Typically, going away on vacation or working from another office throws a major wrench in all of my routines. Being away for 10 days means there are going to be 10 days where I wake up in a different place at a different time and interact with different people. Unfortunately, this wreaks havoc on my habits. It’s not because I’m fixated on being in a new city. It’s not because I, all of a sudden, do not need to get anything done. Its because a simple part of most of my habits have been removed. In The Power of Habit, you can find out about the three essential components of a habit: the cue, the action, and the reward. The reward is what you get from the habit, and its still there wherever you are. The action is the actual habit you have and what you do to get it done, and you can do this anywhere with some planning. The cue is what triggers you to take this action, it’s what tips you off that you need to do something to get a reward. Vacations and work trips tend to remove a lot of cues from people. Getting rid of this first step makes it much more difficult to will yourself into action.
All of our habits are linked not only to psychological cues but physical cues as well. If you jog every morning, your physical cue might be the exact hue of blue that dawn brings right when you step outside with your sneakers on. Our bad habits work the same as well. A stressful dinner with your girlfriends parents is a common cue for a glass of wine when you get home. Whether you know it or not, these cues are much more indicative of you taking the action than reminding yourself that you get a reward. If you care about your reward, you need to make sure that your cues come when they’re needed and your actions are simple enough not to discourage you. Also understand that you want to put yourself in situations where the cues you want to show up are happening much more often than those cues that we could do less of.
Relocating, physically or psychologically, is going to require you to relocate your cues as well. What this looks like is making sure your cues come with you or planning time to do your actions if you know your cues are not going to be there waiting. If both of these are not possible, you’re just going to frontload all of your necessary to-do’s before you leave your cues. While you might be able to get some of your homework done before you go, keep in mind which habits cannot be squeezed in. Going to the gym for 16 hours the day before your two-week vacation sounds like hell and is not going to keep you in shape in the long-term.
This week, I used a combination of these things to keep me on track with my goals. I did all of my writing before I left because it was easy enough to front-load. Four days before I left, I made sure to spend an hour each day working on my book. This would give me enough pages to keep on track just as if I had done it on the regular schedule. I also brought a small journal and used it to keep track of places I wanted to visit. While not working on the book, it made sure I kept the habit of writing while I was away. When I get back. I just have to switch the journal with book writing and I’ll be less rusty than I would be without it. What I was trying to do was keep my reward the same (writing consistently), by changing my action (tiny journal when I pass by something interesting) and making sure I had a cue that fit my environment (it easy to see interesting things in a city you haven’t been to before). With this, I was able to keep flexing the writing muscle even though I had left my cues thousands of miles away.
When you are intentional about staying on track, nothing can stop you. Instead of being upset at myself before I leave because I know I’m about to fall off the horse on a few different habits, I use that time to come up with a plan. Either I get it all done before I go, or I change up my cues to make sure I will come across them in an unfamiliar setting. The cues might seem like the least significant part of your habits, but they are equally as important as everything else. We all want the reward and we all know we need to take action to get it. We all want to eat and we know we’re going to have to cook. Unfortunately, too many of us are stopped before we even get to that point. Thankfully, we get hungry when we need to eat. That’s the cue. I don’t have a sense of hunger when it comes to most of my goals. I have to invent my own cues. Then I have to make new ones every once in a while if I change certain things about my life. The important part here is recognizing your cues and recognizing when you have to make new ones if you really want that reward.