Posted by on Mar 26, 2013

General HealthHacksMotivation

Time for a confession – I don’t love exercise, and I’m not going to blow smoke and tell you that even though I sometimes hate going to the gym I sure feel great when I leave. I don’t. If I’m dreading going in, I’m usually just as cranky heading out.

Coming off a desperately uncoordinated and non-sporty youth (I was literally picked last in every sport) truthfully I came to exercise as a young man in the hopes of exercising translating into me having more success with women. Over the years, like so many, my exercise and my success with women were cyclical where both were punctuated by brief and intense on and off again relationships. In regard to exercise sometimes it was interrupted by my studies, sometimes by injury and sometimes just out of plain stubborn laziness and of course, as a consequence of my lack of consistency, I never managed to rack up any lasting gains.

Eventually, and thanks to wonderful wife, my lady woes went away, but not so much my exercise.

But something changed when I turned 40. Since that birthday, now nearly 2 years ago, I don’t think I’ve been “off” exercise for longer than 2 weeks and the two times that I can recall being on the sidelines, it was due to recurrences of a chronic back injury. Like many turning 40 I used the bigger number to reflect. I figured there was a good chance I’m half done, and with now 3 little girls who I adore counting on me and learning from my example I realized I was failing them and failing myself by not making fitness a consistent part of my life.

Now I’d tried the usual, “schedule it in” approach, but that never lasted. I think it was because my life, as are many, is a bit frenetic and unpredictable, and despite scheduling exercise well in advance, there were often real life events that cropped up and got in the way of my best intentions. In turn that led me to regularly give myself permission to skip my pre-scheduled exercise, and each and every time I gave myself permission to skip, it became that much easier to give myself permission to skip the next time, until for me at least, the pre-scheduled exercise blocks were generally used for web surfing, paperwork or errands. I needed a new system.

So I thought about my failings and came up with a plan. I call it my 24-hour exercise cancellation policy and it’s pretty straightforward. At some point each and every day I grab a glance at my next day’s schedule. If there’s a logical slot for exercise, and if there are no real reasons getting in my way (deadlines, kid obligations, injuries, illnesses, etc.), in exercise goes and unless I cancel it before the sun rises the next morning, or unless something honestly emergent arises, when that timeslot arrives, I’m exercising – happy or sad, sick or well, miserable or enthusiastic (after 2 years I admit there are now some days I do actually look forward to being there). I think it’s working where my prior scheduling failed because as unpredictable as my life might be, I’ve usually got a pretty good idea the day before whether or not my block of time is truly usable, and honestly, if there aren’t any available blocks, I don’t exercise, and I don’t sweat it. While exercise may be incredibly healthful, unrealistically overdoing it is a recipe to quit altogether.

There’s one other piece that’s helped in my consistency, and that’s something I discussed just last week on my own blog. It’s putting exercise into one of two categories whereby if you can’t fit it into one of these two categories, the likelihood of you ever forming a true habit out of it is markedly lower. You’ve got to either inherently love it (that isn’t me), or figure out a way to embrace it as something that you believe you simply must do.

So if you’re struggling with consistency, maybe a 24-hour cancellation policy is just what the doctor ordered.

Yoni Freedhoff, MD, is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, where he’s the founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute—dedicated to non-surgical weight management since 2004. Considered to be Canada’s most outspoken obesity expert Dr. Freedhoff sounds off daily on his award-winning blog, Weighty Matters.

Visit Dr. Yoni on his websiteTwitter, Fitocracy, or Google.

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