My 88-Year-Old Grandfather’s Approach to Habit-Forming

habit-forming wisdom
5 min read

My grandpa recently turned 88 years old. When I gave him a call on his birthday, he was as energetic as ever. I know he’s a disciplined man who relies on very strict routines. But I realized I never asked him about his habit-forming process.

He’s been doing the same things for all of his adult life. Back then, there were no books and blogs on habits. For example, he’s been going to bed and waking up at the same time for ages. 

Another thing he does is going for a daily walk. And he recently got a stationary bike that he also uses every day. One of the things I’ve been writing about for years is that you don’t need to look at scientific research on habits to figure out what to do.

If you have a healthy grandparent or elderly family member, just look at what they do. You’ll see the patterns. Look at the good things they do and copy them. That’s what I’ve been doing with my grandfather as well.

So asked him, “Gramps, I know your habits are really important to you. How did you go about forming your habits?” Here’s his process.

Step 1: Decide what habit you want to form

He said, “First, you need to know what you want to start doing every day. And why do you want to do it? I started the stationary bike because I can’t go for long walks anymore but I still want to stay active.”

So many people look at what “successful people” do and try to copy their habits. But when they try to wake up at 4 AM for a week and feel like shit, they think they’ve failed. 

Look, the extreme stuff is not for everybody. I like David Goggins, the ultra runner, and author of Can’t Hurt Me, but I’m not going to copy his habits. The guy runs for hours a day and then spends two hours stretching. That’s his mission, but not mine.

Just because other people do something doesn’t mean you should too. Just challenge yourself to stay active, healthy, and happy. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are 10 small habits that have a huge return on the quality of life.

Step 2: Pick a set time for your habit

“When you know what you want to do every day, it’s important to know when you want to do it. I wake up at 8:30 AM, say hello to my neighbors, have breakfast, watch a little bit of tv, drink my cup of coffee at 10:30 AM, then go on the stationary bike for 10 minutes,” and gramps basically went through his whole day with me.

The point is that he has a set time for everything he values. For example, his walk is every day at 3:30 PM. 

I’ve only learned the importance of picking a set time for your habits recently. I’ve been doing well with my daily habits like writing, working out, reading, journaling, meditating, but I didn’t always do it at the same time.

I’ve been meditating in recent weeks twice a day at the same time, which has been huge. I do it when I wake up and before I go to bed. And I’m getting better at scheduling my workouts at the same time every day as well. That’s a bit more challenging because of my work, but I’m confident I can make it happen.

It always comes down to prioritizing. How important is something to you?  Since most people who read this aren’t retired, we have to decide which habits matter the most to us. For those habits, we can pick a set time to execute them every day. And when you set a time to do something, rely on a system that’ll help you not put it off for “later.”

Step 3: Measure your habits

“When it’s time for my walk, I do ten rounds at the courtyard of our apartment complex,” he said, and I absolutely love this. He doesn’t just go for a walk, no he does ten rounds, haha.

He also doesn’t drink four or five cups of coffee. No, at 10:30 AM, he drinks one and that’s it. Everything he does is measured. My grandfather is a bit extreme with this because he also measures all the portions he eats. I’m not that rigid.

But I still like to measure my habits whenever possible. When I journal, my goal is to just write one sentence. For lifting weights, it’s to do it for at least 30 minutes each time. For my runs, it’s a bit more flexible because it depends on how my legs feel. 

What matters is that you think about how much you want to do something. Want to walk every day? For how long? Want to read daily? Same thing. 

When you can measure your habits, you also know how much time it takes so you can schedule it on your calendar. It gives you a lot more clarity.

Step 4: Do it for at least one week

Most people quote research that says it takes 66 days on average to form a habit. My grandfather disagrees: “In my experience, it takes a week to get used to doing something regularly. So if you successfully wake up at the same time every day for seven days straight, you can count on yourself to do it every day from that point.”

That’s really solid advice. Why set the bar low? Why assume you can’t form a habit faster than 66 days

I learned that gramps is pretty ambitious when it comes to habit-forming. He believes in his own ability so much that he’s able to form a habit within a week. If he can do that with his age, you and I can too.

The key about forming habits is not what habits you form; it’s how long you do it for. I’d rather be a person who writes one sentence a day for 50 years than someone who writes one book and never writes again. Long-term activity is the key.

And I believe that’s one of the reasons my grandfather is still self-sufficient and clear-minded. Some might say it’s his genes, but his mother died in her fifties, his father in his sixties, and none of his siblings were self-sufficient after their late sixties.

It seems like his lifestyle made the difference. And I hope he inspired you as much as he inspired me to form good habits and make sure I stick to them.

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