Two years after turning 35 I realized that if I wanted to prolong my life, have mood stability, and prevent steady weigh gain – I have to start exercising regularly. I realized my days of cutting out carbs and going for walks to shed a few holiday pounds are gone. I needed to start regular cardiovascular exercise with strength/resistance training – and I have to do it regularly. Otherwise my risk of heart disease, diabetes, being unhappy and feeling less confident in my body go up, way up. As a skeptic of the diet and fitness industry, this was a hard truth to accept. Currently, I am about 40 days into building a lifelong exercise habit that will (hopefully) carry into my 40s, and I will write about what I learned in this series.
I am not sure why as a society we focus on motivation as the key barrier to exercising. Lack of motivation is one minor roadblock to regular exercise. There are SO many more impediments to building an exercise habit that are brushed aside as excuses. Here is my list below:
- Lack of time – Not having an additional 30-60 mins every day to exercise. It is not an excuse, this is a reality for a majority of people in their late 30s and 40s. These years are our peak earning years, combined with young but busy children with a myriad of social obligations. Lack of time is a genuine and very real impediment that needs to be solved for.
- Lack of money – Not having enough extra money to buy exercise equipment or sign up at the gym is again a real barrier for many people. Life is very expensive at this stage for many of us and investing a few hundred dollars in equipment or gym fee is not easy.
- Not enough knowledge – The Internet is full of info on exercising and fitness but that’s almost an barrier in and of itself. And it can be a real problem for people not know how best to get started. Lots of people who were fit/exercising in their 20s have spent majority of their 30s being less active and it is not easy gearing up again.
- Being unfit – For me this is one of the key issues that most people writing about fitness forgets – the early days of starting an exercise routine can be excruciatingly difficult. Without a basic level of fitness, which so many of us lack, exercising can feel like a big waste of time for the first few weeks.
- Being too tired – not getting enough sleep can make a person physically too tired to exercise. It is just a reality that a lot of us are not sleeping enough and as a result we are legitimately too tired to workout.
- Getting sick – having a bad cold/flu while trying to build exercise habit can derail everything. I know this as I have had this happen to me dozens of times as I raised my two small children the past 9 years.
- Overdoing and getting too sore – pushing too hard and too soon can be physically painful and prevent habit building. This is another common one and it happens quite often. Being too sore in and of itself is not a huge deterrent but combined with all of the above can be a big barrier to continuing regular exercise.
As you can see, not being able to motivate ourselves is only one of many, many real reasons why building an exercise habit is super challenging. By blaming motivation and ignoring reality, we do ourselves a huge disservice and we set ourselves up for failure. I guarantee you that if you can solve for even half of the above issues before starting your exercise habit, solving for motivation would be so much simpler. Also, these are just barriers I have identified based on my experience and those of friends – I bet there are tons of other, real challenges out there.
So focusing on failure of motivation is completely useless without fixing the real life challenges. All it would do is sap confidence and make us feel bad.
Instead, all of us need to believe that we didn’t get to age 40 by lacking the will to do things we need to do but don’t want to. Rather, we need to focus on the real challenges in our daily lives that need to be mitigated before achieving our goals. The key here is problem solving not self-blaming.
So here is how I solved my real-life challenges to get started. We all have our own unique barriers and I urge you all to focus on those barriers before blaming lack of motivation.
1. Lack of Time – I knew I did not currently have the time to go to the gym – at least not to start. I would have failed if I had to carve out enough time to go to a gym, change, exercise, change back and then come home (or go to office) and then do it for at least six months.
As soon as I took gym out of the equation, I felt much more confident of my time. I knew I had enough time during the day to find 30-45 minutes for pure exercising if I did this at home. Also, I decided to pick the winter holidays as my time to start. I was on vacation, Christmas rush was over and I had a chunk of free time to get started.
Also, I am convinced that with a busy schedule we need to be mindful of how we operate to make time for exercising. I am not a morning person – trying to push myself to wake up one hour earlier in the morning is not sustainable. And telling myself that I’ll workout in the evening is also not sustainable because my schedule is not always predictable. So my solution was to make a decision to exercise the FIRST chance I got. That could be 8:30 in the morning OR 12:30 in the afternoon if I was working from home. That could be 7:00 in the evening if I went to the office. Or basically any time in between. For the first 3-4 weeks if the thought “exercise” came into my mind and I could see a window of 15-30 minutes ahead of me where I didn’t have anything urgent to do, I went for it.
2. Lack of Money – Signing up for a gym membership or spending a bunch of money getting equipment adds to the feeling of failure when we end up not using it. I wanted to avoid that unnecessary emotional burden. So I cleared up one area of my bedroom, found a set of weights we already owned, dusted off the yoga mat that was in the closet and set up my own tiny gym.
My tiny gym has a lot of limitations but it’s in my bedroom (where I can close the door and be alone), there is a nice mirror where I can watch myself and check form, and it takes no time to get there. I also decided to dig up old workout clothes and promised myself I would buy new ones IF I managed to build the habit first. Best of all my tiny gym and exercise clothes live in my bedroom and I am constantly, visually reminded of their existence.
3. Not Enough Knowledge – To solve for this I read articles from a fitness site that I discovered long time ago called Nerd Fitness. And watched a series of workout videos on YouTube (nothing in particular that I would recommend). I also read everything else that was available on the Internet but found very little usable info. Everything I found can be summed up in: optimal exercise combines strength training and cardio and if you want to lose weight you MUST watch what you eat.
4. Being Unfit – So the bad news is lacking a basic level of fitness limits the types of exercising you can do but the GOOD news is within two weeks you will see a vast cardiovascular improvement. It will get easier and easier to workout and you will surprise yourself after a few weeks. So hang in there!
I remember going to a lunch meeting less than two weeks after I started my routine and I was running a bit late. I was amazed at how much easier it was for me to walk briskly without getting winded to my meeting. It felt great and it was probably the moment I knew exercising was truly great for me.
5. Being too Tired – I still have not solved for this one. But I will say there is a difference between mentally tired and physically tired. The way I can tell the difference is by starting my routine. IF I am simply mentally exhausted, within 10 minutes of starting to move, my tiredness goes away and I feel invigorated. IF I am physically exhausted, within 10 minutes of exercising I feel either the same or worse. My only hack with this one has been just to do 10 minutes no matter how tired I am feeling and get a genuine pulse on what type of tired I am.
6. Getting Sick – This is another one that’s hard to solve for. I would say the best way to beat this would be to consciously START exercise routine right after a bout of sickness – maximizing the time in between viruses. And after that getting back into exercising as soon as the sickness subsides. No easy answers but we just have to keep trying.
7. Overdoing and Getting too Sore – I am a firm believer of not exercising through pain. I have not read a single article or scientific literature that says pain is a positive sign of building strength or fitness. I do not enjoy being in pain nor do I want to push myself like crazy at the gym only to run out of energy for the rest of my day.
I can see no reason to get overly sore at the start of building an exercise habit. It is a bad idea to overdo it. Start slow and set yourself up for success. Aches and pains seem to be a normal part of the aging process, I prefer not to add to it voluntarily. So the way to solve this is to start slow, not push too hard too fast and take a rest from exercising anything that is sore until the pain goes away.
Check out the following posts where I get more into the 3 components of building the Exercise habit: