You want to build a fitness habit, get fitter and healthier. But every time you embark on a new fitness venture, or try to rekindle an old one, your busy life derails you. You find that you manage fits and spurts of effort, but maintaining consistency over a long period is tough. Recognise yourself here? this is for you. A guide to 3 common errors and the somewhat counter intuitive best practices you may replace them with.
- Setting the bar too high.
- Over estimating recovery needs.
- Not focusing enough on enjoyment.
I will address each of these in detail.
You’re setting the bar too high. You should dare to start small.
Mental inertia is often the stumbling blocks that prevents exercise habits getting off the ground.
A long term client of mine, who we’ll call Jane, hit a wall in lockdown 3. Even though she had long established fitness habits, finding the energy, motivation and will to train at home proved a tough challenge.
The thought of going into her ad-hock home gym, setting up her weights, getting her program up on her tablet and cracking on was just a bit too much to surmount. This was a common theme during lockdowns. If it can derail a seasoned gym goer and fitness enthusiast like Jane, no wonder it plagues so many who’s habits are less deeply engrained.
When this strikes, the brain builds up the task at hand into a lofty and arduous one. Your inner monologue will list each step involved. Your estimation of the entirety of the task multiplies with each additional step. This process builds an inertia against getting started. As a result beginning the process of training can be grossly hard. A much more likely outcome is that you make another tea or coffee and busy yourself with something else.
This can happen at the micro level of actually doing a session, or at the macro level of planning a fitness quest. Options seem endless and information is conflicting and confusing. Probably better you just come back around to it when you have more time and have done more research?
“The way is to avoid what is strong, and strike what is weak” Sun Tzu — The Art Of War
INERTIA BUILDS WITH ENORMITY.
The bigger you make the task, the harder it will be to put into motion. Therefore the way to beat inertia is to co-opt it. You must make the task at hand so small and easy to accomplish that you would be embarrassed not to achieve it.
This tactic will diminish inertia to an easily surmountable level. Once you dominate this stage you will gain some momentum. Now you may actually use inertia to your advantage. You may now tackle another task, but one that is ever so slightly tougher. Inertia will again be minor, and momentum will again build.
“be brave enough to start small enough” — Jordan B Peterson.
In my 18 year career to date I’ve seen people go from never having lifted a weight in their lives to winning medals in Englands Strongest Woman. People go from couch to 5k, to half marathons and onwards to ultra’s. I’ve seen people go from morbidly obese and sedentary to enthusiastic runners with six packs in a year. But I rarely see anyone do these types of things quickly.
Your brain will resist this simple truth. There is a strange logic in ones mind that achieving a shamefully small win is worse than failing at a worthy goal. If you notice this thinking pushing back at me from your own mind, consider compounding. Compounding progress is just like compounding interest. Your brain can only handle so much change at a time. 104% to be precise, this is known as the ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development).
Each time you make progress, however, you make it on top of all prior progress. Very soon you bargain with yourself to do one set of push ups will become a bargain with yourself to complete hour long tough workouts.
BUT IT WILL FEEL LIKE THE SAME LEVEL OF CHALLENGE.
A Great visualisation for this, is that of dominos. Each domino can knock over one 1.5 times its own size. Leeuwen 2004. Starting with a tiny one, 13 dominos later and you are knocking down one a meter tall!
You’ll get there. But only if you get started!
Next instalment: You’re making it too complex.
By Pete Edwards