When I go to the gym in January I’m always amazed by how crowded it is. All these red-faced people huffing and puffing on treadmills and elliptical machines. Nearly all of them there because they’ve made a New Year’s resolution to get in shape.
Then about 3 weeks later, most of those people have disappeared. Why? It’s not because they didn’t dream big enough. Surely they all envisioned their sculpted abs, toned arms, and glowing skin. It’s not because their goals weren’t aggressive enough. In fact, most likely it’s because their goals were too aggressive.
Often, people are so desperate to turn over a new leaf that they jump into an exercise routine that’s not sustainable. “Starting January 2nd, I’m going to be running an hour a day on the treadmill. EVERY DAY. It’s the new me in 2012!” Instead of working up to their goals gradually, they jump into the deep end hoping that their New Year’s momentum will put them on a path to success for the entire year.
It’s a nice idea. But, like many other resolutions, the key to making exercise a part of your life is to make it a habit. And it’s hard to create a positive habit when you start by shocking the crap out of your body.
I had my own personal breakthrough with exercise a few years ago. What I learned allowed me to start exercising regularly and also gave me a new “life-hack” for whenever I wanted to introduce another positive change in my life.
Up until that point, I was the sporadic gym-goer, paying what I liked to call the “lethargy tax” (gym dues for a gym you don’t attend). Then I read a book called The Power of Less, by Leo Babauta. (He’s also got a great blog called Zen Habits.)
Among other things, the book talked about how the best way to build a positive habit was by focusing on only ONE thing for a month (whatever habit you want to build). Then to start SMALL, giving yourself tiny goals that are easy to accomplish. In doing this, you give yourself positive reinforcement as you start building the habit in a sustainable way.
For me, I realized that unless I was in the habit of exercising every day, I wouldn’t do it regularly. So, I tried Babauta’s technique: for the first 2 weeks, I decided that I was going to go to the gym every day and walk on the treadmill for only 5 minutes. It seemed silly at first. But the idea is to start with a goal that is so ridiculously easy to accomplish that you have no excuse not to do it each day.
Every morning I’d wake up, groan a little bit about having to go to the gym, but then I’d remember, “It’s only 5 minutes.” And gradually, I groaned less and less as my body got used to the routine.
Meanwhile, after the first two weeks, I gradually started increasing the amount of time on the treadmill. After about 4 weeks, I started integrating other exercises–again, starting small. For example, one of the next additions to my routine was to do 3 pushups (yes, just 3 per day).
Again, it was almost laughable at first, but by starting so small, I was able to gradually work my way up to a pretty respectable daily exercise regimen. And it really became a habit.
I’d be lying if I said there hasn’t been occasional backsliding in the exercise department–I haven’t been perfect. But I feel like I learned a really important lesson about how to create positive habits. Beyond just exercise, this a great “life-hack” that can be used for nearly anything you want to start doing in your life.
So, as you think about your New Year’s Resolutions, I encourage you to still dream big. Just make sure you START SMALL if you want those new habits to stick.
Happy New Year!