On March 4, 2012, I committed myself to getting some form of exercise every day. Every. Single. Day. Today is Day 226, and I’m still going strong. I haven’t missed a day, and ideally it will be something that I will continue for the rest of my life.
Many people are surprised that I have been able to maintain my momentum. If you had asked me if it was possible for me to do something like this before March 4th, I would have probably said, “No way. It’s just too hard. I will give up, like I always do.”
People ask me what my “secret” is. Actually, there are several “secrets” that I have been using, but it really comes down to applying Rule #1. These strategies can be used to help you do any behavior that you want to do on a daily basis.
Rule #1 — Minimize the willpower requirement of the desired behavior.
The reason that I have been able to maintain this behavior is not because I suddenly stumbled on some magical fountain of willpower. It is because I consciously chose strategies that would reduce the willpower required for me to exercise consistently.
I asked myself, “Self, what are your most common pitfalls? What causes you to quit?” The result of asking this question was a set of strategies to combat these pitfalls.
Completely eliminate the go or no-go decision from your thought process.
I exercise every single day because I eliminated the option of not exercising. I just don’t give myself the choice. Every time that you allow yourself to decide whether or not you are going to do something, you open up the possibility that you will choose to not take that action. The odds are that you will have a day in the near future where your willpower reserve will be low, and you will choose to quit. It’s when our willpower is low that Rule #1 is so important.
I realized that one of my biggest pitfalls was taking a day off, because that would often lead to two days off, three days off, and so on until I quit. The option of taking a day off gave my brain the opening it needed to rationalize not exercising. I came to the surprising conclusion that it is much easier for me to exercise every single day than it is to exercise just a few days a week.
Make your baseline behavior easy…
I made my baseline requirement so easy that there simply would be no excuse to not exercise. I decided that “exercise” could include anything that gets my blood pumping and makes me breathe heavy. In the beginning, many days I would just go for a fast-paced walk for about 20 minutes (15 out of the first 30 days). I walked fast enough so that I could really feel it and even began to work up a sweat. I figured that anything was better than what I was doing at the time, which was nothing.
…or make your baseline behavior brief but intense.
In the beginning, some days I would even exercise 5 minutes or less. For example, several times I did 5 minutes of jumping rope at high speed like a boxer as my workout. I did 100 jumping jacks on a few days, which only took 2-3 minutes. These short little workouts didn’t require much time, but they were intense and really made me suck wind. They definitely improved my conditioning. The advantage of these short, intense workouts is that you know the discomfort will be over quickly.
Use the “Seinfeld Chain.”
Jerry Seinfeld came up with a great strategy that has become known as the “Seinfeld Chain.” All it requires is a wall calendar and a magic marker. Every day that you do your desired behavior, you put a big X on that day on the calendar. After a few days in a row, you will have a chain. Then you just need to make sure that you don’t break the chain.
I taped a calendar to my bathroom mirror where it would be impossible to miss, and every day I marked a big X after I did my exercise. Because I’m an Excel spreadsheet nerd, I also kept a log of my exercise and the time it took in minutes. Eventually I stopped using the calendar and just updated my exercise log. Now it’s just a daily habit.
There is something very motivating about the Seinfeld Chain. When you have a big chain going, you don’t want to start over. You want to keep extending the chain, so you are more likely to take action so you don’t break the chain.
I am extremely pleased with the results. I’m amazed that I have kept it up for so long, and I’m even more amazed that it has been so easy to maintain. I think one thing that makes it easy to maintain is that I don’t have to do a major workout if I’m tired. It just has to be something to get my heart pumping and get me breathing heavy.
When I started this journey, I was so out of shape that I would get winded going up one flight of stairs, but my conditioning has improved dramatically. I still have chronic lower back pain from an old injury, but it has definitely improved. My story isn’t one of instant transformation that you see in advertisements. I still have a long way to go to get to the level of health and fitness that I desire, but I’m better than I was before. Better. Stronger. Faster.