“I know I should exercise more.”
“Oh yea, I’m going to start doing more of that.”
“Maybe I should start going to bed earlier.”
“I want to be in better shape.”
“I want to have a better marriage.”
“I want to have more success in my career.”
Add your own “want,” to the list.
We all have these things that we say we want, yet, our daily routines and habits actually push us in the opposite direction.
Why is this?
Why do we say we want to get in shape and then it’s been 3 months and we haven’t done even one minute of exercise?
Why do we say we want a better marriage but then it’s been 5 months since we’ve sat down with our partners without distraction and just spent quality time together?
In this thought experiment, I’m going to share with you why I think this happens, all the ways that we shoot ourselves in the foot, and then some simple strategies that you can implement today, to start seeing forward progress for the life that you want.
I will focus on one example in this article, getting in shape, and depending on how it goes I may make a bunch of other simple templates that you can follow to make improvements in different areas.
And to give you some perspective on who I am. I’m a dad to a young daughter (6 months as of writing this), married for 2.5 years, 31 years old (nearly 32 soon), and I’ve worked with hundreds of people in a physical therapy and fitness capacity to help them establish better health and movement habits. (written in Feb of 2023)
Key Strategy To Doing What You Want To Do, Consistently:
Follow these IN ORDER from top to bottom. If you find that it’s “too much,” to read through this article for 10 minutes or less, then you may not be at the right point in your life to add something new, and that’s okay.
- **DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP, YOU WILL NOT SUCCEED IF YOU DO** Acknowledge that you have the capacity for change, even if you’ve been unsuccessful many times before. If you cannot get past this point, you likely won’t even bother to try the other stuff. If you automatically believe that you will fail this will become (in many cases) a self-fulfilling prophecy. Habits and behaviors are a formula. As BJ Fogg describes them B = MAP. Behavior = Motivation, Ability, Prompt. If you can figure out those three components you can do almost anything. And btw, motivation doesn’t come first in most cases.
- Choose the behavior that you’d like to do more of. Let’s use squats as an example (as a specific form of exercise). Set how often you’d like to perform squats, let’s go with 2x/week on Monday and Friday.
- Ability. Make sure you even have the ability to squat. If you are disabled or have some major musculoskeletal issue and cannot squat, you can try standing up from a chair and sitting down (this is still a squat). If this is still not within your ability level, no problem, just choose something else that you can do.
- Prompt. “After I brush my teeth I will do five squats.” “After I make my coffee I will do 10 squats.” By using a prompt like this you are adding something new into an already existing routine.
- Personally, I have several prompts. “After I finish writing this article I will get some physical activity in (stretching, lifting, walking, running).”
- “After putting my daughter down for a nap I will go workout in my garage.”
- Motivation. Notice how i’ve put motivation, last. If you have the ability to do the activity, and you have the right prompt, the motivation comes through much more effortlessly.
- MOST PEOPLE HAVE THIS BACKWARDS. They try to motivate themselves but are missing the other two components of habit formation.
- *VERY IMPORTANT* If you are having difficulty even after having a prompt and having sufficient ability to perform the activity but no motivation, then you have two options:
- Use the 2 minute rule. Instead of doing an entire workout that seems daunting to get started, allow yourself to do two minutes OR LESS of the activity. This could quite literally be one rep, 10 seconds, etc.
- If you STILL aren’t doing the thing — because let’s be real, everyone’s got 10 seconds — then you likely need to change which bevarior you’re trying to do. It’s very possible the one that you chose, you don’t really care for. Or, it may just not be the right time to implement this habit.
Here are a few other steps that you can take after you’ve worked through those six.
- Get an accountability partner
- Pay a coach to help you stay accountable
- Only modify one behavior at a time
- Accept the negative self-talk of “see, you failed again, of course, you can’t do it, you’ll never be able to, you’re lazy.” What do I mean by accept? Accept that your brain is telling you this, acknowledge it, and allow it to roll off of you like rain on a rain jacket. We can’t force ourselves to stop the negative self-talk but what we can do is view the negative self-talk in a neutral light where we are merely observers. We are anchored and won’t be blown around by the storm.
Alrighty…. So let’s get into the meat.
We’ll break this down into a few categories:
- The big picture
- What gets in the way of the goals we set for ourselves?
- Beliefs about ourselves and the world
- Simple implementation strategies for habits you can do for the rest of your life
The Big Picture
Get in shape, get fit, get strong, lose weight, look better, have more energy, etc. etc. the list goes on.
This is what we will be focusing on today.
The inputs needed for this are very straightforward. Everyone knows they need to exercise more and eat less, right? You know this. This is not rocket science.
The challenge is, you don’t do it.
Why don’t you do it?
“I’m lazy.” This is the response I get most often. Or, “I don’t know.”
Here are all the reasons clients have shared with me as to why they aren’t in shape or as fit as they’d like — you’ve likely shared some of the same sentiment.
“I don’t have time.”
“I don’t have energy.”
“I don’t know.” When pressed for answers people usually then say, well… “I’m not really sure.”
“I’m not sure where to start.”
“I’ve tried before and it doesn’t work.”
“I’ve tried everything and it didn’t work.” I.e. “there’s no hope for me, so I give up.”
“I don’t want to feel stupid.”
“I’m afraid of hurting myself.”
“I don’t want to fail because I’ve tried before.”
“I don’t have the right equipment.”
“I can’t do it.”
“It’s not a good time.” This one is similar to “I don’t have enough time.”
“I have no motivation.”
“I can’t get myself to do it.”
“I don’t have enough money.”
Upon reading that, did you find a few that you’ve said?
Many of these are the same and can be placed into a couple of categories.
Fear of failure.
Lack of clarity of how to start and what to do.
Poor organizational framework.
Here’s the big picture. If you can identify why you aren’t doing something that you want to do you can also identify how to get yourself to do it. This is simply an equation that needs solving, and lucky for you, the formula is easy to follow!
I believe it’s possible for you to build movement habits that you can stick to without having to change much of anything.
And here’s an important point: IT’S NOT ABOUT TRYING HARDER. THIS DOESN’T WORK. STOP DOING THIS. IT WILL NEVER WORK AND IT’S A BAD WAY TO APPROACH IT.
Put another way, if you never want to be in shape, keep telling yourself “i just need to do better and try harder.” I know many people who have used this phrase for YEARS and are in the same exact position with their fitness and health as they were 5-10 years ago.
But, seen a different way, if you keep doing the “stupid” thing it’s likely you are trying to skip steps and shortcut your way to your goal. This is short-term thinking and 100% never works in the long term, ever. Never. Ever. So please for the love of God, just take a couple days and weeks to learn how to implement intelligently. Your future self will thank you!
What gets in the way of the goals we set for ourselves?
Our environment, our self-talk, our friends, our family, and more specifically our habits can end up getting in the way.
If our environment is set up in such a manner that makes it too easy to do the things we don’t want to do, we will keep falling short of the goals we have for ourselves.
For example… I’ll give you a real-world example of an environmental problem to a bad habit I was trying to stop.
I like beer. But, I was noticing that I was having a beer nearly every night, and on weekends that could creep up to 2 or 3 a night.
I know I feel better when I don’t drink, or, if I drink in moderation, earlier in the day around lunchtime. (it doesn’t affect my sleep that way).
In any case, I wanted to drink less. The problem though is that I kept buying beer and placing the six pack in our fridge, inside the house, at the middle row of the fridge.
Why is this an environmental problem? Because it was TOO EASY to access.
I didn’t have to go through any struggle to get it. All I did was stand up from the couch, open the fridge, and grab it.
Here’s what I do now instead.
I don’t buy beer! (for the most part)
My wife and I might get a six-pack for the weekend every few weeks, now, however, we don’t have it on hand, in the house.
It’s pretty hard to drink beer if it’s literally not in the house. And… my life is no worse.
Now I’m not demonizing you if you like the occasional beer, just know that if you’re trying to abstain it’s best to not buy it in the first place.
Here’s another example in the opposite direction…
I noticed that I wasn’t lifting weights nearly as much as I would have liked. I was struggling to even get two sessions in per week and they were lackluster at best.
So… I asked myself the question… how could I make this easy?
- I bought a squat rack for the house with a bar and some plates.
- I purchased a 21-week program from Strongerbyscience.com. This ensured I had something I could just plug and play and took all the guesswork out.
- I made a rule with myself that if I wasn’t feeling it, all I had to do was 2 minutes or less and then I could stop. The nice thing is that it usually only takes a few minutes to really get into the lifting mood and I rarely lift for < 15 mins.
That’s getting a little into the implementation but you can see how it’s the opposite of my drinking, right?
Instead of making it hard and inconvenient, I made it easy and very convenient. I literally just walk into my garage and I can begin, barefoot, if I like.
Beliefs about ourselves and the world
My belief about myself is that I can change. In fact, I welcome change. I want to be a better and more well-rounded person 10 years from now than I am today. I’m 31 as of writing this and I want to do my 41-year-old self, proud. But, I also know that my 41-year-old self is going to be a much different and evolved version of my 31-year-old self. If I look back at 41 and believe the same things I did when I was 31, this is not good. This means I haven’t learned… I’ve stagnated. And this is something at a profound level that I cannot accept.
So… it’s pretty easy for me to learn all of the time and read a ton. I just love learning. It’s a game to me. It’s not painful.
When I recognize that I could have done something better, or my thought process was flawed, or facts I believed were inaccurate, instead of thinking “wow I’m so dumb, I’m so embarrassed,” I think “WOW! I was wrong. Awesome, that means I can update my understanding and keep improving.”
You see how you can view the same event, learning you were wrong about something, can produce a completely different emotion based on how you view yourself?
I’d strongly urge you to identify what your points of identity are as this will help you see where your blind spots are.
A few of my identities are:
- Strong-willed, disciplined, and dedicated person
- Great friend, brother, son
- Physical therapist
- Stoic/Buddhist philosophy embracer
I’m curious what yours are. I think it’s a good thing to have a multitude of things that create our identity. It’s a dangerous game to play when your entire identity is balled up into one thing. I’ve been there… it was horrible when it all came crashing down.
I shared this above in more detail but I’m going to reiterate it here in a slightly different way.
- Acknowledge you have the capacity to change and improve your exercise habits (or other habits). If your brain tells you “you suck, you’ll always fail, don’t do it!” tell it “thanks for the advice, bro, I’ll consider it…” This may sound silly, but it’s a very powerful reframe. Instead of fighting against your thoughts, you are accepting them without internalizing them. When you can accept the reality of your thoughts without the emotions that feel bad which often come with, you’ve made a significant stride. But this only comes from acceptance, not rejecting them.
- Choose the behavior you want to do.
- Do you have the ability to do it?
- Have you selected a prompt? “After I do X, I will do Y?”
- After you’ve tried this out, with the prompt and confirming you have the ability, are you motivated to do it?
- If you only act when you have motivation without using prompts you will have a much lower success rate.
- Still having trouble sticking to it? Use the 2-minute rule. You only have to do the thing for 2 minutes or less. It could be 5 seconds.
- Everyone has 5 seconds. If you still aren’t doing it, change the behavior to something else. The nice thing about physical activity is that you can try hundreds if not thousands of variations until you find something you like.
- If you aren’t successful in implementing squats here are a few others you can try:
- Shoulder press
- Toe touches (hamstring stretch)
- Childs pose
- Standing trunk rotation
- Lateral raises
- Calf raises
- Side plank
- High knees
- Lateral lunges
- Monster walks
- Bicep curls
- Tricep extension
I just wrote that list in 1 minute.
If I sat and added to that list for 30 more minutes I’d have hundreds of options… so, the key is, to keep trying new things, and if you aren’t being consistent ask yourself “why” and go through the above steps.
It’s only a matter of time before you start to become consistent if you go through the above steps enough time. It is inevitable.
If you want some personalized help implementing a new habit around exercise, movement physical activity, or something else, please reach out to me by filling out this form. I’ll get back to you usually within 24 hours.