It’s workout day. You’ve just come home from work. You’re exhausted. It’s 8pm, your stomach is growling, and every inch of your body is pleading with you to stay home instead of going for that run.
You know that if you go for a workout, it’ll be hard, uncomfortable, maybe even painful. Yet, you know that you should be working out. You should be getting fit and healthy. Didn’t you make that resolution back in January?
Don’t feel guilty: It happens to everyone. Heck, it happens to me all the time.
Whenever I don’t feel like working out, my brain is SUPER CREATIVE at coming up with excuses:
- “It’s unhealthy to push myself so much”
- “Rest today; live to fight another day!”
- “I read somewhere that running too much is actually really bad for you…”
Here’s what usually happens to most people: They skip a day. Skipping a day gives them permission to skip the next day. And the day after. Then they skip another, and another, and before they know it, it’s 2 months of not working out.
How do we prevent this? How do we get what we want (e.g: getting wealthy, becoming fit, writing a book, starting a business) without falling off the track?
The Problem With “Go Hard Or Go Home”
Most people like to go for the most efficient solution.
- If they wanna get fit really fast, they go for programs like P90X, Bikini Body, and Insanity.
- If they wanna save money really quickly, they cut their spending on EVERYTHING: Coffee, dining out, their mobile data plan, etc
- If they wanna write a novel in a month, they sign up for NanoWriMo.
- If they wanna start a business immediately, they join hackathons, “buckle down” and create a 50-page business plan
All the while, they keep themselves going with phrases like “GO HARD OR GO HOME!” and “Push your limits!” accompanied with like 20 million fist-pumps.
For the most part, these are great philosophies to live by. Sometimes, it’s good to push yourself.
But here’s the trouble: it’s incredibly hard to sustain in the long-term.
For example, I used to believe that I had to push myself like crazy every time I did a workout. If I wasn’t gasping for breath by the end, I wasn’t being efficient. And sure, maybe this was a good way of improving my fitness levels quickly.
But the downside was that my brain was subconsciously equating “working out” to “torturing the s*** outta me”. This made my brain extremely reluctant before the start of every workout, which led to me skipping workouts.
Not a good long-term plan if I wanted to be fit for life.
One of my favourite bloggers Scott Young recently wrote about the tradeoff between quality and smoothness. Sure, if you had a choice between two solutions, you should choose the one that will benefit you more. But as Scott points out:
“But that’s rarely the decision. The decision isn’t between the efficient method and the inefficient one. It’s between the inefficient one and nothing.”
So today, allow me to introduce you to a better, more sustainable, long-term solution:
Do It Every Day
In other words, pursue an activity daily. And by daily, I mean every single day: Weekdays, weekends, public holidays, when you’re on vacation, when you’re feeling crappy, when you’re drowning in work… every day!
But here’s the good news: You don’t have to push yourself every time.
For example, instead of pushing myself to do infrequent hardcore workouts, I’m trying out a different strategy: Be active every day.
I’ve deliberately left the definition of “be active” very vague. It can be anything: 20 push-ups, 6 pull-ups, or a slow 30-minute jog. As long as I do something that contributes to my fitness every day, that counts.
Sometimes, I push myself and go all-out, but that’s optional. If I had a particularly bad day, I might settle for a 1-minute plank and a few push-ups.
By doing this, every workout session is pleasurable. I’m subconsciously telling myself that I’m the kind of person who works out every day. More importantly, I’m making my actions automatic.
Sure, it’s not the most efficient solution – It’s not gonna give me a six-pack in 6 weeks.
But I’m betting that if I’m active every day, my strength and stamina will slowly increase. That will let me naturally increase my workout intensity, which will in turn get me consistently fitter over the long run.
Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, follows a similar practice:
“Compare the goal of exercising 3-4 times a week with a system of being active every day at a level that feels good, while continuously learning about the best methods of exercise. Before long your body will be trained, like Pavlov’s dogs, to crave the psychological lift you get from being active every day. It will soon become easier to exercise than to skip it – no willpower required. And your natural inclination for challenge and variety will gently nudge you toward higher levels of daily activity while at the same time you are learning in your spare time how to exercise in the most effective way. That’s a system.”
What Can You Do Daily?
The “Do It Every Day” Technique doesn’t just apply to fitness. Think about the other areas of your life where you could benefit from doing something daily:
- Saving: Set aside two dollars every day (or even better, automate your savings)
- Learning investing: Read one investing article or watch one short video every day
- Spirituality: Pray for just 5 minutes a day
- Business: Work on one thing on your business every day – even if it’s as small as changing a button
- Writing a novel: Write one paragraph every day
The goal is to make that activity a habit: Something as natural as brushing your teeth.
For example, Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg gives an example of how to create a habit of flossing your teeth. Don’t try to floss your entire mouth from the start; floss just one tooth per day. Once you can do it consistently without thinking, progress to two teeth per day. Then move on to an entire row. And before you know it, you’re flossing your all your teeth without thinking.
I know it works because I’ve done it. I used to hate flossing cause it was so damn inconvenient. But now, I catch myself reaching for the dental floss without even thinking about it – I created a habit that stuck.
Here’s How To Start
First, pick one thing that you wanna achieve: maybe it’s getting fitter, writing a book, learning investing, etc.
Next, break it down to the smallest action you can think of. Make that action SO EASY that there’s absolutely no way you can fail. For me, it was starting out with just a 10-second plank. For you, it might be to write one paragraph a day, or type one thing you learnt about investing per day.
The next step is critical: Schedule it after something you do every day. Research shows that habits form more easily when they’re triggered by an event. For example:
- We brush our teeth after we wake up
- A smoker takes a smoke break after a meeting
- We instinctively reach for our phones once we reach the train station
So schedule your activity such that it gets triggered by something you already do every day anyway. For example, I schedule my Bible readings right after I brush my teeth. And I schedule my exercise time right after that.
Finally, follow the “Never Skip More Than A Day” Rule. Let’s be realistic: You’ll never be able to stick to your activity 100% of the time. Instead of being discouraged by failure for one or two days, plan for it. If you miss a day because you woke up late, make sure that you stick to your commitment the next day, no matter what.
People are always searching for the Next Shiny Thing to help them achieve their long-term goals:
- Which app is going to change my life?
- Which course will make me wealthy now?
- Which writing software can I use to complete my novel?
- Which entrepreneur community can I sign up with?
But the truth is, we have all the resources we need. All we need to do is to figure out how to stick to them for the long-run. Do it daily, even if it’s inefficient.
Image credit: rosswebsdale