Or, How A 46 Year-Old Man Prone To Laziness (yours truly!) Never Missed A Resistance Workout In Over 5 Years
I was fairly athletic during my youth.
I played on various sports teams up through high-school.
I was even voted ‘best body’ in my senior yearbook.
And then something happened.
Let’s call it…
My 20’s and 30’s.
I got myself involved in very sedentary careers where I did nothing but sit all day, every day. I never made exercise a priority. I didn’t join a gym or get into any regular exercise routine.
Like many households, I bought a nice treadmill, but I rarely used it.
I bought a nice exercise machine and set of free weights, but didn’t touch them very often either.
I was slowly becoming nice and soft.
Hi, Pillsbury Doughboy!
Occasionally, I would have a spark of motivation.
Perhaps one of the Rocky movies would replay on cable TV. Or maybe I’d see some swimsuit pictures of myself from a recent beach vacation.
A massive workout would then ensue. Something akin to my high-school football days or early college years when I would regularly spend well over an hour in the UCLA fitness center.
But as you might imagine, this extreme level of exercise activity would quickly fade. Usually after one day. Maybe a week, tops.
Then one day, it finally occurred to me:
What good is a super-strong workout doing me if occurs so rarely?
Wouldn’t I be much better off striving for consistency over intensity?
Of course, a great argument might be made that figuring out a way to accomplish both would be ideal. But if I could only get myself to do one, wouldn’t doing less, but doing it consistently, be much better off for my health and body?
I thought so.
So I devised a plan. Before I tell you what that plan was, let me digress for a moment and teach you about something else.
Minimum Viable Products
If you’ve never heard of it, in the business and entrepreneurial world, there is a concept called the “minimum viable product.”
The term was made especially popular by Eric Ries and his best-selling entrepreneurial, business strategy book, The Lean Startup. (Amazon affiliate link)
It refers to creating a product that can be made and sold as quickly as possible with just the most bare bones worth of features. The reason you do this is so that you can test the market to see if your product idea is even viable before you go off and spend much more time and resources to make a really great version of it.
So basically, you are creating the “just barely good enough to get the job done” version.
Now let’s go back to my workout plan.
I decided that I would do resistance exercises twice a week.
Not 7 days a week.
Not 5 days.
I also made another decision: I would allow my resistance workout to be as little as one set of push-ups and one set of sit-ups.
Period. That’s it.
At the very, very, very least, I would do this, and I would do it twice a week.
I figured, at the very least, I could stick with that, right?
Guess what? It worked!
I did stick with that. It would be almost inexcusable not to.
What possible excuse could I justify or rationalize to get me out of that measly commitment?
So with excuses basically rendered inexcusable, I held steady to this new habit.
I usually did my workouts on Monday and Thursday. But if some major distraction came up, I would alter it to Tuesday & Friday, or in a real pinch, perhaps Wednesday & Saturday. But I never missed getting my two workouts in every week.
Never. Ever. Ever.
But another interesting thing happened. I rarely, if ever, invoked my one set of push-ups and one set of sit-ups bare minimum requirement. I would always do more.
You see, once I started banging out some exercises, I always had a little more in the tank to at least do a bit more.
In fact, a new, unofficial bare minimum started to slowly creep into existence. At least 4 sets of push-ups and at least 4 sets of sit-ups quickly became my new floor.
And that new floor has lasted up to today. Even though I know that I still have that “1 set of each” escape clause in my back pocket should I need it, I never need it.
I always do at least 4 sets of each, and anything less would feel really strange to me now.
It’s not a matter of discipline.
It’s not a matter of willpower.
It’s not even a feeling of making a proactive decision. It’s more like brushing my teeth. If I didn’t do it, it would just feel weird.
Occasionally a good portion of my Monday will pass by and I’ll forget to do my workout. At that point, I may even feel really tired and unmotivated, but something in my mind will just click and say, “Just get on the floor and bang these out.”
And I do!
It’s like this action is no longer housed in the part of my brain that tries to juggle pleasure vs. pain, or laziness vs. discomfort. It’s more like, “Oh, there’s that itch. I need to scratch it.”
I have incorporated the same basic strategy into walking my dogs every day. There were many years where I did no cardiovascular exercise. I mean none, zilch, nada. (My wife ran with our dogs, so I knew they were taken care of.)
But then I started a new minimum viable habit. It wasn’t even as explicitly stated as the resistance workout habit. It was more of an idea that I should probably take the dogs for at least an additional short walk with me most days.
But again, just like with the resistance exercises, a new unofficial floor started to creep into existence.
The walks became a little longer. They began to incorporate a lot more uphill work. ‘Most days’ turned into ‘virtually every day.’
If something really throws off my schedule, I still allow a very short or missed walk on rare occasions. But these exceptions are few and far between.
Am I in the exact same, tip-top shape as I was in high-school? No, I’m not.
Am I in much, much better shape than I was for most of my 20’s and 30’s? Yes! Surprisingly, I am!
Scientific Research Bears Out The “Minimum Viable Habits” Strategy I Stumbled Upon
It turns out that my minimum viable habit strategies were not a fluke, unique to myself.
Psychology professor BJ Fogg at Stanford University has been doing research over the past few years that bears out the potency of such a strategy. It has proven effective for many different people across many different behavior goals.
Fogg really takes it to the extreme by recommending, for example, that someone who wants to make flossing a habit should begin by only flossing one tooth each day. Just one!
Why? Because it’s the consistency, not the intensity, that is key to getting a habit to stick.
And once it has stuck, increasing portion, duration, or intensity can more easily follow. (By the way, my push-ups and sit-ups are rather extreme, more like something out of P90X.)
So What About You?
If working out is not a current habit of yours, do you think this strategy might be something that could work for you?
Or if you already have the exercise habit licked, how else might you incorporate a minimum viable habit into your life?
How about reading or writing?
Many people wish that they could set aside more time for reading books. Many others have a dream of tackling an interesting writing endeavor (a blog, book, or whatever). If this is you, why not make a commitment to do this for just 5 minutes minimum per day?
If “every day” seems too daunting, how about “at least 5 days a week?”
Let me tell you what will likely happen. If you crack open that book or that laptop and get going for 5 minutes, you are often going to keep going longer. I can’t tell you how powerful simple inertia is to your action taking.
Plus, you are likely to start experiencing this ‘portion creep effect’ like I did with my workouts. Portion creep is not just a devil to your diet. Portion creep is also an angel to your good habits.
Perhaps after a while, 30 minutes will start to feel like your new unofficial minimum. Don’t set this higher floor mentally in stone too quickly. You don’t want to psychologically rebel against a minimum that feels too taxing. You need to keep it officially low enough so that inaction excuses will always feel inexcusable.
But once you have the minimum viable habit firmly in place, you may find that your 5 minutes of reading and writing creeps into a regular 50. Or perhaps, your writing habit really takes off and it becomes a 5 hour a day, 5 days a week, professionally lucrative habit.
That’s how things work out with great, consistent habits. The results are sometimes absolutely shocking… in a good way!
Who knows? Maybe they’ll even lead you to a land where all your dreams and goals will come true.