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Habitual Exercise

Due to the popularity of the "How to Do" article, and the resulting questions surrounding my schedule, I'm going to do a deeper dive on how to fabricate a beneficially habitual life. This post will focus on exercise, but it really could be used for any positive habit you want to build.


What many of us tend to do is "jump in" and go way too hard with whatever it is we're attempting to do. We go into full-on "new years resolutions" mode, and go from complete inactivity to "I'm going to do XYZ for 4 hours every night!" or whatever. We make it one or two days - three weeks at most, and then we realize it's unsustainable, or we're too sore to get out of bed.


A different approach that I've found very useful is to add really small, easily maintained habits to my lifestyle. There are two ways I know of to do this effectively.


METHOD 1: Linking to existing habits

An example might be: "Every time I get out of bed, I do one push-up"


Taking a page from "How to Do", once that habit is non-negotiable, I'll add another one. "I brush my teeth in a half-squat". Again, just adding little bits here and there. "Whenever I take out the garbage, I do one lunge." "Whenever I pick up my son from the bus, I do ten squats."


The point is to find little windows of time that you're already habitually doing, and GRADUALLY "tack on" something to that event. You aren't suddenly going to negotiate with yourself that your son needs picking up from the bus stop, so... just add something else on.


You're already going to be doing the dishes, right? You're already going to use the toilet, right?


Find little things that you're already doing every day, and add an associated, pseudo-OCD action to that habitual thing.


The key is not to add too much too fast, and not to overwhelm your body with an entirely new lifestyle. One push-up is manageable for most people. Don't start at 100, and don't start with 20 new habits all at once. You might make it a day, but the next day you'll be so sore or mentally overwhelmed that it'll be too daunting. Or, you'll start negotiating "well, I did 100 yesterday, so I'll take the day off today" etc.


Remember "How to Do". Never negotiate. If you make the rule that you do a squat every time you put on your shoes... IT IS EVERY TIME YOU PUT ON YOUR SHOES.


STEP 2: Set a reminder 3 months later.

Once you have a habit for about 3 months, check in with yourself to see if it's time to adjust it. Could one push-up be 5? Could you add a new habit for every time you answer the phone? Think it out logistically. Will adding more push-ups mean you have to get up thirty seconds earlier, or do you have a buffer in your time window so it'll still work?


If you add an extra twenty squats to your bus pickup of your son, will that embarrass your kid to have their dad being the squatting weirdo? Think it through, and adjust where you can.


STEP 3: Keep adding

Maybe you eat breakfast every day at 10, and you're next to a doorway, so you schedule out some doorway back exercises for breakfast time, or maybe you have a spot for a chin-up bar next to where you park your car, and you decide to add that to your morning commute to work.


It becomes like a treasure hunt, looking at your results, and adjusting where necessary. "My chest could be bigger. Could I find a spot to do some incline push-ups? Maybe when I'm walking the dog, there are some bleachers I could use to put my feet up..."


METHOD 2: Scheduled Habits

Rather than linking to a specific task, we schedule specific times. (I recommend "tasks" rather than "appointments" as you get to check them off)


Not all of us have the same schedule every day. Maybe some days you have a time window at 12, maybe other days it's at 2:30, but there's usually a similar amount of time available during "work days" and a similar amount of time available during "days off".


Look for predictable holes, and put little 30 second exercises into those spots. If you have a sedentary job, maybe set a timer to go off every hour to do five jumping jacks, or take a walk around the office. It doesn't have to be much. The point is to get used to habitually doing what the very smart person making your schedule is telling you to do.


You won't have to schedule your "while I'm doing X also do Y" exercises, as those are "associated", but these you'll want to have in your schedule as reminders.


Eventually, you'll adjust your numbers for better results. You'll want to do 15 doorway exercises instead of 10. You'll want to lift 40lbs weights instead of 20lbs. Habits expand all on their own, and progress is addictive. It doesn't really take that much longer to do 200 squats than it does to do 100. It doesn't really ding into your schedule all that much to do an extra hundred jumping jacks, or a few extra minutes of the plank.


A few years into the future, and people will remark on your impossible schedule, because they're seeing it in its later stages, but for you, all you did was add "thirty seconds of shadow boxing before getting into the shower" this month. No biggie. The rest is habitual.


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