In January 2024, I did something every day that I’ve never in my life done every day. I did yoga.
For comparison, here’s my count of yoga days for 2023:
Or if you like charts (I do), it looks like this:
I know what happened in March and April, August and September to pull me down. I was dealing with the aftermath of Covid followed by bronchitis.
But why was January 2024 so successful, the only month where I practiced every single day? What lessons can I take from this and apply to other potential habits?
- Use a tool I like. I use the Down Dog app, recommended by my friend Sabine. There is no yoga app I enjoy as much. I get to pick the practice, the duration, and the voice (Mars).
- Start small and stay small for as long as is necessary to establish the habit. The timer for my daily practice is set for twelve minutes. That gives me six sun salutations. If you think that’s small, in 2023, I was at four. And when I first started, I told myself I only had to do one. There were days I did one sun salutation and got off the mat. It was more important to establish the routine than to increase the reps.
- Don’t overcomplicate things. I tried adding back exercises at the end of the yoga session. The result was that after two days, I did neither. Now, even though my twelve minutes gives me six sun salutations, I do only four. While the instructor talks through the last two, I go my own way and do back exercises. I return at the end for the lay-down part because the good feelings make me want to come back again tomorrow.
- Build in accountability. This is essential for me because I tend to break promises I make to myself (but not to others). Plus, I have a high drive for external validation. In December, Down Dog sent a broadcast telling users they’d be entered in a drawing for Down Dog merch if they did Down Dog every day in January. Sign me up!
In January, Down Dog sent an announcement every Friday saying, “Congratulations! You’ve one of [number of people] who have done Down Dog every day in January.”
Here’s the calendar showing how many people got that message every Friday.
Let’s turn that into a line chart.
The lesson I took from these results is that it’s important to set myself up for success at the beginning, when the new habit is most fragile. That’s why I started my January Down Dog practice in December.
- Have a Plan B. Normally I do my yoga in the morning, right after I wake up. But some days I was too tired or had to go to the dentist or something got in the way. Over the month, I learned that the evening, at least an hour after dinner, was the best fallback time.
- Minimize friction. My yoga sweats hang on a hook in my bedroom. When I wake up, I pull the sweatpants and sweatshirt on over my PJs, pull my mat out from under the bed, and head to the living room. I don’t even turn on the lights. It’s cold in the winter and I don’t want to take off my PJs to get into yoga clothes. Doing it this way means I don’t have to.
- Experiment to see what works. In December 2023, I tried waking up, walking Roxie, and then doing yoga. But I never felt like it. I was hungry and wanted breakfast. Because Roxie doesn’t pee right away on our walks, I figured she could wait. So, I experimented. I woke up, did yoga/back exercises, then walked Roxie, then had breakfast. It worked. Here’s proof: When I leave the bedroom, Roxie stays curled in her bed until she hears the yoga practice ending. Then, when I’m at the end, in Corpse Pose, she comes padding out.
- The accountability partner must reinforce accountability. If I haven’t done my morning yoga, at 8PM Down Dog sends a notification: “Don’t break your streak!” When that happens, I immediately grab my mat and do yoga in whatever I’m wearing. Usually that’s leggings and a tunic, but sometimes it’s been cargo pants and a sweater. Now when I get dressed in the morning, if I haven’t already done my yoga, I make sure to pull on clothes that will work on the mat.
I wrote this on January 30th, with one day to go on the yoga challenge. You can be darn sure I was on the mat on the 31st.
I want a Down Dog mug.
But even if I don’t win any merch, the prize was what I learned from the practice.
(Plus, my back and hips feel better, and it’s easier for me to stand on one foot while I pull on my socks.)
Chewing the Cud of Good
Thankful for the support and consistency of my weekday writing group.