Who doesn’t want to exercise more? Let’s rephrase… Who doesn’t wish they had the willpower to exercise more? We all know it would be better if we added more exercise into our daily routine. A lot of research has been done, and no one disputes the health benefits of exercise (read our last post Want to Live Longer? Get Some Exercise).
Knowing its importance, many of us do try to exercise: we read books on the subject, download the latest app and even subscribe to a health magazine or two. We are motivated for a while, but exercise is hard, and the quit rate is generally higher than the stick-with-it rate.
So what is the secret? Why do some people lace up and hit the trails come rain or shine and others of us sink further down into the couch? The answer may be that we are simply setting our goals too high to begin with.
This means that after the initial motivation wears off, we have to rely too much on willpower. Our daily allotment of willpower, it turns out, is probably limited. And to get things done, we need to use it wisely.
One of the best ways to do this, says Stephen Guise, researcher and the author of Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, is through the development of mini habits. Habits, he says, when made small enough, easily get us moving and may even help us build up our supply of willpower over time.
Guise starts his book with an example of how he started using mini habits to get fit. He set a goal so low–doing just one push-up a day–that he knew he would easily complete it. That one push-up, he says, eventually grew into a regular gym routine and helped him achieve his fitness goals.
In setting a goal, Guise says, “If you feel strong resistance, back off and go smaller.” For him it was to do one push-up, for you it might be to walk to the end of your driveway. The key is to keep your goal low, but to feel free to exceed your goal as you feel like it.
Some days you might just do the minimum, but other days you may do a little more. By keeping the goal small and doing it every day, you will be creating an exercise habit. When something is habitual, it takes very little willpower to accomplish.
When you repeat a behavior over time, your brain learns to automate the process. It’s more energy efficient to automatically do something than to manually weigh your options and decide to act the same way every time. ― Stephen Guise, Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results
Research also suggests that willpower may be like a muscle in that you can build it up over time. And when people invest in things like fitness, they tend to also do so in other areas of life. In other words, even if the exercise habit you start with is teeny tiny, it can lead to big results in your life.
Give it a try. Pick an area of fitness that you would like to improve. It could be building strength, endurance, or flexibility. Then narrow it down to a single activity that is small enough to guarantee you’ll do it every day.
Here are some examples of fitness mini habits to try:
- Do two crunches.
- Do one 15-second calf stretch.
- Do five minutes of yoga.
- Walk for one minute.
- Jog for 10 seconds.
As always, talk to your doctor before starting any fitness program. She can help you pick the activity and fitness goals that are just right for you.
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