Making Exercise a Habit (Anywhere!)

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Chris Guillebeau. Chris travels the world and writes for a small army of remarkable people at ChrisGuillebeau.com. His new book, The $100 Startup, provides a blueprint for freedom based on a multi-year study of 1,500 newly self-employed people.

Every year I visit at least 20 countries, and people often ask how I stay fit on the road. I won’t lie: it’s been a challenge. I recently knocked off the first 21 cities of a 7-continent book tour (“no continent left behind”), and for much of the trip I struggled with exercise and diet.

The motto of the tour was supposed to be: “FREEDOM!” But the unofficial motto could well have been: another day, another trip to Dunkin’ Donuts.

Such was the life on book tour. I settled into a dangerous routine: french toast for breakfast at the hotel, coffee on the go, a late lunch, drinks at the bar after the gig.

Self-control spiraled downward. I was an addict!

OK, it wasn’t that bad. I kept working out, at least somewhat. I also had something in mind: off in the distance was another Dunkin’ Donuts, but beyond that was the Chicago marathon in October.

I’ll be running the race for Girls in the Game, a local charity that works with at-risk teenagers to help them participate in sports and fitness. The least I can do, I told myself, is keep myself in decent enough shape to run 26.2 miles later this year.

Tip 1: Shoes by the door

I often live out of a carry-on suitcase, only unpacking the essentials for each day. However, there’s one thing I always do. Upon arrival in my room, I take the running shoes out and move them in front of the door.  It requires one less step in the morning, and since they’re staring me in the face when I get out of bed, I’m more motivated to actually put them on and hit the road or the gym.

After that, the universal rule of running kicks in: getting out the door is half the challenge. Almost every time, I’m glad that I made the effort.

Tip 2: Even small amounts of exercise “count”

Sometimes I have a limited amount of time, either due to a tight schedule or my own procrastination (“I’ll just finish one more email!”). Until recently, whenever I realized I didn’t have enough time for a 30-minute run, I’d do… nothing. Then I’d feel guilty, which made it worse.

Then I made a change. Even if I had only a very short period of time, I’d still make the effort. Instead of running 4 miles, I’d run 2 miles—as fast as I could. Or I’d run up and down the stairs, or I’d do 100 pushups.

I learned that these fifteen or twenty-minute workouts help a lot. They remind your body that you’re still paying attention to it, and they remind your psyche that exercise is part of your life.

Tip 3: Make the active choice

Choosing to walk helps a lot. Choosing to do something in general helps a lot. If I’m in a new city and my destination is a mile or two away, I’ll pull out my iPhone to check directions and then hoof it down the street instead of looking for a cab.

Whenever possible, I take the stairs instead of the elevator. I’ve stayed on the 23rd floor of hotels and walked all the way down to the lobby. (OK, I was heading for the bar, but still.)

Tip 4: Accept the existence of “seasons” in your well-being

When flying around the world, I sometimes joke that I’m on the two weeks on, two weeks off workout schedule. At home, I work out almost every day. On the road, with 10-hour overnight flights and frequent time zone changes, I do often fall behind. My goal is to exercise wherever I am, but I’ve come to accept that I may be more consistent with fitness during the times at home.

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I do still make trips to Dunkin’ Donuts, and I do get lazy.  But I also believe that we all make time for what’s important to us. I try to remember why I exercise—because it’s good for me, because I’ll usually feel better after I do, because it helps my productivity, and so on.

One way or another, I’ll head to Chicago this October for an attempt at my first full marathon in several years. Ready or not!

Chris Guillebeau travels the world and writes for a small army of remarkable people at ChrisGuillebeau.com. His new book, The $100 Startup, provides a blueprint for freedom based on a multi-year study of 1,500 newly self-employed people.