All I wanted to do was exercise for 30 minutes, but I just couldn’t get myself to do it.
I sat down, feeling defeated and overwhelmed. What was in my way?
In the previous six weeks, I was inactive and my desire to be in great shape was not being fulfilled, but destroyed. Because of this, I realized that I wanted to cram all of the workouts I had missed into this one. The pressure of everything I hadn’t done weighed on me.
The Surprise Breakthrough Came From Considering The Opposite Of A Huge Workout
Months earlier, I had read a book called Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko, which is a book about creative thinking. In the book, Michalko lists several creative thinking “toys” to use to generate creative ideas. The one that changed my life was called “false faces.”
In “false faces,” you take your current ideas and flip them around to consider the opposite. For building a skyscraper, you might instead consider building something that went far down into the earth.
The opposite of doing an overwhelming workout gave me the idea of doing a single push-up. Immediately, I questioned my sanity. But as I continued to sit there, frozen, this idea would resurface, and eventually I gave in.
To my surprise, it worked.
How One Push-Up Became A Full Workout
I got down into push-up position and did my one push-up, but since I was already there, I figured I’d do a few extra. I did about 15 push-ups in the first set, and my muscles were warmed up.
Then I set a new goal – do a single pull-up. I didn’t hesitate for this easy goal and did one, and then chose to do several more.
It felt like I had stumbled upon a gold mine. I couldn’t seem to fail with this strategy. Since I was out of shape, my body wanted to quit early, but I continued to lead it along slowly, like a dog with a trail of ham shavings.
“Ok, just two more push-ups. Now one more. Ok, two more.”
Abs were next, but I hate ab workouts more than anything, so I decided to just press play on a youtube ab workout video, and then to set up my mat, and then to get down on the mat, and then to do the first exercise. I finished the 10 minute program and my midsection was on fire.
When it was over, that single push-up became a solid 30 minute workout.
Three Tips To Overcome Exercise Resistance
1. Start stupid small (SSS)
This little trick really works.
Maybe you’ve heard elsewhere that it’s good to start small, but that isn’t specific enough. I have a clarifying rule I use that works EVERY time for me – make the first step “stupid small.” That just means that the first step should be so small that you sound ridiculous saying it. The effectiveness comes from an almost guaranteed start, which is, as they say, the hardest part. The momentum you build from starting stupid small is the perfect opportunity to ramp up into a bigger accomplishment.
From my late teens until late twenties (about ten years), I tried to exercise consistently. Consistency was off and on for those ten years, until I started The One Push-up Challenge.
I did one push-up per day minimum. On days I needed to work out, it was a great boost. On days I didn’t, it was no problem. Some nights in bed I would remember, “Oh no! I didn’t do my push-up today,” and flip over to do my push-up in bed just to meet the requirement.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but exercise was becoming a habit for me, just from this small requirement. And I’m happy to say that for the last three months, I have gone to the gym 3-6 times a week. It is easy and enjoyable because it’s a habit.
I’m not the only one either. A couple told me that they used this strategy to just get through the warmup for the insanity workout program, and told me, “we are now onto our 4th week and getting stronger and stronger day by day.”
Here are some stupid small step examples you can try:
• Do one push-up.
• Put gym shorts on.
• Drive to the gym (this is my objective for gym days).
2. Don’t simply desire to change – place an expectation there
A key part of my success has come from placing an expectation to exercise, as opposed to thinking that I’ll “do my best.”
This works because expectations are pre-determined decisions, not something you have to get pumped up for. Don’t make it a decision. People are more consistent going to work than going to the gym because there is an expectation for them to be at work, but the gym is seen as optional. Why not make a trip to the gym an expected part of your schedule?
This trick scales nicely with starting stupid small, because in the early days, you will merely expect to do one push-up, which is very easy to meet. Later on, your self-discipline will strengthen and you can up the ante by expecting to drive to the gym several days a week (like I do now).
3. Don’t cheat!
It can be tempting to think, “I’ll need to do a lot more than one to make it worthwhile.” This is an honorable thought, but it undermines the whole operation. If you say you have to do one push-up, but you feel like you have to do 20, then you might as well change your goal to 20 push-ups. By aiming for one push-up minimum, you’re tricking your brain to start exercising. After you begin, you’ll feel less resistance and will likely do more.
While on some days I did a single push-up, most days were at least ten. And I have to say, even at small amounts like that, you can feel the difference from daily exercise.
This is especially important in the beginning; you need to be satisfied even if you only do the tiny step that you promised to do. Everything beyond that is pure bonus. I encourage you to set micro-goals after that point too. Completing seven small goals to get to 20 push-ups is the same as completing one goal to do 20 push-ups. But with the first one, you’ll get the satisfaction of completing seven goals. These micro-successes feel surprisingly great.
Of course, these goals are so small that they may be better defined as steps, but you can treat each step as a “micro-goal” with its own micro-reward.
BONUS: By doing this “the small way,” you’re training yourself to expect to accomplish your goals. The high success rate of these tiny goals builds confidence. If you’ve been intimidated by the size of your fitness goals, you can start today to build a foundation with small, stupid goals.
Remember, it is better to succeed with 100 tiny goals than to fail one giant goal. It’s great to have bigger aspirations and dreams, but these should be broken down into steps that you can and will take. If you feel resistance, it means you’re using up willpower, which is a limited, and therefore, an undependable resource. As you feel resistance, go smaller and smaller until it seems easy.
Make your steps like sand – individually tiny, but significant when combined – and you can climb any of your personal mountains.
The inspiration for this post came from The One Push-Up Challenge. And here’s a deal for you… I write a Tuesday newsletter for my blog, Deep Existence. If you sign up, you’ll get an exclusive set of 40 wallpapers (with great focus quotes + pictures) for your desktop computer for free. Set them to rotate and you’ll be inspired throughout the day! There are a couple of extra gifts too. If you’re interested, you can click here to sign up.
|Written on 10/8/2013 by Stephen Guise. Besides writing for his own blogs Stephen is a featured writer here at Dumb Little Man. Be sure to stop by Stephen’s ‘featured writer page‘ right here on Dumb Little Man to find links to more of his articles.|
Photo Credit: Eric Tastad