By Leo Babauta
There was a point in my life, back in 2005 and earlier, when I couldn’t exercise regularly. I really wanted to, I knew I should, but I couldn’t.
Some of you might be in this boat today.
I’m here to tell you: that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with you. Not being able to exercise regularly is the norm, and it isn’t a deficiency in who you are. It’s a deficiency in your method.
Today I exercise on a very regular basis. Anywhere from 4-6 times per week, depending on how you count (is racing my kids up a hill or taking a 30-minute walk for pleasure considered exercise?). What changed for me was I learned better methods.
I didn’t have to change who I was in order to start exercising. But here’s the surprise for me: exercising regularly changed who I was.
I’m not the same person I was 9 years ago.
I’m thinner and healthier with more muscle, for one thing. But I’ve also gotten out of debt, improved my relationships, become a better dad, started my own business.
Did exercise do all that? Yes. It changed me in such powerful ways that I was able to achieve all of that.
Here are a few of the ways the exercise habit has changed me:
- I trust myself more. Before, when I started exercising, I didn’t really believe in my ability to stick to the plan. I mean, I told myself I was going to, but there was always doubt. I’ve built trust by exercising regularly. This has made me much more likely to do everything else.
- I’m healthier. People underestimate the impact that bad health has on the rest of your life, but I’ve discovered that investing time and energy into getting myself healthy pays off in big ways. I feel better all the time, which allows me to have the energy for work projects, for family, for learning. It took awhile before I got healthier, but I noticed dramatic improvements in the first year and then gradual but steady improvements for years after that.
- I’m stronger and more confident. I honestly was in very bad shape before. This made me feel bad about myself, and embarrassed. Now that I do strength training, run, walk, and play in various ways, I’m stronger, fitter, and feel great about myself. I am comfortable taking my shirt off in public. I feel good walking around. Now, I’m not saying you should be embarrassed if you’re fat. I’m only observing the change that I went through.
- I’m setting a good example for my kids. My biggest contribution as a dad, besides just loving my kids, is the example I set for them. I can talk their ears off about responsibility and consideration and yada yada, but unless I walk the walk, the message doesn’t really get to them. By exercising regularly and occassionally doing some crazy fitness stuff, I’m showing my kids what a healthy adult looks like. What a healthy lifestyle might be. What’s possible.
- I learned how to motivate myself. Exercise is mainly a problem of motivation. I’ve used exercise partners, public accountability, challenges and more to motivate myself to exercise. I need those less now because I know how good exercise is for me and I actually enjoy the process. But I can use what I learned to get myself to start other habits, like meditation and writing and healthy eating.
Those are just five changes, but they’re game changers. They have changed my entire life. They’ve completely changed me. I’m not at all the same person I was 9 years ago, and exercise has played a huge role in that.
So what works in getting yourself to form the exercise habit? I mentioned a few above, but here’s what I recommend:
- Make a big commitment, to yourself and to others. Not big as in “I’ll run 10 miles a day” but as in “I will absolutely not fail in this commitment”. And do not let yourself fail.
- Pick a daily trigger. Something in your routine already, that happens every day. Put up all kinds of reminders, physical and digital, so you don’t forget to do your new habit when the trigger rolls around.
- Have a workout partner. This is the best method. If you can’t, at least find an accountability group online.
- Enjoy the habit. Really key — don’t punish yourself, but enjoy it.
- Don’t miss two days in a row. Sometimes, life gets in the way and you have to skip a workout for whatever reason. Don’t allow it to happen twice in a row, ever.
- Start small. If you’ve read this site before, you knew I was going to say this, but it’s so important. When I started running I couldn’t go for 10 minutes. So I went for 5. Then 7. Then 9. Eventually I ran a 5K, then a half marathon, marathon, eventually a 50-miler. But I started with 5 minutes.
- Just lace up your shoes and get out the door. That’s all you should think about. It’s so easy you can’t say no.
You can do this. It’ll change your life.