The Embarrassing Way I Got Into the Best Shape Of My Life

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“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I was trapped behind my ambition.

I knew the supreme importance of exercise and how it would benefit me so much, and yet I couldn’t do it consistently. I’d often think, “I can’t do my 30-minute workout today because [excuse]. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

The benefits we gain from exercising are unreal. When you exercise, you improve your health, circulation, body, stress levels, moods, mental sharpness, willpower, libido, and more. Singling out any one of those makes exercise an exciting and worthwhile pursuit, but we get them all.

Knowing The Benefits Isn’t Enough

Why is it some people can have knowledge of the serious risks from smoking and the out-of-this-world benefits of exercise, and still choose to smoke and rarely exercise? The allure of bad habits is one thing, but another problem is that they are both so important.

Counterintuitively, life’s most important things can make us turn away, because important means “don’t mess this up,” and that scares us. And so we’ll think, “if I can’t do this right, I won’t do it at all.” We may not think this consciously, but it’s the underlying idea behind many cases of inaction. It’s a combination of perfectionism and intimidation.

I know this because I used to live this way.

It was this same story in every area of my life that really mattered to me. I avoided the important things in favor of that which mattered less; something that I couldn’t fail at. Realizing this was the key to turning my life around, and it can do the same for you.

How To Turn Your Life Around Right Now

If you’re in a rough patch, you need exercise. Those benefits I listed above are SO real, and you’ll find that when you take care of your body, a lot of other things fall into place. But if you want to never fail to exercise again, you can’t go the usual way of “I’m gonna DO THIS!”

You have to make exercise more like playing video games or watching TV. After all, these are likely the things you find easiest to spend your time on.

But how? How do you make exercising like watching TV?

The first thing to do is devalue it. Treat it casually to make it approachable. Exercise isn’t better than you. It’s not an untouchable, exclusive thing only for people with 4% body fat. It basically means moving your body around. If you flailed your limbs for 2 minutes, that’s exercise.

Don’t see exercise as some golden ticket that’s going to save your life (even though it can). Act like it’s just something to mess around with, in the sense that you’d do a push-up randomly for no reason, just like you probably watch random youtube videos for no reason.

There actually is entertainment value in viewing your life this way, too. It’s funny to drop in the middle of Walmart and crank out a few push-ups. This type of public display might not suit everyone.

Second, destroy your concept of a workout. A workout isn’t 30 minutes long. A workout doesn’t only happen at the gym. A workout is dancing to your favorite song as you eat a doughnut. A workout is 3 push-ups in the morning. Reject the idea that an activity isn’t big enough. Reject the idea that eating a doughnut means you’ve “chosen the dark side” and means you can’t exercise at the same time.

Right now, raise your arms up and move them around a little bit. That’s exercise. If you struggle with exercise, it’s because you’ve put it on a pedestal; you’ve made it untouchable; you’ve incorrectly assumed that it’s too hard for you.

Third, commit to “messing around” with exercise every day. You don’t have to be a hero, you just have to move a bit. Easy. Simple.

This Is Obtainable, And Not Insignificant

I’m in great shape now. I can do 8 pull-ups with 10 pounds tied to my waist (or 16 in a row without). Prior to this, I could only do 4 or 5 pull-ups without any extra weight. Want to know my secret? Want to hear about it all began?

I did one push-up per day, every day. This was my “stupid” and “meaningless” beginning that evolved into the elusive gym habit I had wanted for years. I began this journey in late 2012, and I’m a completely different person now. After six months of doing one push-up per day, I was shocked to see how my brain had changed. I was able to make the leap to going to the gym 3-5x per week, doing full workouts. I’ve been doing this for 11 months straight now.

If you’re in the middle of another one of your motivation struggles to “really do it this time” and stick to your massive life-changing goal, please stop. Let it go. Drop your “life-changing plan” that hasn’t ever changed your life and adopt this one, which really can change your life.

The reason people can’t change is usually because they want so badly to change. If this is you, give yourself a break and drop the guilt. You were never the problem—your strategy was. How can you be the problem? You’re just going to be yourself. The variable is what strategy you use.

It’s mathematical why we fail to reach our fitness goals. Strong desire causes us to set goals beyond our willpower strength (which is limited, but can be strengthened). This limits progress to the short term. Short-term change is worthless. If it doesn’t last, the strategy was flawed.

What This Can Do For You

The goal with this is twofold: to do something that you can do forever and change the way you look at exercise.

By viewing exercise in a playful, unintimidating, and “this is too easy” kind of way, you’re going to change your brain’s relationship with exercise. My brain prefers exercise now. Before, it was a huge battle to get myself to the gym.

I tell you this with great eagerness and sincerity, because I know this is the way. I’ve written a book about it called “Mini Habits,” which is highly acclaimed and changing lives as I type this. The basis of the book is how these small, but consistent actions can decrease resistance over time by becoming habitual.

We Have the Luxury of Choosing Our Challenges.

What if you never lost again? What if you always hit or exceeded your targets?

To exercise consistently, change what “exercise” means by aiming for a small target you can’t possibly miss. If you’re truly not satisfied with that small amount, you can do more. I rarely only did one push-up. Aim for the sure win first, and then go to war. And just like that, you’ll convince your stubborn brain to exercise.

Photo by Neal Patel

Stephen Guise

Stephen Guise is the international bestselling author of "Mini Habits" and "How to Be an Imperfectionist." His blog is Deep Existence, one of the world's most popular resources online for focusing and habit-building strategies. If you sign up for updates at Deep Existence, you’ll receive 40 custom desktop focus wallpapers, Stephen’s book on stress-management, 50+ subscriber-exclusive articles, and practical life tips every Tuesday morning.