January 1st

How to Set Fitness Goals: Just Do Something

If you haven’t held a consistent exercise or workout routine in a while (or ever), don’t make lofty goals. For most people this doesn’t work.

Let’s say it’s New Year’s Day and you’ve committed to a healthier year. You’re inspired by your fit friends and decide to set aside an hour a day, 5 days a week to exercise.

That’s a great end goal, but two weeks in you’ll realize it’s hard to go from 0 workouts per week to 5. You’ll get busy, decide you don’t have the time/energy/willpower to spend that hour working out — so you do nothing. Fast forward a week and any routine you started has fallen flat.

Why is that? Why do so many people quit their New Year’s exercise regimens? Even if you’re motivated to get moving, a whole hour of working out can sound scary. Sure, it seemed great when you made the goal — but today your calendar is full, your body is sore from exercising dormant muscles, and your brain wants something more immediately gratifying. Today 1 hour of exercise feels like facing Goliath.

For the first days or weeks of your new exercise campaign, I suggest an alternate goal: just do something. Anything. Spending 15 minutes doing a quick exercise is so much better than 0 minutes of exercise and a feeling of guilt for skipping out. 15 minutes at a time, you’re building a habit of exercise and you’re feeling good instead of guilty.

It’s simple math: 15 minutes of exercise > guilt due to exercising 0 minutes

The funny thing is most people end up doing much more than just 15 minutes. They get out there and start feeling good, so they decide to push themselves just a little further, just a little longer. After a few days, 15 minutes turns into 20, then 30 minutes and you’re starting to see results. Eventually, you look forward to exercising and start fulfilling that original hour-a-day goal.

The essence of the “just do something” approach is this: be realistic and pace yourself. By adopting this attitude, you acknowledge that habits take time to form and set yourself on a path to meet your goals.

When starting an exercise habit, don’t set yourself up for failure. Find a good routine to follow and ease into it. Get some friends to do it with you and encourage you along the way. Be mindful about exercise when you’re planning your day. Write down goals, but know you must build up to them. If you can’t sustain an hour-a-day yet, don’t hold yourself to that.

When you’re short on motivation, just do something — you’ll find there’s more in you than you’ve given credit.

Thanks to my friend Kevin, whose conversation with me over lunch helped me explore the reasons we both resorted to this methodology when starting our own routines.