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zen habits: How to Get Back on the Exercise Train

Saturday, March 10, 2007

How to Get Back on the Exercise Train

Every Saturday is Health Tip Day at Zen Habits.

It's a story most of us have lived through at some time or other: we begin an exercise program, and it's going well, but after a week or two or a month or two or even a year or two, we fall off the program. Then we might get a little down about that, and because of the initial friction of entering any program, it's hard to get back into it.

I recently fell off my triathlon training for a couple weeks due to illness and a death in the family, and I found it hard to get back into it. I reset my resolve (just press the reset button!) and re-focused myself, leaving off all other goals but my training for the month of March (see the Zen Habits March Challenge if you haven't yet).

So, for those of you who've fallen off your exercise program, and want to get back in, here are my tips:

  • Re-focus and commit yourself again. Often we think that, because we already were on a program, we can just pick it back up, no problem. But in reality, we need to condition ourselves for a new habit (although it should be easier this time since we've done it before), so we need to start (almost) at the beginning. That mean starting with making a commitment. Write down your goal and tell people about it, put it on your blog, post it up at your home and workplace. If you can't take this step, it's likely that you will falter.
  • Focus on just this one goal. If you've got other stuff going on, it's hard to add a new habit while working on others. It's hard, but it's best to be patient and work on one goal at a time if possible. Too many goals at once spread your focus too thin. The key is to focus yourself as much as possible on that one goal, and maintain that focus for as long as possible.
  • Do it for one month. You don't need to start at the beginning of a month -- you can start today. But do it for 30 days. Commit to that, and once you're past that, it will get much easier.
  • Do it at the same time every day. If you tell yourself that you will exercise when you find time, there will be many days when you don't find the time. Set a time of day when you can exercise every day -- in the morning, lunchtime, after work are the three best times. Do it at that time every day, and it will become a stronger habit.
  • Start small. We have a tendency to do too much at first, especially if we're used to a certain level from our old exercise program. But in the beginning, it's best to hold back, and just do a little, and then progress slowly back to your old level. If you're used to running 5 miles, run 3. If you're used to swimming for an hour, do half an hour. If you're used to lifting 12 reps of 200 lbs., do 8 reps of 160 lbs. You get the idea. Start slowly, or you will have a harder time sticking with it. Once you're back in the habit, you can increase your workload.
  • Learn from your mistakes. There's a reason you stopped your exercise program. Figure out what that was, and plan to beat it next time. If not, it will happen again.
  • Celebrate every little success, in the beginning. The first few days are the most crucial. Reward yourself often during this time, and celebrate everything you do! The first week is the next most important period. After that, it gets easier. But after about 2-3 weeks, you'll face a crisis. Re-focus yourself during that crisis, and you'll get through it. After a month, you'll be golden.
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1 comment:

Jane Chin said...

This is a great post! It's a good idea to "retrain" your habits once you fall off the exercise train. Not many people appreciate this logic and then they stay off the track.