I’ve had a running for the train problem for two decades now.
My current house (like my last house) is a brisk 10 minute walk from the train I take in to New York City.
On average, for the last 20 years, I’ve walked out of my house 7 to 8 minutes before the train I’m taking. While I never miss the train, at least half of the days (maybe more) I run some or all of the way there—arriving to the platform panting, sweaty, and stressed.
Once, fifteen years ago, a neighbor stopped my wife and said, “I see your husband running for the train every day. Is everything OK?” At the time I had two kids under the age of five. Today I have no excuse.
This behavior is, of course, totally crazy. If can leave my house 2 to 3 minutes late, every workday, for decades, you’d think it would be blindingly easy to leave my house on time, right?
In the past couple months, for the first time, things are improving. I’m leaving 10 minutes before the train, and sometimes 11, 12, even 14 minutes early. And when I leave that early, I see other people—strolling, relaxed. Who knew?
The change I’ve made is about structure, not attitude or effort.
I’m not trying any harder, I just bought cereal and milk in the office so I don’t eat breakfast at home any more.
Of course, it’s possible I’ll eventually revert to my old, running late ways. But I don’t think so. Because structural changes are the changes that stick.
This means that if you have any “always” in your life, you need a structural change. As in…
I’m always tired.
I’m always stressed.
I’m always in back-to-back meetings.
I’m always craving something sweet after a meal.
I’m always having a drink or two at the end of a workday.
I’m always under-investing in my friendships, or my marriage, or my kids.
The answers to these “always” will start with things like deleting social media apps from your phone; cutting your default meeting time in half; or taking a two week sugar fast.
Structure beats effort, every time.