Habit Hack: How I Turned a Coffee Addiction Into a Daily Gym Habit
Temptation bundling my way to weight loss and better health.
TL;DR — I threw out my coffee machine and used my caffeine addiction to force myself to get espresso next door to the gym to form a daily gym habit.
When I was living in the edge of the Melbourne CBD back in 2012, I joined a gym. I went one time that whole year, and that was to sign up to the gym.
A year later when I looked at my bank statement, I saw a bunch of money that had gone to complete waste and a waistline that could use a few crunches. But “I was too busy to go to the gym!” — I “had too much to do in the day to fit it in.” I also had absolutely no willpower, so any excuse to not exercise was used.
Every morning, I would wake up, make myself a coffee, work like crazy in the studio all day, keep guzzling that sweet, sweet coffee, then poke my head out the door to realise it was nighttime. Rinse. Repeat.
I had to work out a way to either cut other stuff out of my day to fit exercise in or sacrifice sleep hours to get to the gym.
I could use my addiction to caffeine to slingshot me out of the house in the morning.
As an experiment, I threw out my coffee machine. It was a bold move. I loved coffee. I was hopelessly, helplessly addicted to caffeine. I couldn’t start the day without at least one or two shots of espresso, even after a good night’s sleep.
I found that there was a café one block from my apartment. It also happened to be right next to my gym.
I told myself that if I wanted coffee of a morning, I had no choice but to go to the café to get it— and since I was already out of the house and right next to the gym, I may as well go in for at least 30 minutes.
The first day was tough. I dragged myself out of bed and begrudgingly slipped on my sneakers before trudging down to the café for that sweet merciful hit of caffeine. I walked out of the café and grimaced as I saw the doors of the gym looming in front of me. “Oh, fuck it. Alright, I’ll go.”
I downed the coffee and stepped onto the elliptical for 20 minutes before telling myself I’d done a full workout.
As the days went on, it became easier and easier to get up and make leaving the house for coffee part of my morning routine. I ended up going to the gym every single day. I didn’t do a full workout every single visit, but I would go to the gym none the less. The daily habit had been formed.
I ended up losing a bunch of weight and after 3 months the guy at the café would know my order ahead of time and have it ready for me so I could duck in quickly to grab it on my way to the gym.
What I’ve since discovered 5 years later is that this kind of habit formation is known as temptation bundling: Taking something you want to do and pairing it with something you don’t want to do to create a replicable habit.
I highly recommend it for anyone too lazy to commit to a habit cold-turkey. Having an incentive tethered to a good habit you want to fulfil daily is a really effective way to build those neural pathways.
I also use it with monotonous monthly tasks that feel like drudgery — like pairing certain Netflix shows with invoicing/reconciliation reports. Cleaning the house + certain weekly podcasts. You can pretty much tether any enjoyable thing with something you need to do but don’t have reliable motivation.
6 years later, I still have the exact same routine in New York: I wake up, call ahead to my local café on Avenue A which is right next door to my gym, swing in and grab it before hitting the treadmill. Again, I don’t need to do a crazy TRX workout every single day — I just need to show up to ensure the habit sticks.
Truth be told, I really don’t need to the coffee to make me go these days. The runners high/endorphin rush after a workout is incentive enough, but I’m still addicted to coffee.