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In the survey I did before creating this course, a little over a third of you have a regular exercise habit … but a large majority want to be more regular with your exercise.

The most common goal was to be more consistent, or to develop a daily exercise habit. That’s exactly what I’d like you to try to form in this course!

I recommend a small daily habit if you don’t already exercise more than 3 days a week, even if you would normally try to exercise for longer. What’s a small habit? Just 5-10 minutes at first, as ridiculously easy as that might seem.

When I started my running habit (the first exercise habit I ever got to stick), I went out for a 10-minute run. It was hard! I was so out of shape. But I did it, and felt great. Then I did another 10 minutes the next day, and so on, increasing by a minute or two every few days. After about 6 weeks, I could regularly run 30 minutes! And I ran my first 5K, which felt amazing.

So here were the keys to making my first exercise habit stick, and future habits as well:

  1. Focus on enjoying the process, not the results. Many people fail with the exercise habit because they’ll do it for a week or three and not get the results they were hoping for. That’s because physical activity is a long-term thing (over months and years), and short-term results don’t always come when you want them to. A much better way to stick to the habit is to forget about what results you’re going to get … and just focus on the movement itself. Enjoy it. Enjoy just being outside, or feeling your body move, or spending time walking with someone else, or just being alive. Find ways to be grateful for what you’re doing, right now, rather than hoping to be happy with your results in the future.
  2. Use activity as meditation. My running came at a time when I started reading about and practicing meditation … and so I learned to practice being in the moment as I was running. I would feel my body moving, feel my breath, notice the ground under my feet, feel the wind in my face, not the sunlight and leaves and sounds and all my surroundings. You can turn any activity into mindfulness practice. For me, this turns something I might not have wanted to do (exercise) into an amazing activity that I look forward to practicing.
  3. Just get out the door. When all else fails, I just tell myself to lace up my shoes and get out the door. I don’t think about all the running or lifting or whatever I’m going to do, but just think about that one act: getting out the door. That’s actually really easy if you think of nothing else. Once I’ve done that, the rest is easy. Just focus on starting, and forget all else.
  4. Feel a sense of accomplishment. When I’m in the moment of resistance, before I start a workout, I think about what a great sense of accomplishment I’ll feel after I’ve done the workout. I visualize that feeling. And as I’m working out, I feel great about doing the workout, making myself stronger and fitter. After I’m done, I give myself a kind of imaginary pat on the back, and celebrate another great workout. This way, I’m kind of being my own coach, giving myself positive feedback and a sense that I’ve done something worthwhile today, rather than just allowing myself to chase one distraction after another.
  5. Believe I’m a regular exerciser. We each have an image of ourselves, a story we tell ourselves, and often it goes something like this: “I am going to do my best, but I don’t like exercising.” Or “I don’t feel like it right now, I’ll do it later.” Instead, you have to change your belief and your story, if you want to make your habit last very long. Tell yourself, “I’m a regular exerciser now. It’s who I am.” Also, “I don’t base my decision to exercise on whether I feel like it. I just do it, and feel great about it.” Finally, you need to believe that exercise is something that makes you happy, rather than being sedentary and browsing online (or whatever you might think makes you happy instead). Make these firm beliefs, part of who you are, and you’ll see lasting change.

These worked for me for the first running habit, and they’ve played a big factor in all other habits that I’ve formed.

However, sometimes I’ve needed a little bit more … and so I’ve also done a couple of other things that really help:

  1. Have a play partner. This has been my absolute best method of consistently being active. I’ve used it when training for a race, for going to the gym (for years), for doing Crossfit, working out at home with my family, and more. Have someone you’re going to meet on a regular basis at the gym, on a run, go for a hike or bike ride, have fun outside, whatever. If you know they’ll be waiting for you, you won’t stand them up. And you’ll look forward to talking and bonding with them.
  2. Do an accountability challenge. This also works extremely well for me — I’ll do a 1-on-1 challenge with someone else (burpees in a month, for example), or a group exercise challenge (make it through a 6-week pushup challenge, for example). It doesn’t have to be a competition, but just a challenge to stick to a plan for a certain amount of time, preferably with consequences (no TV or coffee for a week, for example).

Whenever my exercise habit starts to falter, I go back to one of these techniques.

So wrapping this up, how do you make exercise a regular habit? Focus on starting, on mindfully enjoying the exercise, and the sense of accomplishment of getting the workout done. Change your beliefs about yourself. And if it helps, add a workout partner or some kind of accountability.

You can do this, if you believe you can.

Your Exercise for Today

Today, I’d like you to pick a goal for the next six weeks. Something that would be a decent improvement over what you are now, and that can be broken down into a small daily exercise habit. For example:

  1. Run a 5K (start with 10 mins a day, then each week, increase by 4 minutes)
  2. Do 50 pushups (start with 3 sets of 10 pushups, increase by 5-10 pushups each week).
  3. Walk 10,000 steps a day (start with 6,000, increase by 1,000 each week)
  4. Do a chinup (do chinup-like exercises every day, such as negative chinups)
  5. Exercise 20 minutes daily (walk 10 minutes a day, increase that by 2 minutes each week)
  6. Improve my barbell squat (squat 3x per week, adding 5 lbs. or 1 rep each workout)
  7. Lose weight (start with 10 minutes of daily exercise, alternating strength and running, increase by 4 mins a week – will need to be combined with eating habit though)
  8. Daily yoga (start with 10 minutes of yoga a day, then increase by 4 mins a week)

These are just a few examples — you can create your own!

Note that you’re allowed to have a day or two off if you feel your body needs it. Daily is best for a habit, and if you keep it fairly easy you can do it, but you have to make sure your body can take it.

Discuss this lesson in Slack.