November 9, 2020
For years, I have tried without success to establish a habit of consistent exercise. Over the course of my adult life, I have hired personal trainers, purchased home fitness equipment, joined various gyms.
Some of these attempts at establishing a lasting habit managed to last weeks, some months, one stretch went over a year.
But, in the end, none of these workout routines ever felt like a natural part of me. They always required a significant amount of willpower and I never really found much enjoyment in them. Those conditions are not favorable to forming a lifelong habit.
A New Hope
After some reflection I realized that there is a form of exercise that I enjoy.
I like to dance.
This is not to say I am graceful, talented, or skilled at dancing. But I definitely enjoy it. When a song starts playing, it is difficult for me not to move to the music in some way.
So, how to put that realization to some practical use?
After all, I’ve enjoyed dancing for as long as I can remember, but it has never become a habit, and I hadn’t really thought about it as exercise.
Over the summer a few things came together to spark an idea that seemed promising:
First, the addition of the dance workout in watchOS 7 validated that yes, dancing is an exercise. Maybe even more important for me is that dance workouts can now be measured and tracked in the Apple fitness ecosystem.
Second, on our personal productivity podcast The Weekly Review, Jean MacDonald and I have talked about forming habits on a number of episodes. The three books we have focused on are The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg; Atomic Habits by James Clear; and Good Habits, Bad Habits by Wendy Wood.
One key principle in establishing a habit is the need for a cue to trigger the behavior.
And then it hit me:
If sometime during the day loud dance music suddenly started playing in my house, it would be difficult for me to not get up and dance.
This led me to the Home app where I found out I could set up a Scene to play a particular playlist on my HomePod. And I could set up an Automation to play that Scene every day at a particular time.
In Apple Music, I already had a Dance playlist that I hadn’t really touched in years from way back in the early iTunes days.
I set it all up and the daily Dance Party! was born.
One suggestion in Atomic Habits is that when establishing a habit, the consistency of repeating the habit is more important than the length of time or progress made during any one iteration of the habit.
So, I made the commitment to myself that once the dance party started, I would definitely dance all the way through the first song. And if I wasn’t feeling it after that, I could consider the dance party done for the day.
The first dance party was on Sept 23, 2020 and I’ve now successfully had a dance party every day for the last six weeks!
A typical dance part lasts 20 - 25 minutes.
Another part of the daily ritual is, when that first song starts playing, as I get up to dance I yell out “Dance Party!” to nobody in particular. It’s a bit of cheesy forced enthusiasm that helps kick things off.
Finally, I use a technique called habit stacking to follow my dance workout with a cool down workout where I do about 10 minutes of stretching. Between the two workouts I close my Exercise ring for the day.
You’d think that having a scheduled time set up that I would never be surprised by a dance party. But you’d think wrong. I’ve been woken from weekend naps and startled from coding by the daily dance party.
Will this last? I can’t say.
But, I know this feels different than other things I’ve attempted. I’m excited about it and I’m largely having fun doing it. And on days when I’m really not in the mood, I do keep that commitment to dance through a single song. So far, even on those day, my brain has successfully slipped into “well, might as well finish” mode and I’ve done a full dance party.
I don’t tweet about it every day, but if you do see me tweet “Dance Party!” now you’ll know exactly what I’m up to. •