“Write down wins for every day” With Caitlin Jones

Write down wins for every day — it’s easy to forget the small amounts of progress we make each day, especially for high-achievers. They certainly won’t live on in our heads while we pursue the next great thing. It’s beneficial to write them down each night as a way of reinforcing our perceptions of ourselves as […]

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Write down wins for every day — it’s easy to forget the small amounts of progress we make each day, especially for high-achievers. They certainly won’t live on in our heads while we pursue the next great thing. It’s beneficial to write them down each night as a way of reinforcing our perceptions of ourselves as high-performers.

As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Caitlin Jones.

Caitlin is a certified personal trainer who helps busy professionals create lean, toned physiques without cardio or crunches. With nearly a decade in the fitness industry, she has helped hundreds of clients achieve their specific goals

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. I started dancing at the age of 3. I was a natural performer! I think my parents and siblings were glad I had an outlet where it was socially acceptable to want to be the center of attention all the time (I am a stereotypical youngest child). The main thing I remember about my childhood was playing outside all day every day. We went out after an early lunch and didn’t come back until dinnertime. We ran around the entire neighborhood barefoot. It was the best.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

In college, a few girlfriends invited me to a Zumba class, and it was anything but typical! This was a 90-minute endorphin-fest held at a popular dive bar, and led by not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 superstar female instructors. These women had a huge following and the energy in each class was electric. My dance background lent itself well to picking up the routines, and after a few weeks the instructors were pulling me up on stage to help demonstrate the dances. They encouraged me to get certified and I easily landed a spot teaching on my college campus. The rest was history!

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Oh man, it’s so hard to pick just one. I’ve pivoted careers quite a lot, and with each turn came a different set of mentors and role models. I’d have to say my mom has been the most encouraging. She doesn’t necessarily know the ins and outs of the career I’m pursuing, but she always accepts me exactly as I am and is my biggest cheerleader. Sometimes that’s all I need.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I really struggled with this, because while I’ve certainly made many mistakes, I’m not sure how funny of stories they make. After some serious reflection, I think the biggest career mistake I’ve ever made lied completely in inaction. Waiting to take action, whether out of fear of failure or just pure procrastination, cost me more time (and therefore more money) than any other tangible or concrete mistake that I’ve made. It might not make for great entertainment, but it’s true and I hope serves as a valuable lesson for others. Take messy action! Each mistake is an opportunity to learn.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Just keep showing up. Consistency is key! I auditioned for 7 NBA and NFL teams before making the Brooklynettes. I’ve auditioned for the Radio City Rockettes over a dozen times, and only once did I make it past the first round of cuts. My dance career helped immunize me against feelings of rejection. I’m not right for every opportunity and that’s okay, but by not showing up at all I can guarantee that the answer is a no. Keep showing up!

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. We do not take rest seriously enough as a society. Sleep is nature’s medicine in countless ways. It helps with weight loss, is a natural stress-reducer, boosts the immune system, protects against dozens of diseases, improves memory retention, promotes muscle recovery… should I go on? If a pharmaceutical company came out with a medication that did all of those same things, they’d make a fortune. Turns out, the magic formula is sleep and it’s freely accessible.

Specific to habits, I highly recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s an easy read and immediately actionable.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

It’s not a quote, but I love the metaphor of being a lighthouse. Lighthouses project their light and wait for the right ships to come into their harbor. The way I model this is by projecting all that I believe in and am passionate about into the world (the light), and I trust that I will attract the right clients, relationships, and opportunities (ships) into my life (harbor). I currently don’t have any tattoos, but my first one will be of a lighthouse.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

The most exciting project is my 12-week group program, Fitness Fluency. It’s for busy professionals who want to get lean and toned without cardio or crunches. That’s how I describe the program in a sentence, but really it’s about so much more than just getting into shape. It’s about better health outcomes leading to better life outcomes. It’s for women who are crushing it in their careers and communities, and want their physical self to be a reflection of everything they know they are capable of achieving. It’s about creating more energy for ourselves each day, so that we can give our purpose and passions 100% effort. We address not just fitness, nutrition, and sleep, but also goal-setting, habit formation, morning and evening routines, and more. It’s a total life transformation.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

A concept often credited to Aristotle is “We are what we repeatedly do”. Want to be a fit person? Strength train three times per week. Want to be a calm, peaceful person? Meditate every morning. Want to become a real-estate investor with a cash-flowing rental property? Make 5 offers each month.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

One of the best ways to form a habit is to surround yourself with a group of people where the desired behavior is the normal behavior. I started joining coaching programs and masterminds that introduced me to other online fitness entrepreneurs, and the rest was history. Building an online business — especially in the era of coronavirus — can feel lonely. It’s the same with wanting to eat better and get into shape! Seek out others who are looking to do the same. Humans want to feel accepted by the group and it’s easier to go with the flow in the group that’s headed in the same direction you are than to constantly be going against the grain in your social circles.

I started keeping a habit tracker almost 2 years ago, and that was a game changer for me. I always coach my clients on taking the intangible and making it tangible. There’s something about crossing off a box each day for “read 10 pages” or “ate a salad” that is so satisfying. Keeping the habit tracker somewhere easily visible (in a journal, or on the fridge) as both a reminder to perform the habits and a visual representation of your success is key.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

The easiest way to develop good habits is to make them, well, easy! Start small. If “strength train three times per week” is too much to start out, what about “change into workout clothes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday as soon as I’m finished with work”? After changing clothes, you can do whatever you want — you’ve completed the habit. However, it’s extremely likely that you will follow up this ritual with at least some movement. Our brains want to make sense of our actions. It wouldn’t make much sense to change into workout clothes to then go out for drinks, or even to plop onto the couch and binge-watch Netflix.

The reverse of this strategy is making bad habits hard. For example, I knew that my mindless scrolling through social media was mostly happening at night right before bedtime. I started settling an alarm on my phone for 830pm. At 830pm, I plug my phone into the charger which is located in a random hallway away from any comfortable places to sit. Once I’ve performed this behavior, I can do whatever I want. If I really want to use my phone for anything, I can, but I’ll be crouched down on the floor in an uncomfortable position. Most of the time, I end up reading, getting ready for bed, and falling asleep without any distractions around 930pm.

In that sense, it’s less about stopping bad habits, and more about replacing them with good habits. We want to create habits that can be made tangible and checked off on the habit tracker. “Phone in charger 830pm” can be checked off, “no scrolling on social media at night” can’t be. It’s too general. Not to mention, “no scrolling on social media at night” makes me think about scrolling on social media at night. “No more afternoon snacking” has our brains thinking about delicious afternoon snacks. A client of mine very successfully revamped her afternoon snacking using the power of affirmative habits. She had a habit of reaching for cookies and chips every afternoon. Instead of banning the cookies and chips, we put in an affirmative habit “handful of vegetables”. If she wants cookies or chips, she can eat them, after she’s eaten baby carrots with hummus, or bell pepper strips with guacamole. Most of the time, the vegetables fill her up and her desire for the cookies and chips goes away.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

Bedtime — Sleeping 8 hours a night is a priceless investment in our health that cannot be replaced. I recommend setting an alarm on your phone each day to go off approximately one hour before bedtime. One the alarm goes off, plug your phone in to the charger in a room other than your bedroom, and leave it there.

AM walk — Walking in the mornings is beneficial for multiple reasons. For starters, exposing our eyes to sunlight early in the day is wonderful for the circadian rhythm, and will make it easier to fall asleep at night. Also, the increased heart rate is a great signal for your body that it’s time to wake up! It makes for a wonderful transition from an unconscious state to a conscious state. Lastly, I like to leave my phone at home during these walks so that my mind can be free of distractions. I often find clarity around difficult decisions or have my most creative ideas on these walks.

Establish AM and PM routines — A routine is just a collection of habits that happens truly automatically. I can show up as the best version of myself all day long by first filling up my own cup, therefore a solid morning routine is a non-negotiable. Mine includes going for a walk, taking a cold shower, performing a few breathing/meditation exercises, drinking my greens supplement, drinking my mushroom cacao, and spending 10–15 minutes journaling. I didn’t add all of these activities into my morning routine at once, but I am always tinkering with my wellness habits and seeing what feels good for me. Eventually it’s become this really lovely hour just for myself and my personal development before any other daily demands can get in the way. An evening routine is dually important because it prepares the body and mind for sleep, without which, we cannot expect to have a good day the following day. Mine involves putting my phone away for the night, taking a hot epsom salt bath, washing my face, taking my nightly supplements, making a cup of tea, and reading a book until I am ready for bed.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

I highly recommend a habit tracker! A habit tracker is a simple spreadsheet placed in a clearly visible location (in a journal, or on the fridge) where you check off a box for each instance of completing an affirmative habit. This serves a number of purposes. First off, it is a visual reminder to perform the habit, and that alone increases the likelihood that it will happen. Second, it is motivating to have a short-term reward for performing a behavior that might not start showing true benefits until many weeks or months of repetition. There is something extremely satisfying about checking off that box that provides enough incentive to want to continue the streak. Lastly, the habit tracker keeps us honest. We overestimate the frequency with which we perform good habits, and underestimate the frequency with which we perform bad habits. The habit tracker removes this selective memory effect and provides insight into why we might not be as far along on our goals as we’d like to be,

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

Have a pre-game (or pre-work) ritual — Creating a small ritual that you do before each game (or even as you sit down at your desk each day) promotes optimal performance. We are creating these little Pavlovian responses all throughout our day — after enough repetitions of whatever your ritual is, the body and mind start to recognize that what comes next requires you at your most high-performing self. The ritual itself becomes a powerful cue, no matter what it is actually comprised of.

Write down wins for every day — it’s easy to forget the small amounts of progress we make each day, especially for high-achievers. They certainly won’t live on in our heads while we pursue the next great thing. It’s beneficial to write them down each night as a way of reinforcing our perceptions of ourselves as high-performers.

Sleep 8 hours — Sorry to be repetitive, but a good night’s sleep is critical to both mental and physical performance. Number one habit is set an alarm for bedtime. Once alarm goes off, phone goes into the charger in a separate room. You’ll almost certainly fall asleep shortly after.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Two strategies that are helpful for creating new habits are scheduling them and automating them. If a habit requires more than 10 or 15 minutes to perform, it should get it’s own timeblock on your calendar. This can include fitness routines, pre-game or pre-work rituals, AM or PM routines, meal prepping, brain dumping into a journal, or even clearing out your email inbox. Smaller habits happen more easily if you automate some external cue. My favorite is using the alarms on my cell phone. I always use an alarm to signal when it’s time to get ready for bed. Automations are also useful for financial goals and habits. Almost all types of transfers can be automated, whether it’s building your 401k, purchasing index funds, or saving for a vacation.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

Cell phone in the other room — that pesky cell phone! A team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin published a great study of over 800 smartphone users. The variable was the location of their phones (next to them on the desk, in their pocket or purse, or in an adjacent room) and their resultant performance on a computerized test was analyzed. Those with their phones in the other room performed significantly better than all other groups. It actually takes a lot of mental effort to ignore our phones!

Eat the frog — if a task has been getting pushed off for a week or more, do it first the following day. The fact that something you’re not excited about doing is always lingering in the background is taking up major unnecessary space in the brain.

Brain dump — everything happening in your head needs to be written down somewhere. Our brains have major difficulty consciously focusing on a single task when subconsciously they are pre-occupied by all of our other to-dos. It’s like having too many tabs open in our Internet browser. Closing out of those metaphorical tabs can be done by giving them a better place to live — on paper.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Temptation bundling would be a great strategy to implement here. The idea is to bundle something you want to do with something you don’t want to do, creating a built-in reward system. For example, bundle “eating the frog” (performing a difficult task early on in the day) with a 15 or 30-minute break. Completely walk away from your desk no matter what time it is. Play a dumb game on your phone or online shop guilt-free. I’ve used this successfully in the winter, which is when I’m historically the least motivated to workout, by only allowing myself to watch my favorite TV shows while I’m exercising. Temptation bundling is a great strategy to have in your arsenal!

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

More quiet time. My AM walk promotes a state of flow by physically getting my blood flowing while also allowing the demands and distractions of the day to slowly fall away. I think that’s why I enjoy hiking so much. I never listen to music or podcasts, and I frequently go by myself. Just focusing on the uneven terrain and carefully placing your next step takes up the conscious focus in the brain, allowing my subconscious to get to work creating new ideas and providing clarity surrounding big decisions. Hiking definitely adds a “meaningful” piece as well, since scaling a literal mountain leaves one feeling accomplished at the top. My non-negotiables are a 30-minute walk every morning, and I aim for one longer hike every month, although depending on the weather they can certainly happen more often.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Sleep! Sleeping 8 hours a night. If I could inspire one movement, there would be clearly defined incentives for everyone to get more sleep. Employees could earn additional PTO at work by submitting their exemplary sleep tracking log. Health insurance premiums would go down for those who sleep 8 hours a night. The science is clear — many of our lifestyle-driven disease risks are easily reduced by just getting a full night’s sleep. Companies should pay attention, since well-rested employees are more productive because of increased mental clarity. They also experience fewer sick days because their immune systems are so much stronger. Everyone wins!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Tim Ferriss! He was the first person I started paying attention to in the online entrepreneur and life-design space. His book the 4-Hour Workweek showed me what was possible in terms of developing passive income. I still follow along with his podcast and learn something new in each episode. I especially find his work interesting since so much of it surrounds habits and routines.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Instagram is the best way to stay in touch! https://www.instagram.com/caitlinjones/

I also have a free mini-course, Ditch Crunches Forever, that is pretty self-explanatory. I seriously want you to ditch crunches forever. It includes a 40 minute full-body no-equipment workout and is guaranteed to change how you approach your workouts. https://bit.ly/byecrunches

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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