I have known in my heart for many years that I am someone who should exercise every day. But I have been avoiding making that commitment for as many years as I have been thinking about it!
Almost everyone I talk to in business thinks that they should exercise more than they do. Except this one guy…
Recently (about 100 days ago…) one of my clients, the CEO of a company, inspired and challenged me. He is very fit, and is quite passionate about fitness. It’s clear that his fitness serves him well.
The first few times I met with him, he asked me, “Did you work out today?”. I always said Yes. We shared that we both do the Insanity video workouts, though I suspect he makes a more impressive showing at it than I do.
Later, I was delivering a 2 day workshop for the top 100 leaders in his company, which required me to be at the venue at 7:30am.
And of course on the first day he asked me, “Did you work out today?”. I said NO. On the second day he said “Did you work out today?” At that time I got the very strong feeling that NO was the wrong answer…
So I asked him, “Seriously, do you work out every single day?”. He said, “If the sun rises, I work out”. I asked him about some extra challenging circumstances, sickness, travel, and the answer was always the same… “It’s not optional”.
So I thought about it…And I decided to do it. I started the next day.
What I learned from exercising 100 days in a row…
It actually takes less discipline
As I write this, I’m on about day number 125. What is so interesting to me is that when I tried to commit to exercising 4-5 days a week, It was much harder on any given day to make myself exercise.
I realized that it actually takes less discipline to do something that is not optional, than to do something that you “should” do.
There are still days when exercising is the last thing I want to do. And it’s 7pm and I’d really like a cocktail and dinner. In the past I would have given up on the idea of exercise by 7pm.
But now, I simply think, “It’s not optional”. And I do it.
I don’t have long lapses anymore
Another thing that would happen to me is that I would get on a roll and exercise 4-5 days a week. I’d feel great and think, “What was all that fuss about? Why haven’t I always done this? This isn’t that hard to do. This is great. I’ll do this forever!”
And then either I would go on a business trip, or I’d get sick.
It’s amazing how quickly and deeply the habit of NOT exercising re-establishes itself!
After a lapse, my natural tendencies would take over, and I could go weeks without exercising.
This was the main problem I was trying to solve. These lapses become more costly over time. It’s harder to get back into it, the longer you lapse. Or if you wait very long, you will be more likely to become injured, which will cause an even bigger set-back. And then it gets even harder to start again. And the weight just creeps back on.
I can think of many instances over the past years when the thought of exercise seemed particularly difficult, and I thought, I’m just getting older, when in fact, I was just getting lazier.
I am a firm believer that if you can do it today, you can do it tomorrow — But you have to do it today.
Over the past 120 days, I’ve had challenges to my effort. I have traveled both for work and pleasure, I have been sick, and even had a small surgery — and still I have exercised every single day, simply because I have changed my frame of mind to be, “it’s not optional”.
This non-optional approach has totally solved my main concern about avoiding these ever-growing lapses.
I save so much time!
The most amusing and totally surprising benefit I have found is how much mental time and energy I save not negotiating with myself about whether or not I will exercise.
Now that I am not doing that anymore, I think I actually save hours every day from thinking, Should I do it now?…or later? If I don’t do it today, I can do a longer workout tomorrow… Or maybe I’ll go on a long bike ride on the weekend…Will I? Won’t I? Will I? Won’t I? …
Also, I would procrastinate, not getting anything productive done, but not enjoying leisure time either, just being stuck in this mode of thinking “I should exercise” but not actually exercising. It was ridiculous!
Now I simply say, “it’s not optional”. When I wake up, I either do it immediately, or I put it on my schedule. I do not give it another thought!
I manage my weight much easier
I struggle with my weight — I always have. Many years ago, I discovered the many benefits of being fit. I’m pretty fit — and I’m not fat anymore. But it’s because I really forced myself to exercise. And this non-optional approach has actually made it much easier, and even made it feel a bit more welcome and natural.
I can’t say that my life has been totally transformed by exercising every day, but I can definitely say, that any day I exercise I feel better. And I definitely am having an easier time not-gaining weight.
Sticking to it
Truth be told, there are still those days when it’s really hard and every cell in my body does not feel like exercising. Ironically, as I am writing this, today is one of those days! But I will do it when I finish this article, because it is not-optional.
And there are ever-present logistical challenges. For example, being based in California, a trip to the east coast and an early meeting means getting up at the equivalent of 2am to exercise. In the past, I wouldn’t have even considered exercising that early.
So my strategy for getting through this is to simply shorten the workout time. I realized right away that reinforcing the “not-optional” habit was way more important than achieving any particular workout goal or time.
One morning when I was in Brazil with a client, (which is 4 hours ahead)…
I got up extra early in a jet-lagged fog. I did some push-ups, I did 2 sets of yoga warrior poses, and did a plank for 2 minutes. I think I may have blacked out a couple of times. It was one of the most excruciating 6 minute periods of my life! But I did something. I reinforced the habit.
I get sick sometimes. So I modified the rule from “If the sun rises it’s not optional”, to “if I can get out of bed, it’s not optional”. So when I was sick a few weeks ago, my workout was to walk for 2 miles. If I can get out of bed, I can walk for 2 miles.
When I got back from an international trip in the afternoon, a situation in which I never would have dreamed of working out before, instead of driving home (where to sofa would have been far too tempting) I stopped at the beach first, and did a 3 mile run. And as much as it pains me to admit it, I felt much better, and recovered my energy after the trip much more easily.
People often ask me what exercise I do every day. I actually do different exercises ever day, some at the gym, some at home, and some outside. Variety is important to keep from getting bored, and also because you end up getting stronger and burning more calories if you do different exercises all the time. This article, The top 10 fat burning exercises gives a good list of a wide variety of exerises anyone can do, including some exercises for combatting a double chin!
I am not one of those people who ever craves a workout. If I’m tired or stressed, I don’t naturally want to go for a run. What my body craves is to lay on the sofa and eat Doritos.
So even if on some bad days the workout is not very impressive, the habit of doing “something” has kept me going. And kept me from avoiding those dangerous lapses. So I’m still counting…
I’ll also include this link to an article about the importance of strenuous exercise that I wrote with my trainer a while back. I’m sorry to report that being willing to do truly strenuous exercise is what has had the biggest positive impact on my health and fitness. I try do do strenuous exercise at least 3-4 days per week.
But in general, I have to admit that committing to exercise every day actually makes it easier.
Good luck with whatever program you commit to!
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor.
She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)