I have a few suggestions for hanging in there, for becoming part of the 12% minority. These are based on personal experience, and they will work if you’ll work them.
1. Set reasonable goals.
It may sound impressive to declare that you are going to work out an hour a day every day, but if you don’t get past Day 2, it’s not impressive at all. Goals should stretch you a bit, but “stretching” is relative to where you are right now. If you haven’t worked out in 10 years, 10-15 minutes of exercise a day may be a good start, a good foundation to develop which you will build on in the coming months.
Don’t sabotage your efforts. Be your own best partner!
2. Don’t do “impact” exercises two days in a row.
High Impact exercise is when both feet leave the ground at the same time, such as in running, jumping jacks, jumping rope, etc. Impact exercises increase bone density, endurance, power and agility, but if overdone, they can contribute to issues that will discourage you and cause you to quit altogether (muscle soreness, joint pain, foot pain, etc.). So when it comes to impact exercise, think in terms of the wise old hare: “Slow and steady wins the race.” The older you are, the more important this rule is.
3. To make exercise a habit, do it every day.
I bet you’re thinking that I just contradicted myself. But read again carefully. Don’t do impact exercises two days in a row. To build an exercise HABIT, you need to carve out a time slot in EACH day and program yourself that “this time is exercise time.” Think in terms of creating a new groove in your brain (that’s essentially what a habit is). It takes time (between 21-30 days, so I’ve read), but once the groove is created, it’s almost like being on autopilot. So to build the exercise habit, you will need to have a variety of exercises in your regimen such as strength training (lifting weights or your own body weight), low-impact aerobics, yoga, etc. By the way, walking is not considered a high-impact exercise, so that is something that you could do every day.
4. Push it!
That’s a phrase I got off one of the exercise videos I used to work out to. I like it. It’s another way of saying “get out of your comfort zone.” Of course, I must insert my disclaimer here. I am not a doctor, and I don’t know the state of your health. It should go without saying that if you have been inactive for a long time, you need to get your doctor’s input before embarking on a physical lifestyle change. Now, that being said, if you want to experience one of the greatest benefits of exercise—endorphins—you need to “push it.” Work up a sweat. Breathe hard. Get your heart rate up. (But get your doctor’s OK first!)
5. If at all possible, do some of your exercise outside.
I am such a believer in the positive effects of the great outdoors. It is absolutely therapeutic! I know it wouldn’t be all that inspiring to walk or run down a busy, crowded city street (or maybe for some people it would), but surely there is a quiet neighborhood you could walk or run in or a city park. Even if you don’t consider yourself an “outdoors person,” I hope you will give this a try. There’s just something about the fresh air and natural light, the birds singing, the wind in your hair, the warmth of the rising sun on your skin. Granted, some times of year are better than others, but I don’t miss a season. I just make adjustments to the time of day I run and the clothes I wear to accommodate the changing temperatures. I think people who do all their working out indoors are missing out on one of the greatest benefits of exercise.
6. More than likely, the best time of the day to exercise is going to be early morning.
I write about this more in-depth in Three Productivity Strategies That Work, but in short, when trying to start a new habit, it has been my experience that the surest way to get it done is to do it first thing in the morning. After the habit is firmly established, you can vary your exercise times, but to get the habit entrenched in your lifestyle, think mornings.
7. Observe rest days every week.
Again, you may be thinking I am contradicting myself. How can you exercise every day (#3) and observe a rest day? As I stated in my very elementary language in #3, the idea when building a habit is to create a groove in your brain that leads you to a default behavior. So until the habit is established (in approximately 30 days), do something exercise-y at approximately the same time every day. During that 30-day period, I would suggest yoga stretching exercises to fill the exercise time frame on your “rest day.” It is very relaxing and good for the bod. The idea, as already stated, is to create that groove. The right kind of stretching would actually feel like rest, and yet, you would still be observing “exercise time,” further chiseling that groove.
Once the habit is established, though, you can take a true rest day where you don’t do any kind of exercise if you choose not to. The important thing to note with this tip is that recovery (aka as “rest days”) is an important element in true fitness. Invest in your recovery (enjoy your rest days!) so that you can, in turn, invest in the “push it!” times.
8. Focus on your “why?”
This is a very important point (See Know Your “Why?” for more insight into this point). Most people think I just love to run. Maybe it’s because I write things like “I am passionate about running.” But I need to clarify. I don’t really love running. It’s hard. It’s work. It takes time. It can be miserable in the heat of the summer. It takes so much time to get dressed appropriately in the winter. It causes blisters on my feet. It takes a significant chunk out of my most productive time of day. I could go on. So how do I justify these two statements: “I’m passionate about running,” and “I don’t really love running”?
I don’t really love running for all the reasons just stated (and others that I didn’t state). But I am passionate about running because of how I feel immediately afterwards and the benefits I experience long-term, as well. The first minute or so after I complete a run—after I quit gasping for air—I feel so pleased with myself (this is the beginning of the endorphin high); I completed a major goal for my day (one of my MITs). I immediately go into my stretching routine (I’ll write more about that some day, because it, too, is very important). Stretching is not only good for the body, but it’s good for the mind, too. It creates a smooth, peaceful transition from run, run, run to the slower pace of phone calls, emails, chores, appointments, etc. While I’m stretching, I start to settle into an “all is well with my world” sensation. Regardless of what stressful situation might await me, I feel empowered to take it on.
That “empowered” feeling stays with me the rest of the day. I’m cheerier and more optimistic. I’m energetic; there’s a bounce in my step. I get hungrier on my running days, but I’m also more health conscious, and so I am more likely to choose better-quality foods. I’m more productive. The pace that I set while running seems to carry over into my other work. I move quickly through items on my to-do list. At night, I sleep soundly (this wasn’t so before I started running regularly). All these factors make up my “why?” This is why I endure all the negative issues I listed above—because the benefits far outweigh the costs. I focus on my “why?” when I am tempted to forego running on any given day.
I’m not sure how long it will take for you to start feeling the positive benefits of fitness and to develop a strong “why?” If you’ve been inactive for a while, the first “benefit” you may experience is soreness and fatigue. Until the more positive benefits kick in, I give you permission to live off my benefits. Trust me and the abundance of evidence that supports my experience. If you will press through, you will start to experience the same benefits and then you can focus on your own “why?”
It’s been said that checking an item off your to-do list replicates a mini-endorphin-high (which explains why we’ll write something on our list after we’ve actually completed it just so we can check it off!). That’s just one of the reasons to record your progress. Because exercise does take a chunk of time out of your day, it is beneficial to put it on your to-do list just so you can get the satisfaction of checking it off and also justify the amount of time it takes it takes out of your busy day. But if you keep good records, the record itself becomes a motivation to you. You can look back in a month and see how your performance compares to the previous month. The record becomes a testament to the power of “baby steps”—Small Changes + Consistency + Perseverance = Changed Life. Next January, you will be able to note exactly how many days you exercised, how many miles you ran or walked or biked (or all three), how many hours you devoted to strength training or yoga, etc.
I create a simple excel sheet where I record all my fitness activities. I first started doing this to track a mileage goal that I had set at the beginning of the year. Later, I started keeping track of my pace, too. Was I getting any faster? Then I started noting how many minutes I was spending on strength training and/or core work. I’ve been doing this for three years, now, and I can compare one year to the next. It takes less than 30 seconds to record my daily results—time well spent.
10. Read about fitness.
Reading about fitness may seem unrelated to actually being fit, but I assure you this is a very effective means of getting over the initial hump of getting started and avoiding being part of the 88% that drops their New Year’s resolutions before the month is up. I write about this in depth in Creating Inspiration to Accomplish Your Goals. I also recommend some online reading resources in that post. Again, I can assure you that this does not have to be a time-consuming practice. You can read most of the material that I recommend in less than five minutes a day—a small time commitment for the reward of being part of the 12% minority of people who actually keep their New Year’s goals!
Do you have some additional tips that helped you get a breakthrough? Please share in the comments! Have any of the tips that I listed been more helpful to you than the others? Please contribute. You could help motivate someone else.