One of my habit mentors, James Clear (even though he doesn’t know he’s my mentor), has a few examples of reaching a critical threshold that I just have to share with you. And then expand upon, obviously.
His examples go as such from his book, Atomic Habits:
“Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change. This pattern shows up everywhere. Cancer spends 80 percent of its life undetectable, then takes over the body in months. Bamboo can barely be seen for the first five years as it builds extensive root systems underground before exploding ninety feet into the air within six weeks.”
But a favorite of mine from him is raising the temperature of an ice cube to melt it. If the ice cube starts off at 15 degrees, it’s not until it reaches 33 degrees that it will begin to melt. However, the energy/work it takes to raise the cube 17 degrees goes unnoticed and unappreciated, and quite frankly, is usually disregarded.
Unfortunately, the same happens for our health-related efforts.
Before I take you down that rabbit hole though, imagine what if it wasn’t the case. Imagine if the opposite were true and we got the immediate gratification we sought, but that the reverse was also true.
Imagine if every time you each bite of cake resulted in your jeans tightening around your thighs. Or that celebratory glass of champagne instantly added some fluff to a muffin top. Or your muscles visibly shrank with each day of not lifting weights.
Sounds terrible, right?!
Why then, do we have such trouble with the concept of a critical threshold?
It’s because our monkey brains want instant gratification, but not instant consequences.
We want the immediate positive reinforcement of an immediately slimmer waist or more defined arms, but we don’t want the negative consequences of our poorer decisions.
We want to have our cake and eat it too.
Health Takes Time
As I mentioned above, unfortunately the efforts toward our health often go unnoticed (because results take time) and therefore go underappreciated.
There’s a motivational fitness saying about, “in two weeks you’ll feel it; in four weeks you’ll see it; in eight weeks you’ll hear it.” It references how long it takes to start seeing the results of your efforts (and eight weeks being when others begin to notice).
But that means a whole month of moving your body and making better food choices to start seeing a change.
Your body is essentially taking four weeks to heat up the water 17 degrees and then that next workout or next healthy meal is that extra one degree to start seeing the effects and the payoff.
Because we’re wired to want immediate results, many of us don’t make it the four weeks.
With the new year right around the corner (literally, tomorrow), it feels prudent to mention most resolutions don’t even make it to February which is right on par with the whole idea of the critical threshold.
Which is why designing our habits to work in the background is so effective at getting us healthier.
When we do a little leg work up front to design healthy habits, then it happens automatically in the background without us noticing… until one day we see the water melt! (aka our clothes fit differently or someone compliments us on looking great!)
Smarter, Not Harder
Instead of making a resolution, do yourself one better and make a healthy habit.
Let your habit do the legwork of getting you to the critical threshold, and then after a bit you’ll begin to notice the changes and it’ll be motivation for you to create more habits!
Healthy habits are the opposite of the traditional method. Instead of spending so much energy, time and effort trying to heat the cube 17 degrees (and usually quitting before you get to melting point), you’re letting your healthy habits do that work in the background and then you get to reap the benefits and see the one degree work like magic.
If you need a healthy habit kickstart, sign up for my 3-day habit stack challenge below!
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