zen habits : breathe

The Exercise Habit Plan

By Leo Babauta

Here’s the bad news: We’re not all going to do the same kind of exercise together this month — there’s no one exercise or plan that can fit everyone at once.

The good news: There’s something for just about everyone. If you’re just starting out, we have a plan for you. If you want to take it up a new level this month, we have something for you too.

Here’s what we’re going to do: first, assess where you are. Then, pick a plan based on that assessment.

Assess Where You Are

The worst thing you could do this month is overestimate your ability to handle a lot of exercise, or just start with too much and then quit after a week or two because you thought you could do more than the recommended amount. Maybe you’re the exception, but don’t bet on it.

Instead, let’s do an honest assessment:

Also please note that I am not a trainer nor a doctor, and if you have any kind of condition that might be affected by starting a new exercise plan, please please consult an actual doctor first.

The Plans

Actually, we have three plans, depending on what level you are based on the assessment. Remember, the goal of these plans is creating (or solidifying) the habit, not to get any specific exercise results (Plan C is kind of the exception).

Plan A

This is for people who don’t have a regular exercise habit at the moment, and want to create a habit that will last. This is the most important thing, and if you don’t have it yet, do this plan:

  1. Pick something fun. If a nice walk outside sounds fun, do that. Or a jog with your spouse, a game of basketball with your kid, a workout with your best friend, a meditative session of yoga.
  2. Commit to just 5 minutes a day. That’s all you have to do, at least for the first week. You can do a little more if you get going and feel like doing more, but don’t do a lot. Try to keep it short for the first week — remember that creating a long-lasting habit is what matters, not the length of any individual session.
  3. Have a daily trigger. What will you do your habit after? Morning is a good time, after your coffee or right when you wake up. Set reminders, both electronic and visual, so you don’t forget to do the habit after the trigger. When the trigger happens, make it a rule to do the habit immediately after.
  4. Enjoy the habit. Make it social if you can. Even if you do it alone, focus on the enjoying, stress-relieving part of the habit. Smile.
  5. Report to your accountability group/partner after. Join an accountability team in the forum, or form a group on Facebook or the like, or just get one person to be your accountability partner. Commit to reporting to them every day after you do the habit.
  6. If you miss a day, don’t despair. Try not to miss a day, but if it happens, double down — rachet up the accountability in some way, so you don’t miss a second day. If you miss a second day for some reason, rachet up the accountability some more — you don’t want to have a streak (or a bunch of streaks) of missed habit days.
  7. If all goes well in week 1 (no misses), you can add 2 minutes to your minimum time if you want. This is optional. You can do the same in weeks 3 and 4 if you continue to miss zero days. If you miss even one day, stay at the same minimum.

Plan B

This plan is for people who exercise fairly regularly, but go a few days without the exercise habit at times. The plan is to get you more consistent.

  1. Follow all the steps in Plan A — a minimum of 5 minutes, though you should feel free to do more if you are moved to do so. If you’re a regular exerciser, even 20-30 minutes is fine, or longer if that’s what you’re used to. But instead of 30 minutes 3 times a week (for example), you’re going to add 5 minutes on the days when you used to do nothing — so a 7-day-a-week habit for this month.
  2. Make a big public commitment to not missing a single day. State a consequence that you really, really don’t want to do, if you miss a single day. A couple recent examples in my life: singing a Japanese song in public, and having to eat whale sushi (particularly bad as I’m vegan).

That’s it. Your goal is to do every single day, without fail. You’re going to make this habit so regular, it’s like brushing your teeth. You’re just taking care of your body — and extremely hard sessions aren’t necessary on any days.

Plan C

This is for those who exercise very regularly, but are looking for exercise habits to take them to another level.

Choose ONE of the following habits (appropriate to your level) and follow the steps in Plan A (optionally the extra one in Plan B) to make the habit stick:

Remember, just pick one of these. Do not kill yourself. Ease into the more intense ones if you’re not used to it. Please don’t injure yourself — I’m assuming you know your limits and know how to make things harder without overdoing it.

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