The Art of Long-Term Lifestyle Solutions, Part Three: Finding Precursors To Your Day

The Art of Long-Term Lifestyle Solutions, Part Three: Finding Precursors To Your Day

The precursor is the decision before the decision, a layer that helps you follow through.

Akash Vaghela Akash Vaghela · Mar 11th, 2019

Mindset Beginner
11 Mins


    In this instalment of the Art of Long-Term, Lifestyle Solutions, we explore a practice that has become deeply ingrained in the RNT methodology : the precursor method. This is something often overlooked, and an area that ties in very closely with our ideas surrounding decision fatigue. 

    Making commitments, eliminating decisions and having your 3Ss in place is one half of the battle. The other half is what happens just before you execute. It's the decision before the decision, the moment prior to acting. Ultimately, it's the hinging task that your success of execution hangs on. 

    Everyday you'll face your precursors, and your ability to do what you need to do relies on how you approach the situation. You might overthink, have an excuse or lose the battle to a shifting priority. Chances are, though, if your ability to execute is compromised, something about your structure, strategy or system has changed. 

    That's where becoming hyper aware of and mastering your individual precursors is so critical. Just as you want to eliminate the decision of doing, you also want to eliminate the decision that comes before the action. 

    Are You Choosing The Path Of Least Resistance?

    It’s never about willpower. It’s human nature, and choosing the path of least resistance in that very moment of deciding whether you want to meal prep or get a takeaway. Whether you’ll train and do your steps, or sit on the sofa and watch a movie. Or when you wake up at 5am and think ‘it’s dark and cold outside, do I really go and train?’

    Everyone at some point will go through this, but the key is to eliminate the decision that comes before the action.

    This is part of the reverse engineering process of execution. While you may have decided you’re going to do something, that’s only half the battle.

    To really execute, you need to find the hinging task, or the moment prior, that matters more to the task than you think.

    For example, ask yourself this…
    • How many times have you put on your gym kit in the morning and not trained?
    • How many times have you got an entire week's shopping and not cooked your meals at home?
    • How many times have you put on your running shoes when you've arrived home from work and not done your cardio? 
    In each situation, it's the moment just before the action that's critical. The gym kit, the shopping, the running shoes make or break what happens next. 

    Battling The Negative Precursor

    Precursors aren't inherently always positive. For example, when you're waiting in a queue, that may be a precursor for you to pull your phone out. When Friday night comes around, that may be a precursor for a big meal out with a heavy drinking session after. You see where I'm going with this? 

    One example I often hear is people finish work having already made the decision not to carry their gym kit with them. Instead, they've said they'll go after having dinner at home. The problem here is they've combined two precursors that'll make it harder to leave the house once they're there - the simple act of getting home and the eating of a meal. Both will trigger relaxing and shutting down for the day - the opposite to the original intention. 

    By using positive precursors, such as changing into your gym kit before leaving work, you'll guarantee an increased rate and intensity of sessions completed. This will make it harder to fall back on the 'relaxing' precursor of training after dinner. 

    The key lesson here is to look at the structure of your day and be self-aware enough to know which precursors are serving you, and which are setting you back. The goal is to unlock more mental capacity and remove the 'should I do this now?" battle in your head. 

    Minimising Decision Fatigue With Precursors

    We talk a lot about decision fatigue, and the importance of minimising it to improve your chances of success in any area of your life. The art of the pre-cursor slides very well alongside this by making the habit or task you’re trying to achieve automatic.

    The precursor is the ‘decision before the decision’, and if you can automate that process of your action-taking, you’re going to prime yourself for success. You’ll unlock even more mental capacity to move and explore within, and won’t be faced with the constant battle in your head of ‘should I really do this now?’.

    Historically Positive Precursors

    The art of the precursor isn’t anything new. For years people have been implementing precursors for mindset and mindfulness with examples such as journaling, morning training and yoga, music to trigger deep work and deep breathing exercises. These are ‘mindset precursors’ for many, and without these, getting into optimal flow state to perform may not be possible.

    Of course, these only form part of your process chain. These habits are precursors to optimal mindset. But what about doing these habits themselves? What precursor do you need to start journaling? Or to trigger the music for deep work? Or to go and train first thing?

    Here are a few of my precursors that I have implemented to enhance my productivity. 

    I’m an early riser and the most important part of my morning is my writing. I love to write for 2 to 3 hours. But I still need to create an environment to enable this, and so I use precursors to make it as easy and automatic as possible.

    Here’s what I do to reverse engineer my habit of writing, whether it’s for a blog, newsletter, social media or case study.

     Start of the week:
    • Note key written content that needs to be done
    The night before:
    • Open up a document and make a little note on what I want to write about. 
    Wake up and go through following routine:
    • Brush teeth
    • Put on gym T shirt, hoody and tracksuit bottoms (for later in the day – another precursor)
    • Journal for five minutes (already laid out next to me – another precursor)
    • Walk downstairs and mix psyllium husk, lemon and salt into a glass of water
    • Use the bathroom and read for five minute
    • Sit on corner sofa, open up laptop
    • Play Chopin’s Nocturnes, Op. 9: No.1 in B Flat Minor on repeat
    • Start writing
    This stack of habits and precursors are now automatic. There are no more ‘should I write in the morning?’ thoughts. It’s planned thoroughly in advance (twice) and then executed as per my precursors. The big three here are the notes written night before, the opening of the laptop, and the music. Without these, none are possible. They sound simple, but it’s now so ingrained into my routine that writing 1000 words a day at the absolute minimum is a piece of cake.

    Finding Your Precursor Domino

    Perfecting the art of the precursor is a critical part of creating a long-term, lifestyle solution. The easier wins you can create here to automate the ‘decision before the decision’, the higher the chance you’ll have in achieving success with your goal.

    To get started, here are the four key takeaways:
    • The precursor has to be the easiest part of the process, and one with the least resistance that can be done at any point without thought. Examples include putting on your running shoes, opening a book, opening an app, and buying the groceries.
    • Creating these precursors at the turning points in your day will change the way you act just by virtue. Examples include the morning period, lunchtime at work, immediately after work and the one hour pre bed. If you can manage to put precursors in those times for the tasks you want to achieve or do daily, you will be in a very good place to be able to execute them daily.
    • If you already have a solid routine, your best solution is to analyse your day and find precursors to certain things you want to change. If every week you have to use a lot of willpower to achieve something, or if there’s a moment where you fall short every week, e.g. ‘shall we just get a takeaway and a bottle of wine’ on a Friday night, you’ll need to implement a precursor to stop this if you’re in a dieting phase. An example could be to buy food (and all the ingredients) conducive to your goals for Friday on a Thursday.
    • Analyse your current set up and find situations in your day you want to automate, and then put something in place to make that happen prior to the event. For example, if you want to stop worrying about whether you’re going to eat chicken or turkey today, plan it the week before, or just follow a set meal plan. If getting dressed in the morning causes a ton of stress and zaps your energy, create a ‘uniform’. You want to try to automate as many of the menial, non-creative components of your day so you can save time and energy for the tasks that matter most.
    To live life on your own terms, and to have a lifestyle that makes being in shape seamless, you need to incorporate various solutions into the mix.

    From guestimating, to buffering and to implementing various pre-cursors, the aim of this series is to arm you with the tools you need to get into the shape of your life, for life.

    If you are intrigued and want to find out more about how to identify your specific precursor domino I talk about it a lot more in my book Transform Your Body. Transform Your Life. The book gives you all the tools you need to achieve your goals and become the best version of yourself. 
    Akash VaghelaAkash Vaghela

    Akash Vaghela has spent 10+ years transforming bodies and lives around the world, and in May 2017, founded RNT Fitness to serve this purpose. His vision is to see a world transformed, where ambitious high performers experience the power of the physical as the vehicle to unlock their real potential. He’s the author of the Amazon best-selling book Transform Your Body Transform Your Life, which explains his unique and proven five-phase methodology, is host of the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, has been featured in the likes of Men’s Health and BBC, whilst regularly speaking across the world on all things transformation.

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