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

In this instalment of the Art of Long-Term, Lifestyle Solutions, Nathan ‘the Hitman’ Johnson dives deep into a topic he’s extremely passionate about, and one he’s utilised extensively with himself recently: the precursor method. This is something often overlooked, and an area that ties in very closely with our ideas surrounding decision fatigue. If you’re looking to optimise your day, master new habits, and achieve your goals, you’ll want to read this.

Like with anything worth achieving; whether it’s a successful career, getting into incredible shape, taking back control of your health, having meaningful relationships, or learning a new skill – it all comes from the art of doing.

For the majority of goals you may have, there will always be a set of specific processes or principles that you will need to abide by to get to your goals. And ultimately, if you can execute on these processes on a daily basis with ruthless consistency, you’ll be able to get close to, and/or achieve your goal.

Where you might stumble is often in the actioning of the tasks that contribute to your goal. Either because you overthink the situation, have an excuse, or because shifting priorities take over. Every day, you’ll find yourself with mini turning points or precursor situations whereby if you complete those actions, the activity / habit / task you want to do that’ll help towards your goal will also be done.

I first read about this in James Clear’s book ‘Atomic Habits’, where he talks about these turning points in your day that will either make or break the habits you’re trying to move towards. I then decided to experiment with the ‘Art of the Precursor’ to build a good habit around reading books, writing a journal and learning a new language, and it worked!

After my own success around building new habits, I started to think back to the times our clients have ‘slipped up’, or had instances where they failed to tick the boxes like steps, training and meal prep. Every time we worked together and dug deep on why it happened, it was almost always the case that when ‘things don’t get done’, something about the structure and processes of the day changed, and the regular precursors to the habits weren’t used as normal.

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 your gym kit on in the morning and not trained?

How many times have you got an entire week’s online shopping delivery and not batch cooked or meal prepped?

How many times have you put on your running shoes when coming home from work and not gone for a run / completed your cardio?

Battling the Negative Precursor

Precursors aren’t inherently always positive. If you sit and analyse your day now, you will have built up multiple precursors into your day already.

For example, when you’re waiting in a queue, that may be a precursor to pull your phone out (phone use is actually driven extensively through precursors). Or 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…

More specific to a body transformation, a common example we hear of is when you finish work, and you’ve already made the decision to not carry around your gym kit with you; instead, you’ve said to yourself you’ll go after having dinner at home. You’ve now combined two precursors that’ll make it so much harder to leave the house once you’re there, and two which are inherent to relaxing and shutting down for the day. By adopting these precursors instead of changing into your gym kit before leaving work (and therefore guaranteeing an increase in your rate of sessions completed, and overall intensity of them), you’re now going to make it very hard to go against your ‘relaxing precursors’ to train after dinner.

The key lesson here is to start really dialling into your routine, and being self-aware enough to know which precursors are serving you, and which are setting you back.

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?

I asked Akash on a few of his precursors in the morning, and he said:

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 on Word with what I plan to write with a few notes

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 bathroom and read for five minutes

– Sit on corner sofa, open up laptop

– Play Chopin’s Nocturnes, Op. 9: No.1 in B Flat Minor on repeat

– Start writing

These stacks of habits and precursors are now automatic. There’s no ‘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 engrained 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’s 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 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 get into shape of your life, for life.

Related Articles

The Art of Long-Term, Lifestyle Solutions, Part One: Perfecting the Guess

The Art of Long-Term, Lifestyle Solutions, Part Two: Bridgingthe Gap with the Buffer

How To Stick To Your Diet If You’re Busy

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Akash Vaghela

Akash Vaghela is the Founder of RNT Fitness, where his mission is to see a world where everyone experiences the power of a physical body transformation to act as a vehicle for the greater good in their lives. Akash has produced 200+ blogs, 100+ videos and hosts the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, which has amassed over 110,000 downloads in 90+ countries across 100+ episodes. Alongside this, he's been seen in Men's Health, BBC, T-Nation, Elite FTS and the PTDC, while also regularly speaking nationally and internationally on all things transformation.