazines with time on the treadmill, but it’s true for most habits. Indeed, BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits theories build on this idea of using preexisting triggers to develop new habits.

All of which is to say: in more ways than one, habits like company.

Have you found ways to make habits stickier? Have you tried to pair your habits? How might you make your habits a part of your environment?