Trying to make changes to your lifestyle isn’t easy. We often get caught up in a cycle of “bad habits” that are hard to break. This is because we are meant to conserve energy (remember Decision Fatigue!). The challenge is then to try to implement new habits that will improve your health and performance, and get away from habits that are damaging. In order to do this, we need to make our lifestyle changes as easy as possible and we need to be consistent.

Consistency is the key to a high performance life. Doing something over and over is the way that you build habits that are sustainable and lifelong. World class performers in all disciplines practice every day until their skills are automatic. They build daily routines to make sure that they can perform on demand. You can do exactly the same thing. Once you practice something repeatedly it becomes a habit and you no longer have to expend energy thinking about it or planning it into your day — like brushing your teeth in the morning or putting on your seat belt when you get in the car.

Let’s look back at all the pillars of health we’ve discussed and how consistency plays a huge role in our health and habit formation.

1. Sleep. In one of our earliest newsletters during the pandemic, we discussed the importance of maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. This is because sleep consistency is just as important as the amount of sleep we get each night. We all have an internal biological clock, our circadian rhythm, which regulates everything from our energy levels, to our mood, to our hormones throughout the day. When we go to bed and wake up at different times each night, this disrupts our circadian rhythm, which can lead to insomnia, fatigue, loss of appetite, depressed mood, and decreased physical and mental performance. We’d have similar side effects if we flew across a few time zones and were experiencing jet lag! So keeping your sleep schedule consistent is incredibly important. And the first step to consistency is to set a bedtime alarm. Make sure you’re setting an alarm to go off at the same time every night, one hour before you’d like to be asleep. That’s your cue to put away your devices and start winding down your body and mind for a deep, restful sleep.

2. Exercise. For optimal performance and health, you should be incorporating what we call the 4 “F”s of Fitness into your weekly routine: Fit (aerobic training), Fast (sprint training), Force (strength training), and Flex (flexibility training). All of these components of fitness are important as they serve different functions. To be at the top of your game, we suggest incorporating all four into your weekly routine. However, the bonus “F” of fitness is Fun. And this is where consistency comes into play. You are never going to stick with a fitness routine that you don’t enjoy. Think about how you feel when you’re doing an activity you hate compared to when you’re doing an activity you really enjoy. There’s no point in planning to run every day if you absolutely hate it. You won’t stick with it, you’ll feel discouraged when you are unable to sustain it, and you will be less likely to try a fitness routine again. Alternatively, if you really enjoy playing in the park with your kids, going for bike rides, and doing a yoga class once per week, then continue doing that! Research has also shown that even low levels of leisure time physical activity (equivalent to 75 minutes of brisk walking per week) decreases risk of all-time mortality by about 20%, compared to being sedentary. So find an activity that you like and add it to your routine. It’s much better to do a daily walk than to do an intense exercise regime that you quit after a week. Remember, consistency is key! That’s how you’re going to develop lifelong habits and routines.

Figure from Moore et al. 2012. The dose-response effect of physical activity and mortality risk is a steep, early slope, with about 50% of the benefits obtained with low levels of physical activity (the equivalent of 75 minutes of brisk walking per week). More physical activity will provide more benefits, however even a little bit of physical activity significantly reduces risk of all-cause mortality.

3. Nutrition. One of the challenges of working from home is not having a consistent eating schedule. When going into the office, school, or other place of work, there is usually a set time for you to take a break and have your lunch or snacks. However, when working from home, it’s easy to get caught up in work and have a really late lunch or even miss a meal. This inconsistency can lead to some bad habits. When you wait until you’re extremely hungry, you’re not going to make good food choices. But if you plan ahead and are consistent with your meal timing, you can grab the already prepared snacks ready to go to ensure you’re fueling your body properly. Another thing to keep in mind is that having an occasional treat isn’t the end of the world if you’re eating healthy, whole, unprocessed foods 90% of the time. Similarly, if you have generally bad eating habits, having a healthy smoothie one morning doesn’t make up for the junk food you had every other day of the week. Dr. John Berardi, founder of Precision Nutrition, calls this the Myth of Game Day Nutrition. Sure, what you eat on the morning of your big race, game, or presentation is important, but what’s much more important is what you’ve been consistently fueling your body with for the months prior to help you prepare for the big day.

4. Mindset. Like any other lifestyle change, meditation is a habit that needs to be practiced over and over in order for it to become part of your regular routine. Like other habits, one of the ways that you can make meditation stick is to do it at the exact same time every single day. Some people prefer to meditate in the morning, others as a midday break, and others before falling asleep. Whatever works for you is fine — just keep it consistent. Doing something at the same time every day is one of the keys to habit formation. If meditation isn’t for you, you can incorporate other ‘micropractices’ into your day to improve mental health such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or gratitude.

What are we finding in the research?

In 2019, a team of researchers aimed to uncover if consistency in time of day that individuals exercised had an impact on physical activity levels. The researchers looked at successful weight loss maintainers who were part of the National Weight Control Registry. They found that ‘temporal consistency’, or exercising at the same time of day, was associated with higher levels of moderate-vigorous physical activity compared to those who were ‘temporally inconsistent’ with their exercise. The researchers observed that the specific time of day (e.g. morning, afternoon, or evening) had no effect on physical activity levels, as long as the individual performed them at the same time every day.

Bottom line — if you want to implement a habit, do it at the same time every day to help it stick!

Read the research summary here.

Physiologist, Scientist & Author. Helping people live healthier, high-performance lives via decoding science & sharing actionable tips, strategies and tactics.