Episode 48: The unconventional 26-step guide to go from exercise hater to exercise addict!

less is more

Hello Fitness Reloaders!

We all want to live a healthy life. We all want to look good. However, few of us actually want to exercise.

The result? People force themselves to start exercise, only to drop out in the first 6 months. The consequences? All progress made (becoming stronger, looking and feeling better, posture improvement, losing weight) gets lost.

This is why I put together this guide, to help people like you, start exercising, and actually like it! Along with liking exercise, you will also develop a system to support your exercise habit, so that you never have to lose your progress again.

Sounds unbelievable? Then keep on reading…

[flowplayer src=’/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/48-26steps.mp4′ splash=’/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/48-Rz26steps.jpg’]

Focus on what really matters.

Yes, it’s true that slow, long-lasting cardio burns more calories. It’s also true that weight training with 5 repetitions to failure help more with muscle volume than doing 10 repetitions to failure.

But let’s be practical.

Do you really think that those strategies will get you the body you want, or the healthy lifestyle you are meant to have? Do yo think they will protect you from dropping exercise once life gets tough?

Instead of worrying about how you should start, spend time focusing on what actually matters.

For most people exercise is another boring, time-consuming task that needs to be done. They have to drag themselves to exercise. They start and then they stop. Most of us have been there.

What you should really be focusing is how to make exercise fun and easy. You can figure out the details later.

This is how you can’t help it but become addicted to exercise!

So, here are the 26 steps that will actually help you exercise and love it!

You can use the links below to jump to a relevant section.

A. Plan a fresh start.

B. Set-up a fail-proof system.

C. Actually exercise.

D. Keep up the momentum.

E. Optimize and get more with less.

Let’s get going…

A. Plan a fresh start.

You come to exercise with emotional baggage from past attempts that failed. Time to clean it up!

fresh start
Time to start fresh!

1. Do you feel guilty for not exercising? Realize it’s not your fault.

Get over that guilt right now.

Understand that it’s NOT your fault for NOT exercising. There is nothing wrong with you! Especially, if exercise for you means suddenly devoting excessive amount of time (e.g. 1 hour, 4 times a week), it’s only natural that you don’t exercise.

Why do you think most people quit exercise in the first 6 months?

  • Because starting a new habit is hard.
  • Because people have unrealistic expectations. They rely on willpower, when willpower is the first castle to fall once you actually start working out.
  • Because people have no  solid system to rely onto, once their willpower is over.
  • Because people who fail falsely assume it’s because they were lazy, instead of recognizing the faults on their system.

Start exercising with a system that actually works, and you will see yourself finding exercise easy-breezy!

2. Think about your motivation. Why do you want to exercise?

Is it because you want to have a healthier lifestyle? Get stronger? Or, maybe you want to lose weight? Ask yourself about your “why” and the answer should come immediately to your mind.

Now take a piece of paper and write down all the different motivating goals for you. The order does not matter.

3. Review your exercise motivation. Is there a “should” or “must” or “have to” on the goals you just wrote?

If yes, then cross it off! Right now! “Shoulds” and “musts” are only going to make sure you never achieve your goal, as you will be naturally inclined to rebel against them! They are a source of negativity.

You have to (yes, have to) to transform those goals from negative to positive.

Time to do some rewriting…Example:

I have to lose weight” => “I want to be prettier”

Rewrite all the negative goals, and make them positive.

4. Formulate your goals as long jumps rather than high jumps. Add a time limit.

Let’s assume that one of your goals is to look better by losing weight. You may need to lose 60 pounds. Start by focusing on the first 20 pounds.

Most coaches advocate that you should have very specific and measurable goals. To an extent, I have to argue with that.

When doing a high jump, you have to jump higher than the bar to be successful. Contrary, when doing a long jump, the longer your jump, the better for you. There is not really a specific mark that you absolutely need to reach.

  • Here is a high jump goal: In the context of looking better, I will lose 20 pounds in 3 months.
  • Here is a long jump goal: In the context of looking better, I will be thinner in 3 months.
  • Here is a modified long jump goal: In the context of looking better, I will be at least 5 pounds thinner in 3 months.

Yes, the long jump goal is not measurable at all. That’s why you should use the modified approach. In this case, you could still lose 20 pounds, it’s just that the baseline is at just 5 pounds. In the modified approach there is an absolute minimum you have to reach. Thus, your goal is still measurable, but more flexible.

If you decide to go for high jumps though, keep in mind that failing to achieve the goal, will make your attempt look like a failure. You certainly don’t want more disappointing experiences with exercise, do you?

Your mantra should be “fun & easy”, not “stressful and hard”.

The only goals that must be absolutely measurable are the process ones. Example: I will exercise 4 times a week, for 30 min each time. Such goals describe the process that will get you to your long jump goal, and it’s super important to be kept each and every week! We’ll get into those in step 6.

5. Think in terms of “fun and easy”.

The best workouts are the ones we find fun and convenient. Why?

  • You are not going to make it more than a couple of times to a workout that is fun but not convenient.
  • You are also not going to make it more than a couple of times to a workout that is convenient, but boring.

Think of two to four ways you want to work out:  your favorite most fun activities to work out, and the most convenient ones. It does not matter whether it’s cardio, resistance training, or playing sports. It only matters whether it’s fun, or convenient.

Criteria for fun-ness are: fun, joy, happiness, playfulness, mind-body connection, or whatever makes you happy.

Criteria for convenience are:

  • Amount of hidden cost activities. E.g., apart from the actual time that working out takes, going to the gym also requires 30 min to get to the gym and back.
  • Availability of activity: Can I do it whenever I want to? E.g., I can only attend a yoga class at 5 pm on weekdays vs. I can work out at home whenever I want to.

The less time hidden cost activities take, and the more available an activity is, then the more convenient it is.

Activities example:

  • Fun: Hiking, yoga.
  • Convenience:  Work out at home, jog in my neighborhood.


B. Set-up a fail-proof system!

People believe they can rely on willpower to exercise. Well, willpower is limited, and this is the exact reason that people repeatedly fail to stick to their exercise goals for more than a few months. There is a solution though: setting up a support system.

Relying on willpower won't get you far...Relying on a system though will!

6. How much time are you willing to devote to exercise every week?

Start by thinking what you can do, rather than what you think you “should” do.

a. Ask yourself: How long am I willing to devote to exercise every day?

Yes, you heard right, every day. Your answer can be 1 hour, or 5 minutes. It does not matter.

b. Ask yourself: Can I CONFIDENTLY say that I will work out for X minutes daily for the next 1 year ?

Hey there, you didn’t ask for the next month, you asked for the next year.

If the answer to the question is no, then lower the amount of time, and rinse and repeat the question until you say yes.

You have to be 100% confident that you will stick to it for at least a year! 95% certainty does not work.

c. Make a weekly plan that is a mix and match of the two to four activities that you chose in step 5.

E.g., you can do twice a week hiking and 5 times a week jogging. This plan is your process goal. From now on, your only focus should be on following through with the process that you just set up.

7. Announce your exercise goals to your family and social circle!

Announcing your plans to your social circle will dramatically increase your chances of following through with your goal. Don’t dare skip this step! Making yourself accountable is a strategy that works.

Ways to make the announcement:

  • New status on facebook.
  • E-mail your friends.
  • Announce it verbally to your family.
  • Set up a Google Doc to track your fitness progress and share it with your friends.
  • Write your plans on the kitchen board.

Finally, commit to updating them with your progress. You can ping them with your results every two weeks, or every month.

Note: You won’t have to update your friends forever. Once exercise becomes a habit, you won’t need to do that. However, until that moment, updating your friends will really help you embrace exercise in your life.

8. Set up triggers to remember your workouts.

Making your exercise plan is not enough for you to actually do it. Even if your plan is ridiculously fun & easy, you may still need that extra nudge to get going. This is what triggers are used for. 🙂

  • A trigger can be an “I-love-squats” post-it on your computer.
  • Or, a text “Exercise makes me feel so good” reminder from an online service like Remember the milk.
  • Or, your husband asking you when you’ll do your workout…
  • Or, all of them combined!

9. Structure your workouts.

You have roughly two options (simplified for the purpose of this guide):

  • Make sure you work all big muscle groups ( back-chest-core-legs) each week. If you are only doing cardio or total-body exercises then you are fine with this rule.
  • Do not repeat the same exercise for two-days straight.
  • Add resting time/days if you need to.

That’s it! Simple, right?

When just starting, your plan does not have to be great. Just come up with something according to the guidelines above. You can tweak later to better fit your needs.

“You don’t have to be great to start. But you have to start to be great” – Joe Sabah

Remember that your current goal is to come up with a plan that is fun and easy to do! It does not have to be hard. You don’t have to get sweaty.

10. If thinking about muscle groups is overwhelming, then just start with working your core, doing squats, or push-ups.

Don’t worry whether you know enough to make your plan. Believe me you already more than you should when it comes to exercising.

Don’t you know how to do a squat?

Don’t you know how to do a push-up?

Don’t you know how to work your abs?

Yes, you do! You just need to do more of it! And, don’t worry about the number of sets, or repetitions!

Pick something and go do it! Do it daily!


C. Actually exercise!

 Just do it.

FR back ups
Me working out my back muscles

11. Start each workout session with 1 min of warming up.

Warming up is not an extra activity that eats up your time. It prepares your body for what’s coming up next. It is  as simple as beginning your workout by doing the activity you plan to do in a lower intensity. E.g., plan to go out running? Start by walking fast for 1 or 2 min. Yeah, that simple.

12. End each workout session with 1 min of stretching.

This is why you should devote at least 1 min to stretch.

  • Stretch because it feels good.
  • Stretch to increase your range motion, protecting yourself from possible injuries.

This video and this one are good stretching resources to start working on your joints.

However, if adding stretching makes exercise complicated for you, then just skip it! You can always add it later on, when your exercise habit will be more established!

13. Follow your workout plan! Every day!

Enough said. Just follow what you have already planned! Now is the time to do it!


D. Keep up the momentum!

Do you ever think about whether you should check for passing cars before crossing a street?

No. It just happens because doing so is so ingrained in you.

Once your fitness momentum gets high enough, you will do the same with exercise. You will no longer need to think about it. No more “I don’t feel like exercising today”. It will be replaced by you…just doing it.

The more you practice, the more momentum you build…

Lone surfer
This surfer goes for momentum. What about you?

14. Congratulations for starting exercise! Now you have to stand being a beginner.

Well done! In Greece we say that ” The start is the half of everything”. So you are already 50% towards your goal!

You have already come this far, so you shouldn’t let feelings of uncomfortableness distract you from your path. It’s only natural for you to feel awkward, and maybe silly sometimes, since this is something new to you. Hang in there, it will pass soon.

15. Focus on the immediate benefits you get from each exercise session, rather than obsessing about your bigger losing weight, looking better, etc goals.

Now set your big goals (e.g., losing weight, looking better) aside. Instead, focus on the benefits you will get from exercise are feeling good both physically and mentally after each session. This is the best motivator when you feel low and don’t want to get up from the couch.

16. Not feeling like exercising today? Just start.

Didn’t I jest say that in Greece we say that ” The start is the half of everything”? Exactly! So just get up and do the first minute of your exercise. You will probably end up continuing your session to the end.

17. Playing mind tricks and promising yourself you’ll do it tomorrow, if only you don’t do it today?

Deep inside you know you are lying; You know you will never make up for that missed workout; You know these are all empty promises; Then why do you fall for it?

Just start. Just do the first minute.

18. Keep up the fun in exercise: Add variety to your home workouts by using furniture, paper plates, or your sofa…as your exercise gear.

Exercise gear does not have to be limited to dumbbells.Exercise can be creative…

What if you used a backpack instead of dumbbells?

Or, plastic plates to do..sliding workouts?

Keep coming up with new equipment, and who knows, you may not even have to leave the couch to exercise…What if you could work out from your sofa?

19. Keep up the fun in exercise: Experiment with different levels of intensity. Why not try tabata?

Want to get a challenge? Then try doing tabata!

Tabata is a very effective way of internal training. Pick 4 exercises. Do 8 rounds of each exercise, doing as many repetitions as you can.

Each round consists of 20 sec of exercise and 10 sec of rest. That should take you exactly 16 min. See some 3-min tabata examples here and here.

Rounds 1-8: Exercise 1 (e.g., squats)

Rounds 2-16: Exercise 2 (e.g., push-ups)

Rounds 17-24: Exercise 3 (e.g., planks)

Rounds 25-32: Exercise 4 (e.g., lunges)

20. Skipping exercise? Have a plan B.

Life is unpredictable. There will be times when you cannot do your planned workout. Skipping exercise will lower your momentum though, and this is not something what you want to allow, right? You have put in so much effort to increase your momentum, you cannot just let it decrease for no reason.

What if you had a back-up plan?

Even having just 1 exercise in your back-up plan will help you sustain your exercise habit and keep your momentum. Ha, just one exercise can get you faaaar!

“It does not matter how slow you go, as long as you do not stop”. – Confucius

21. Work out when traveling.

What happens to your workouts when you travel? Hmmm, I don’t hear an answer coming from your part… Well, time to change that.

Try working out in your hotel room, or just avoid stiffness by stretching at the airport.

Traveling is not an excuse to not get the additional energy that comes from a work out!

Traveling is also not an excuse to let your momentum decrease by not doing exercise.

22. Remind yourself what happens when you stop. Remember that piano lessons you had as a kid? What happened to them?

I am sure you don’t want to have the same thing happening to your recently achieved flat belly if you stop. What if you never stop exercising again, and just keep building on the great foundation you are forming right now? How awesome will you become? How strong? How lean? How healthy? How energized?

However, you haven’t stopped! You are well on your way! Sounds like a good time to update your family and friends on your progress?


E. Optimize and get more with less.

 Wow, by now you are an exerciser! Strip away all the activities that eat your resources without providing value, and explore  new ways to add activity in your life!

less is more
Less is more: Optimize and simplify!

23. Increase your movement throughout the day with incidental exercise.

Have you tried incidental exercise? Incidental exercise refers to exercise that you can just do:

  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Parking more far away when you go to the super-market.
  • Biking to the post office.

Plus, incidental exercise can be fun: Playing with your kids more often is a great way to burn calories and fill up with joy!

24. Deal with new fears that pop up.

Exercising is a journey. Several fears may come up during this process.

  • Am I losing enough weight?
  • Do I look like a fool when I do this exercise?
  • Is this exercise safe?

Review them carefully using this checklist to see if they are valid or not. Healthy fears serve to protect you, while unhealthy ones will only serve to hold you back!

25. Is your exercise process simple enough?

Here is when minimalism gets handy. Is your exercise process simple enough? Are there too many hidden cost activities?

Are you sure there is nothing else to eliminate?

Maybe it’s time to get comfortable working out in your jeans so that you don’t have to change into athletic gear each and every time you want to do some exercise?

26. Exercise is just plain fun; Why not use it to fight against boredom?

Working out to fight boredom is one of my favorite ways to exercise. Recently, I had to wait for 2 hours for my skydiving session and I used exercise as a way to have fun and constructively use my time.

Other people like Erica exercise at the airport when waiting to board at the gate.

jumping rope at airport

The options are limitless. Why confine yourself to standards?


Photo Credits:
1. Fresh Start: JoanneQEscober at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tacitrequiem/2911121736/
2. Gears in system: Avrene at http://www.flickr.com/photos/enerva/4302079406/
3. Surfer+ big wave: Mikebaird at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/4087050177/
4. Less is more: Hooverine at http://www.flickr.com/photos/hooverine/2802881741/

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  1. Oh man, “C” is the hardest one for me. However, I’ve been able to manage little successes when I get myself to dance.

    I’ll stop, take a break, turn on some music, and just jam! It might not be organized, but at least I’m moving. 🙂

    Great post!