Have you ever wondered why several hardworking people, people who are successful in multiple areas of their lives, don’t do well with healthy living?
They lose weight, only to gain it back. They start the gym, only to quit. They buy a home treadmill, but don’t use it past month 2. Why can’t they seem to nail exercise no matter how many times they’ve tried?
How can they also succeed in fitness so that they look GREAT, get more energy, climb the stairs to the office together with their fit colleague, and years later, not worry about heart disease the way their peers will?
I used to be like that too. I was a grad student at Stanford Engineering, doing great professionally, only my weight was going UP and I was exercising LESS! I had to do something to break that pattern, but trying to exercise MORE, didn’t actually work. It made me exercise LESS. Huh?
I explain all this in detail in the free habits class (sign up here or at the end of this article). But today I’ll give you a short answer about why this is happening addressing ONE of the FIVE most important myths that keep us stuck, being unfit, flabby, and risking our health:
Instead of starting small, and focusing on building THE HABIT first, they mindlessly jump to 30, 40, or 60 minutes of exercise. It’s not their fault. It’s just that this is what they *think* they should be doing. Yet conventional wisdom is DEAD WRONG on this. Here’s what happens when you just jump to the end goal.
Lisa decides to exercise for 30 minutes 5 days a week.
- First week, check.
- Second week, check. Isn’t her waist already a tiny bit smaller?
- Third week, she did only half the workouts.
- Fourth week, she only did one.
- By the fifth week, Lisa is demotivated and quits. Her waist stops looking smaller.
She feels bad. She thought that 30 minutes a day shouldn’t be too hard. After all yes she’s busy, but let’s cut the crap and be honest – she theoretically could have made the time. She could have spend 30 minutes. If only she had more discipline, if only she had more willpower, this wouldn’t have happened.
So months go by and Lisa decides to start again. She gets a 20-class yoga pack. Each class is 60 minutes long, but she loves yoga, and she is really looking forward to keep up with it. So she starts out.
- First week, check.
- Second week, check. She feels great!
- Third week, she skipped one class. Wow, she has lost 5 pounds already!
- Fourth week, she only went once.
- Fifth week, she didn’t go, but she’s not going to quit!
- Sixth week, she made it! Once.
- Seventh week, she didn’t go.
- Eight week, she didn’t go.
- Tenth week, she’s still not going. She’s gained the 5 pounds back.
By now Lisa is seriously wondering what is wrong with her? She did like yoga, right? She feels great after each session, right? Why couldn’t she make it, at least twice a week?
So Lisa stops. Two years go by. It’s now January. Her New Year’s Resolution? Exercise!
So she buys an annual gym membership. Maybe having committed to an annual membership will keep her on track.
- First month? Pretty good.
- Second month? She’s still going but not as often. Look at the definition that is showing up!
- Third month? She only went 3 times during the whole month.
- By month six Lisa has stopped going. Her definition fades away. She feels terribly guilty for having a gym membership, yet not going, but somehow she can’t seem to get going!
But Lisa is not alone. There are MILLIONS of people around the world who have had a similar experience to hers. Hardworking people, successful people, who are by no means lazy, yet somehow can’t get themselves to stick to exercise past month two, month three, or month six.
Here’s what most beginner exercisers do (and it’s obviously not working very well.) They first come up with a (random) number of minutes that they think they need to reach. Some people think they need to hit 60 minutes. Others think they need to hit at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. 30 is actually a very popular number, since that’s what most government guidelines suggest for better health.
Then they expect that just because they decided to work out for 30 minutes a day, then they should be able to follow through it with it. It kinda makes sense: If they could do it in their first few weeks, why should they not be able to do it past week three or six?
Now once they try that, and then stop exercising, they conclude that it was their fault. That they should have tried harder. Not once do they think that the method they chose, i.e., just starting out immediately with 30 minutes a day, might actually be the problem.
So they resolve to do better. They try again, but it’s STILL not working!
And the truth is that most likely, no matter how many times they try, if they keep trying the same thing, they’ll still keep getting the same results. They’ll be giving up exercise after a while.
And that’s what I call The Cycle of Frustration. You start out-> get results (definition, weight loss, better fitness, more energy)-> stop exercising-> lose results (bye bye definition, get weight back, your fitness is back to square one, you’re getting tired easily).
And months or years later, when you start out again, you repeat the cycle.
So how do you break out of this cycle, so that you get to start exercise, and never stop?
Now if you managed to do that, you would actually get to keep the results! You would actually get to lose weight and keep it off, feel more energetic, chase after your kids at the park – it’s a no issue for you, climb the stairs to your office together with your fit colleague (again not an issue), and your doctor will be giving you a nod of approval.
Years later when you’re old, you won’t be worrying about heart disease, stroke, and diabetes they way your peers will. Plus you’ll look GREAT! And younger! You’ll get compliments! And your kids will be in shape too – after all, you showed them a good example.
The good news? There’s a solid way to get there. The even better news? It doesn’t require willpower. The “bad” news? It does require NOT doing what you’ve already been doing. So no, you won’t be starting with 30 minutes or 60 minutes again. Because if you do, you know where that will go.
And that’s “bad” news because you deep inside *still think* you need to try the same thing, mindlessly jump to 30, 40, or 60 minutes of exercise, and hope it’s gonna be different this time. Doing what actually works may even feel strange to you.
So what DOES work?
Why 5 minutes of exercise a day is better than 30 minutes a day.
“It does not matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop.”
I use this quote from Confucius all the time in Exercise Bliss, an 8-week exercise program that helps people make exercise a habit.
We start out with 5 minutes of exercise at a time and gradually build it up to 15 minutes, 30 minutes or more. But at the beginning, guess what the most common question is? “Am I doing enough?”, “Is 5 minutes of exercise enough?”.
First, what is “enough?” It depends on your goals. Do you want to exercise for health? Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to get lean? Run a marathon? Lower blood pressure?
Second, you’re a beginner. Is asking whether you’re doing “enough” the most important question? Because I want to argue that the most important question is: “Is this helping me make exercise a habit?”
Let’s face it – without consistency, you won’t achieve any of your goals. Any results you get will be fleeting. Without making exercise a habit, you’ll be stuck in the Cycle of Frustration, losing weight and gaining it back, repeatedly, over and over again.
You already know what happens when you, e.g., immediately jump to 30 minutes.
Yes, you’ll be doing “enough,” as you’ll be following the recommended government guidelines. But that’s for this week. What about the next week, and the week after? What about next month?
Now here’s what we forget: We’re working towards making exercise part of our lives, FOREVER.
So DECADES from now, when you reach 90 and you’ll still be in great shape and full of energy because by that time you will have been exercising for, hmm, decades – It won’t matter AT ALL whether you got to 30 minutes a day in October of 2015, in November, or sometime in 2016.
“What year was it that we went to Hawaii?”
“What year was it that my nephew was born?”
“When did I start exercise, does anyone remember? No, I want to know EXACTLY when I started following the recommended guidelines of 30 minutes a day. Year + month please!”
But wait — assuming that if you start with 30 minutes a day you’ll advance FASTER than if you start with 5 minutes of exercise day is exactly that: an assumption.
Actually starting with 5 minutes will get you FASTER results than 30 minutes a day.
You already know what happens when you immediately jump to 30 or 60 minutes a day:
You start out excited. Keep it up for a month. In month 2 you start skipping workouts. By month 3 you’re no longer working out.
A year later you decide to start again with 30 minutes a day. You keep it up for a month. In month 2 you start skipping workouts. By month 3 you’re no longer working out.
Then two years later you decide to start again…
Now compare this to starting with 5 minutes a day, or less on year 0:
You start out excited. It’s not sexy to tell yourself about your new 5-minute habit but you know better!
In month 2 you get it up to 10 minutes.
In month 3 you’re doing 15-20 minutes. (this is when your friend who immediately started with 30 minutes a day quits)
By month 6 you’ve built it up to 30 minutes a day!
A year later you’re still exercising. Sometimes for a 30 minutes a day, sometimes with 16 minutes of High Intensity Interval Training, sometimes with a 60-min hike. Exercise is no longer something you need to think about or debate, it’s something you just do.
Your friend who a year ago had decided to immediately jump to 30 minutes a day had quit 9 months ago, and now is getting started again. Please go tell her to NOT immediately jump to 30 minutes all over again! Please help her prevent having the same frustrating experience once again. You’ll actually save her time because by starting small she’ll be able to achieve MORE than by immediately jumping to a bigger goal.
Starting with 5 minutes a day instead of 30 is ONLY ONE of the tools you need to make exercise a habit. Sign up to learn all FIVE.
Immediately jumping to doing 30 or 60 minutes is only ONE of the myths that we believe in that don’t let us make exercise part of our lives. The longer we believe in those myths, the longer we’ll be unfit, flabby, tired, and risk our health. Sign up below for the habits class in HD video to learn all FIVE myths that keep us stuck in the Cycle of Frustration!
A few of the issues covered in the class:
- Believing we need more motivation
- Finding exercise boring (yes, that’s actually a myth!)
- Thinking you hate exercise (also a myth!! You *think* you hate exercise, but you don’t really.)
- Believing you can never be like the people who look great, exercise daily, and love it! (yes, a BIG myth, I used to believe that too. How wrong was I?)
Let’s put an end to the Cycle of Frustration once and for all! Sign up for the free Mini Habit Week below.