Once I figured out how to make my habits work for me, rather than against me, and some of my lifestyle changes started to stick, my friends and family began to notice my improved energy and vigor. Most wanted to know my “secret.”
I tried to explain that there was no secret – just baby steps and incremental progress. Slow and methodical changes to how I fed and moved my body. Daily choices and new routines. Trust in an unfolding process, rather than a “quick fix.”
Their next question usually went something like:
“I really want to get in shape, but how can I? I don’t have time to exercise!”
The challenge is real. Time is a limited and precious resource. And even if you find some to spare, there’s a good chance you’re already exhausted.
Every day brings so much to do, and so much of it feels rushed. We barely have time to get food on the dinner table. We barely have time to get all of our work done. We barely have time to get adequate sleep (and actually, we don’t – but that’s a topic for another day).
Each of us is performing a complex juggling act, and it never stops. It’s life! We all have the same 24 hours in the day to prioritize competing demands on our time – responsibilities to ourselves, our jobs, and our families. When the clock runs down, where do we start making cuts?
The first things on the chopping block are usually our own personal needs; things like nourishing food, sleep, and yes – fitness. We begin to see these as luxuries rather than necessities, things we would attend to if we just had more time.
But caring for your body is not a luxury. In order to take care of business, in order to take care of others, you must first take care of yourself. You have more to offer the world when you feel your best and are living your best life.
So let’s get practical.
You need and deserve to feel fit and healthy, but your days are busy and time is short. Is this a conflict that can be resolved?
Yes, it can. And it helps to think small.
Think small and lower the bar.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for having big dreams and aspirations. But attempting to make grand, sweeping changes can be overwhelming – even paralyzing.
When you bite off more than you can chew, you choke. Why not take smaller bites?
Everyone talks about the importance of raising the bar and having high standards, but I like to take a different tack. I love a low bar.
And I mean low – really low. In the beginning, set it where it’s easily stepped over, where there’s very little risk of tripping. And for a while, just leave it there. Don’t worry about going above and beyond it, pushing your limits, or taking things to the next level. Worry only about rising to meet that humble, little bar – but do it every single day.
When you start working on a new habit, you have to think small and lower the bar – it sets you up for success. Success is what motivates you over the long haul. Success is what keeps you coming back every single day. And that is how you create a habit that sticks. That is what leads to lifestyle change.
There are times to bust out of your comfort zone. There are times to take risks and shoot for the moon. Now is not one of those times.
For right now, don’t think about your destination – whatever it is you think you need to achieve in order to be “fit.” Right now, just ask yourself: “Can I find fifteen minutes to exercise? Can I find ten minutes to exercise? Can I find just five minutes to exercise?”
And be realistic. If you can only commit to five minutes at a time, you’re still committing to something. Celebrate your success in taking that first step toward your goal – you are already headed in the right direction.
Small steps = big results.
Let’s say you are prepared to commit to five minutes of exercise twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. It’s not a lot of time, but when done every day:
- It’s over an hour of exercise each week.
- It’s five hours of exercise per month.
- It’s 60 hours of exercise this year.
Will that turn you into an elite athlete? No, it won’t. Still, it’s an extra hour of exercise each and every week. What might that mean for you?
Here is a hypothetical question. If you spent just five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening, every single day, doing simple bodyweight exercises – which might include, depending on your current fitness level, things like planks, lunges, pushups, squats, or burpees – do you think you would become fitter?
The answer is yes – absolutely! With consistency, your muscles would get stronger. Five minutes at a time.
I know this to be true, because it’s exactly how I began strength training – with two- to five-minute bodyweight workouts. And I saw results sufficient to keep me motivated. I did not build on or complicate my simple little routine until it had become as automatic to me as brushing my teeth or brewing my morning coffee. And it served me well.
So don’t fall into the old all-or-nothing thought trap that says “If I can’t do it right, there’s no point in doing it at all.” When it comes to establishing a new habit, there is no “right.” There is only “consistent.”
Augment; don’t reinvent.
A quick word on how we learn:
When we encounter new information or try out a new behavior, we tend to incorporate it into our schema, or cognitive framework – our existing knowledge, ideas, or thought patterns. This is called assimilation.
Assimilation makes learning an easier process. You don’t have to start from scratch every time you see or try something new – you just integrate it into established, familiar categories.
If we didn’t learn through assimilation, something like meeting a Dandie Dinmont terrier or tasting a mangosteen would be complicated and confusing, with a steep learning curve. Fortunately, it’s simple enough for us to mentally file these experiences under “dog” and “fruit.”
Assimilation can help with behavior change. It is much easier to augment a familiar rhythm – for example, to add a task to a well-established morning routine – than it is to attempt a major lifestyle overhaul.
In other words, don’t try to change everything at once. Go on thinking small.
Consistency is key.
So, let’s say you’ve committed to these twice-daily, five-minute workouts. Now, ask yourself how they might be assimilated into your existing routines.
Do you have…
- Five minutes before your shower?
- Five minutes while your morning coffee brews?
- Five minutes on your lunch break?
- Five minutes before you brush your teeth at night?
Can you identify a behavior that you engage in every single day, without fail, and attach to it a five-minute workout? Can you make that five-minute workout happen just as automatically?
If you can, you’ll be exercising consistently. If you exercise consistently, even for five minutes at a time, you will begin to see encouraging results.
This is not a magic pill. This strategy will not cause you to lose 20 pounds in a month or shrink six inches from your waist. You will never see it on an informercial. Nothing will happen overnight, and there will be no sudden, total body transformation.
But it is maintainable, so it will be far more rewarding in the long run.
Putting it into practice.
These are the three key points that I hope you take away:
- You are a busy person. You do the best you can with the time you have. Give yourself some credit, then cut yourself some slack. You don’t have to do it all. It’s okay to do a little.
- It’s easier to add to an existing routine than it is to reinvent the wheel.
- Small steps add up to big results. If you can only commit to five minutes at a time, then do that. Consistency is more important than intensity.
Next Wednesday, I’ll share some of my favorite exercises that can be done in a matter of minutes. Until then, don’t forget to think small, lower your bar, and celebrate your every success!
Could you spare five minutes for fitness, or do you prefer to go all in? What kinds of activities do you find easiest to incorporate into your day? Let us know with a comment below!