Today was not a good day to work out. I had back-to-back meetings, a bunch of deadlines, and was woken up about 20 times by my kid. This not only impacts how much time I have to exercise but how much I’ll be able to put into it. To be honest, things are not ideal. But I feel pretty good—largely because I’m riding on the cumulative effect of doing an imperfect something every day. Here are a few things I’ve learned to help make that happen:
Stop building exercise up into an all-or-nothing thing If you have a 60-minute exercise program laid out but find yourself with only 40 minutes to spare, what do you do? Do you bail? You wouldn’t be the first. Here’s the thing: there’s no magic that specifically happens at the 59-minute mark; 40 minutes of activity is immeasurably better than 0 minutes of activity. Take the imperfect workout.
I’ve stopped equating my success with fatigue or other external metrics Culturally, we tend to gravitate toward intense workouts. If it looks and feels harder, we conclude that it must be better. Except, the magic isn’t in the workout—it’s in the recovery. Many people actually do more than they can recover from, which is extra stress but with no payout.
Instead of asking how much you can do, it’s worth exploring the idea of a minimum viable product. What’s the least you can do to maintain? What’s the least you can do to move forward? This framing may change your perspective on perfection.
What if all you asked of yourself is to find a level of mental or physical discomfort and to push past that in some meaningful way? Would you progressively get better from doing just this?
Heap up stacks of non-exercise activity wherever possible I’ve learned to embrace something I call Mini-Workouts. Here are the criteria:
* They take 15 minutes or less—sometimes as little as a minute or two * They fit seamlessly into your day * They have a positive and cumulative impact on your day-to-day functioning
None of these things is profound. Rather than thinking about the above in terms of what they give you, you can think of them as breaks. Breaks from sitting. Breaks from living in the same position all day. Breaks from the same old sensory experience.
Say no to convenience Say no to automatic doors. Take the inconvenient parking spot. Get off a stop early. Stand on one leg while you're waiting in line. Run or crawl when you can walk. Do whatever it takes to add some extra physical work back into your life.
High-five the negative voices in your head If you start to feel bad that you're not moving around, don’t stifle it. Take it as a reminder to get up and do a small thing because action is the opposite of anxiety.
How do you rack up little wins? What’s the smallest bit of action that you think counts? Start with there. And celebrate it because little stuff can stack up—right to the moon.
BONUS STUFF A few types of Mini-Workouts
Neural power No fatigue, fast motion, excellent technique. E.g. jump squats or explosive push-ups.
Neural strength 2-5 second isometrics or hard contractions. E.g. challenging plank variations.
Active mobility Flexibility + control. E.g. Shoulder rotation with zero trunk rotation
Light aerobic work From choosing to take the stairs to a pile of jumping jacks.
Body scan Drills to help you check-in to your own hardware, explore positions, mobilize whatever’s tight and stabilize whatever’s weak.
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